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Written By Colin Graves

kids and money

Parents have incredible influence over their children’s current and future relationship with money.  In this post, I illustrate the importance of understanding how this influence changes over time, and that it should vary with each child. 

Recently, our (almost) 16 year old son got his first job.  Make that, his first REAL job.  Over the past couple of years he’s made a few bucks here and there, from officiating sports to the occasional call to babysit for friends of ours, that kind of thing.

Having had enough of these petty money making ventures, he has now graduated to the big-time, stocking shelves at the local grocery store in between school and hockey practices!

As his Dad, I couldn’t be more proud of him.  He’s demonstrating a strong sense of responsibility and work ethic, values Mrs. Mystery Money and I have instilled in him for years.  As a parent, until your children begin to integrate with the outside world, you don’t really know if the values you’ve taught have taken hold.

kids and moneyFor my son, the new job has ushered in something other than a sense of parental pride.

Cold, hard, cash!! 

That’s right, a sudden influx of pure, legit, disposable income.

I mean, we’re not talking $20 dollars here, $30 dollars there.  Forget having to save for a full year to buy a big ticket item, like an X Box or an iPod.

Those days are O-ver!!  With bi-weekly paycheques between $300-400, he must feel as though he’s swimming in cash, just like Scrooge McDuck!

Needless to say, over the past month I’ve been watching closely, interested to see how he will respond to his newfound wealth.  One day, for example, he declared that he was going to buy a used Corvette as his first car.  By the way, my son doesn’t make suggestions, he makes declarations.  Some have said that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. 🙂  Suddenly, I doubted everything I’d ever taught him about money and saving.

My concerns were soon relieved, as his spending seems to have been limited to purchasing hockey cards on eBay for $2 or $3 here and there, while his bank account grows substantially with each passing payday.

Thankfully, the Corvette talk has subsided.

He did make one big ticket purchase, his first cellphone.  My instinct was to advise him not to buy one until he absolutely needed it. After all, I got rid of my own iPhone a few months ago.  But I let it go.  He’s never asked for a phone, knowing that he would have to earn his own money to buy one.  Now that he’s accomplished his goal, I left the decision in his hands.

You see, I recognized something when my son got his job.  As he gets older and gains more independence, I have to cede some control over his financial decision making.  My role is still important, but it’s changed.

In fact, when it comes to all three of my kids and money, I’ve realized 2 things:

  1. Each of them have a unique relationship with money, in part relative to their ages.
  2. As their parent, I need to recognize those differences, and teach them lessons that are relevant to where they are on their financial journey.

Now, because I am a bit of a nerd, and find all of this quite intriguing, I took the time to create a brief “money profile” for my three children.  I also built a corresponding diagram, to illustrate what I call the “Zones of Parental Influence” in which each of them operate.  Here goes:


Subject:  Son, 16, oldest child.

Money Profile:Recently secured his first job, appears to be a natural saver.  Occasionally spends money on sports equipment & memorabilia, music and movies.

  • Very determined man/child. He doesn’t make suggestions, he makes declarations.  This is how many conversations with him begin.  What follows is a process of reasoning, hard negotiation, with an ultimate goal of reaching a compromise.
  • May make an excellent lawyer.

Subject:  Daughter, 13 years old, middle child.

Money Profile:  Look out for this one!  In the mind of her parents, she’s still too young for an actual “real” job like her brother, yet wants one desperately.  This is solely to provide a means of funding her ever increasing appetite for clothes and other accessories that, in the mind of her parents, she is also too young for.  An explanation that said job would require getting out of bed before 10 AM on weekends, has put pause to her ambitions. 🙂

  • makes some sweet income on the babysitting circuit, is a natural caregiver and  is adored by the children she cares for and their parents alike.
  • demonstrates an entrepreneurial spirit, something which should be encouraged and developed.
  • A career as a famous celebrity is to be discouraged.

Subject:  Daughter, 10 year old, youngest child.

Money Profile:  Savings consists exclusively of funds received from gifts; birthday, Christmas  etc.

  •  unsure if she is a natural saver as she has no control over her bank account.  However, expresses little interest in acquiring stuff, and like her older sister, is very happy using her imagination as a primary source of entertainment, which makes her parents very happy.
  • while it’s a bit early to predict future career options, does show an incredible love for animals, tigers in particular.


Below, I’ve illustrated the 3 Zones Of Influence in which my kids operate.  I’ve included a few characteristics of each zone, and provided a visual representation:

To gain full appreciation for my killer diagram :), I will let you know that my kids favorite colors are represented.  Also, the size of each ‘bubble’ represents the relative amount of parental influence of the associated zone.  I know, pretty crazy.  Haha.

zones of control

BLUE ZONE:  My son is gaining independence, and as such, it’s important that he is able to make more of his own money decisions.  When it comes to his money, my influence has shifted more to that of an advisor,  providing him with ‘nuggets’ of wisdom when provided the opportunity. I continue to introduce him to more complex financial concepts as well.

PURPLE ZONE: While my oldest daughter certainly has an eye for fashionable clothes, and (shudder) brand names, she also shows a practical side.  She has some mad skills with a sewing machine and will alter and make her own clothes.  She also has no problem wearing hand-me-downs or shopping at thrift stores.  Many of our discussions revolve around understanding wants vs. needs.  I have reviewed various investment illustrators with her to introduce concepts like dollar-cost averaging or the power of compounding interest.  She is either incredibly receptive to this or very good at faking it.

PINK ZONE:  I love this zone, the one where parents have maximum control.  My youngest child is at an age where she worries very little about spending money on anything.  Every 3 months or so, she asks me how much money she has in her bank account, and is always thrilled with the answer, since money never leaves it.  It’s a great thing.


To summarize, I’ll repeat the point I made in the outset.  As parents, we have incredible influence over our children’s current and future relationship with money.  That influence changes over time, and it can vary with each child. The more we understand this, the more effective we can be in ensuring that relationship is a healthy one.



  1. Awesome post! My kids are still way in the pink zone – we just started an allowance for our 6 year-old and are trying to do what we can to instill good money values. It’s really cool to see how you approach each child differently and how you’re letting off the reins a bit as they get older. I know that’s going to be a hard one for me so seeing it in action is inspiring and a good reminder 🙂

    Thanks for sharing – I’m going to have to circle back to this one as my kids get older!

    • Thanks Chris. It’s so interesting to see their different money personalities emerging. It certainly doesn’t mean we have the answers on how to deal with them, but it’s a fun challenge! : )

  2. Wise move recognizing the need to ease up on the reins with your oldest. I’m sure it will be hard to watch him make some blunders along the way, but remember that our money mistakes are often the most valuable teachers.

  3. Love it, MMM. It’s an important topic. My dad tried so hard to instill financial sense in me and he totally failed! I am not sure why! I want so much not to let my kids make the same mindless, thoughtless mistakes I did. But I have faith in my oldest son. He shows a lot of promise with the self-control thing. My favorite financial anecdote about him is sending him to the circus for a kid party a week after we had already been there and saw the ridiculous prices they were charging for trash. But I didn’t want him to be the only kid whose parents didn’t give him money. So I gave him a 20, but I told him that if he did not spend it there (for an 8 year old – this is the height of instant gratification temptation) that when he got home, we could get something good that he truly wanted. He very proudly came home with his $20 bill in tact. I feel like he will be good. My 4 year old… he’s a wild card.

    • Love the anecdote, Linda! It really speaks volumes for an 8-year old to be able to think ahead like that, especially when I would bet many, if not most of his friends would have been buying some junk food, or the cheap circus toys.


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