Get Rid of Struggles with Kids about Money Once and For All

Don't Lose Your Parenting Marbles—Use Them

Money. For most families, it’s a taboo topic. As business leaders, we’re used to working with money every day. But we struggle with our kids at home when money is involved — what can they buy, what should they save, and where should they get their money in the first place?

Little boy with a stack of money

All too often, our kids end up growing up with no clue how to handle money because we’re just not sure how to teach them. For a long time, our family was no different. Our kids didn’t really understand the sacrifice required to give them what they wanted. It wasn’t their fault, really; we just didn’t share that information with them.

When they wanted something, they asked. Like most parents, we wanted to say yes all the time — but knew we couldn’t and shouldn’t. So it became one guilt trip after another as we repeatedly said no – and then caved when we felt bad about it. Even though we tried to treat them all fairly, we always felt as if we were failing to be fair and failing to teach our kids how to handle money in the real world.

We experimented with giving them regular allowances but found they didn’t take ownership of the process and, frankly, they didn’t have an immediate need for the funds. Add to that the occasional uproar over lost or missing money, and we decided we needed a different approach.

The solution to our struggles with our kids about money came when we created a family currency of our very own: in place of cash and coin, we use marbles.

How Our Family Currency System Works

I made one trip to Dollar General to stock up on marbles and some inexpensive glass jars, one for each child. We set up an exchange rate of $.50 per marble. This way Mom and Dad kept all the legal tender, but the kids had ownership over the marbles.

We then created a demand for marbles by letting the kids know we would no longer purchase things they wanted no matter how much they begged. If they wanted money for anything, they would need to earn marbles by doing tasks around the house.

We created a master list of tasks that needed to be done on a regular basis and posted it along with the payment rate in marbles. As the kids completed a task, we doled out the marbles into their jar.

As other tasks surface, we post them on the fridge where all have opportunity to earn marbles if they choose to do so. They don’t have to do it all. But if they don’t work, they won’t have any marbles.

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We still ask the kids to do some household tasks simply as being part of the family for which there is no compensation. How much they get “paid” for marble jobs always depends on how well the tasks are done. For example, doing a task willingly and well pays the full amount. If a child has to be reminded or didn’t do the task well, the payment decreases. If he or she really blows it off, they may not get paid at all, just like in the real world where we business leaders live every day.

By using this simple system, we no longer had to battle to get things done. Now the kids readily volunteer. We no longer felt we had to say no all the time. In fact, we were positioned to say yes even while we taught our kids how to earn, spend and save. The best part was this system worked as well for our youngest child as it did for our oldest.

Over time, we added two more important elements:

  1. We added an incentive to save. We offered to double their money if they “cashed-out” and put their funds into their college saving account. On occasion, we’ve even offered to triple their funds if they chose to save them. After every single child took us up on the offer, Mom had a lot of help for the next month as they scrambled to replenish their spending marbles. Talk about win-win!
  2. We reward them for finding others doing something good. If they see a sibling going above and beyond – and tell us about it – they get rewarded. In this way, we incentivize encouragement, train them to reinforce positive behaviors as leaders, and make it easier for us to keep track of who’s doing what.

Thanks to our family currency system using marbles, we now spend less using marble money than we did before. We no longer struggle with our kids about money. Now we’re getting a measurable return on our investment in them even as we prepare them to deal with money in the real world.

Question:What do you think of our family approach to struggles with kids and money? How would your family benefit from doing the same thing? You can share your thoughts by clicking here.

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  • Erik Cornelsen

    Can you go into more detail about the master chore list and how you’ve set that up? I’ve had thoughts to do something similar but am getting stuck on what’s appropriate to put on the list for different ages.

    • Sorry for the late reply I am traveling. This list was a fluid list with some basics of dishes, cleaning, trash, stuff that needs to be done all the time…..day in and out. Then we would add to it other jobs like mulch, or garden, or special projects and adjust the value accordingly. Agree, this has to be age appropriate and straight forward enough that they just do it. Funny thing is we always seemed to have one child trying to get something and they would do the majority of the work/list then get what they wanted and then another would be in that spot to need something. It just seemed to work. Hope that helps.

  • Shalimar Crowe

    So for “regular” tasks, as part of family, how is it handled when it isn’t complete? Because you didn’t mention marbles for regular tasks did you? We try to say “You can do —–, when —– is complete” but it still takes forever and then I get frustrated. Apparently my kids are easily distracted. Next, how would you go about getting rid of habitual behaviors (thumb sucking, etc.). I don’t ever want to feel like a briber, but even that hasn’t worked for us!!