Attitudes regarding money are learned, and children learn theirs primarily from their parents.
You’ve seen it: Families that charge themselves into deep debt often see new debt perpetuated in the next generation. Likewise, families that are inconsistent in giving often see similar inconsistencies in the next generation.
This is because habits of stewardship—whether they be generosity or stinginess, frugality or waste, budgeting or recklessness—tend to be learned in the home. Even if parents do not intentionally teach these habits, children observe and tend to copy them.
First Corinthians 4:2 says, “Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.” Although the context of this verse is speaking about stewarding the truths of God’s Word, the principle applies to being stewards of God’s blessings in our finances.
All of us who are parents could tell of the stewardship mistakes we have made. And none of us want to see our children make the same mistakes. What then are the habits that we need to teach our children regarding wise financial stewardship?
I believe there are four stewardship habits every Christian should practice and intentionally teach their children:
Generosity begins when a child learns to give to the Lord first. As he gives, he will learn firsthand that giving is better than receiving.
I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.—Acts 20:35
When our children began earning money, I sat down with them at the kitchen table and explained the principles of tithing and giving. I explained that when we are paid, we set aside “as God hath prospered”—a percentage—to give “upon the first day of the week” (1 Corinthians 16:2). I explained that when we honor God with the “firstfruits” of our increase, He promises to care for our needs (Proverbs 3:9–10).
There is a vast majority of Christians in America who are not giving to God’s work. One reason may be that they were not taught to give when they were children. If you, as a parent, believe it is a rip off to give, your children will sense that. Furthermore, you’ll never teach them a stewardship principle that would be one of the greatest blessings they could carry into their adult lives.
When our children were still at home and I was at my home office desk paying the bills, if one of the kids would walk by, I would often call them in to show them what I was doing. Depending on their age, I’d explain the process of how Terrie and I made the budget and show them the different categories we had budgeted—the fixed expenses and variables. I’d explain how home loans work and the difference between the principle and the interest. I knew they would have Consumer Math in high school, but I wanted them to learn the important skill of budgeting from their dad and to see it practiced in their own home.
Although Scripture doesn’t specifically talk about steps to set up a budget, it speaks frequently about being a responsible steward and handling finances in a godly way. A budget is a vital tool in financial planning and wise spending.
Through wisdom is an house builded; and by understanding it is established: And by knowledge shall the chambers be filled with all precious and pleasant riches.—Proverbs 24:3–4
Teach your children to plan with wisdom and purpose. Teach them to plan ahead and save for large purposes. Teach them how to put their financial income and expenses on paper and to target and track their spending along the way.
I remember as a boy my dad teaching me to plan to live on 70 percent, give 20 percent, and save 10 percent. I’m thankful he taught me the importance of saving.
There is treasure to be desired and oil in the dwelling of the wise; but a foolish man spendeth it up.—Proverbs 21:20
Similarly to giving, a commitment to saving may require sacrifices along the way. But it is a financial skill that children need to learn, and it will serve them well in their adult lives.
Perhaps the best example in Scripture of a young person who did not practice wise spending is the prodigal son.
And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.—Luke 15:14
Young people need to learn when to save and when and how to spend.
I believe there are four specific spending patterns we need to teach our kids to avoid:
- Impulsive spending—One way to control impulsive spending is to pray about any major purchase for at least thirty days.
- Compulsive spending—It’s dangerous for a teenager to feel that every time they are in a store they need to spend money.
- Special interest spending—This is when someone feels they just have to have the new gadgets or more stuff related to their area of special interest. This could span from electronics to mechanics to music. While you want to encourage hobbies and skills in your children’s lives, you don’t want to encourage a need to have.
- Status seeking spending—It is vital that we teach our children that our acceptance comes from the Lord and that it is futile to seek acceptance through things. Sometimes this will mean holding the line as a parent in not overspending (or letting your teenagers overspend) simply to gain status in the eyes of others.
One way to teach wise spending is to help your children—especially your teenagers—create a budget that includes giving, saving, and spending. A budget helps prevent reckless spending, and it allows saving for needed purchases.
When our children were teenagers, I gave each of them a copy of Dave Ramsey’s book on finances for Christmas. I told them if they would write a one-page synopsis of the book, I would give them twenty dollars. Each of them did it, and it was helpful to them.
These four stewardship principles—giving, budgeting, saving, and spending—are habits we must instill in our children. They need to see us practicing biblical financial stewardship ourselves, and they need us to teach them how to manage these basic habits of godly stewardship as well.
I’m currently preaching a Sunday evening series on parenting, titled “Family Life.” If you’d like to hear more in relation to teaching your children how to handle their finances, you can review last Sunday’s message, including video and a message summary, here.