we don’t have much money right now. it’s a general fact of life when you live off of one, part-time income. this causes you to think about money quite a bit more, and now that jj will be certified to teach personal finance and has found a few postings that he could be doing so, it has prompted some good conversation in our house this evening.

i offered jj a few thoughts on lesson planning, and then he turned on lost. but i just couldn’t stop. he tried to nicely redirect me, but as i went to bed i realized i just had to “get it out” as i say. if i were teaching teenagers about personal finance, here are the top 5 things i think they should know.

1. You’ll never have enough money to fix your problems. I’m sure that Bill Gates fights with his wife on occasion. I bet Donald Trump suffers from indigestion here and there. Frustrations and inconveniences don’t disappear with more money, and in fact they are probably enhanced – just read the tabloids. However, popular opinion teaches us that money will solve our problems, or at least make us happy. It won’t.

2. Money decisions aren’t “yes or no” questions. It’s not a matter of “do i want this latte?” and “do i have enough money for this latte?” Instead, I think successful purchasing decisions are weighed against all financial decisions. With this money, i could buy a latte or i could pay for my son’s college education. Money decisions shouldn’t just be based on current desires, but also on future goals. Sure, sometimes you’ll make decisions for the current desires (I want to watch a movie now more than i want to go out to dinner this weekend), but at least it’s an informed decision.

3. Your past decisions should inform, but not control your current and future financial decisions. So you have some debt. So you struggle with impulse purchases. That doesn’t mean you’ll live in that forever. With some hard work, change of perspective and new habits you can get to a place of reaching future goals. For kids, this can translate that their parents’ financial position is not necessarily their financial fate. This might translate to the rest of life as well.

4. Know where your money is coming from and where it is going. When you don’t know those 2 things, you’re not controlling your money but your money is controlling you (ah, darn. i was doing so good at avoiding the cliches up til then!). Somewhere in this mess it brings an understanding that it’s not “yours” but rather that you’re merely managing it for a time.

5. Someone is making money off of the decisions you make. You’d better know who. Here’s my example for this: i was talking / thinking about food (not unusual) and a comment was made about what is needed for a kid at a certain age. Then there was a comment about how Gerber makes this or that, so it was probably something a baby needed. But here’s the thing: Gerber’s #1 concern is not my baby’s health. Not that they’re intentionally harming kids. But Gerber’s decisions are driven by how much it costs to produce, market and sell a product and how much money they can make doing so. Gerber’s decisions aren’t based on my needs or desires, but on theirs. This is true of all the products out there – they exist because someone is going to make a buck. But if we live with this acknowledgment, then we can be freed to make the best decision we know how. We’re empowered not to trust Gerber to make the decision for us, but to be part of the equation of our decision.

So there’s my top 5. That’s what i’d want kids (now specifically my kids) to know about managing money. Coming from someone who currently doesn’t have much. I’d be curious to know what would make it into your journal at 9:30 on a tuesday night about this topic.

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