How to Model Healthy Financial Behaviors to Your Children is adapted from Pass It On.
As a teenager, I worked full-time for my grandfather during the summers, and I got to know one of his regular clients, Bob. Bob was a company executive and lived in an enormous, beautifully crafted home. When he and his family prepared to leave for a long trip, he asked me if I would be willing to take care of his house.
I jumped at the chance. I loved staying in Bob’s beautiful home, and his influence opened my eyes to what was possible. Getting to know Bob also helped correct a wrong idea I’d always had about “rich people.” Growing up, there was a common misperception that rich people only had money because they’d gotten lucky.
But Bob was a person whose values and intelligence I admired. As I observed him, I came up with a new definition for wealthy: to be wealthy is to know how to make smart, sound decisions that build upon and maintain your wealth for the long term.
Tips On Modeling Healthy Financial Behaviors
Much of my future financial behaviors were formed before I ever used a debit card. They were formed through watching adults around me, like Bob, and picking up lessons from them. Your children are no different. It’s impossible to overestimate the influence you will wield on your children’s financial behavior. The three major ways you can make a positive impact on their financial habits are to show, share, and surround.
Imagine you’re a twelve-year-old kid whose parents live in a mansion they were given by your grandmother. Neither parent works. If you were to grow up witnessing that influence, you wouldn’t have any understanding of how the world of economics works.
Kids understand how the world works by observing their parents. If your kids perceive that money comes freely from wealthy relatives, that will be their expectation as an adult. But, if they see their parents and major adult influencers as participators in the world economy, they’ll better understand that they need to be active participants themselves.
You can help your children understand key lessons about economics,where money comes from, and the importance of effort and investment by demonstrating a strong work ethic. In doing so, you’ll help teach your children how to invest in their community and work for a cause bigger than themselves.
Many of our clients are in a position where they don’t actually need to be gainfully employed to enjoy a comfortable living. That’s okay—you can still show your kids a strong work ethic by demonstrating your investment in the things that you care about. Whether that’s volunteering at the local school, serving on charity boards, caring for a garden, or what have you, there is tremendous value in modeling productivity and hard work to your kids.
In order for kids to grow up into adults who are capable of passing on the family wealth, they need to understand that wealth requires effort—to build, to maintain, and to track.
It is also important to share stories with your children that will help them form their sense of identity and values within your family. When I was growing up, I heard countless stories about how the farm property owned by my family had provided for us over the years. At age thirteen, my grandfather took over running the farm after his father died. He took care of the livestock, grew hay to be sold, and helped maintain an enormous garden which provided their staple foods growing up.
Now, my uncle puts in the work required to maintain the family farm. He told me stories about how generations of our family benefitted from the farm property. Today, I’m telling these stories to my own kids to help them appreciate their history and the value of hard work.
This practice of sharing family stories, as it turns out, is a major commonality in families who successfully pass on wealth for multiple generations. The Rockefellers are known for their success in passing on the values of family stewardship from generation to generation—and one of the biggest tools they use to do it is sharing family history. They spend time with one another regularly, review their family vision, and help family members understand the history that has led to their success and perpetuated wealth.
When children from wealthy families hear these stories, their understanding of money changes. It goes from something they may have always had in abundance, to something that’s connected to hard work and sacrifice. That, in turn, changes how they use it. They’re more likely to become family stewards and than simply spend right through it.
I am a strong believer in Jim Rohn’s theory that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Bob pulled up my average and I have become mindful of whom I surround my own children with as I know it will heavily influence their value system and their views on money.
Pay attention to the people who surround your kids, and try to introduce them to good influences. Ideally, look for people who can uphold the values you want your kids to possess. As your kids get into high-school and college, they may also benefit from meeting family friends and acquaintances in various areas of the financial world, such as entrepreneurs, CPAs, successful business leaders, financial advisors, or banking professionals.
Familiarity with each of these professions is going to give your kids a leg up. These areas of finance won’t feel abstract and intimidating; they’ll feel familiar and associated with a likable person. In high school, my wife Lori shadowed people who ran successful businesses, which greatly impacted how she thought about her life goals and ambitions. After being introduced to her parents’ CPA, she worked at their office for a tax season. Both experiences gave her more confidence to pursue her eventual career as a financial advisor.
Set Your Kids on the Path to Success
Bob was a major influence on my financial path, and I am grateful for his influence every day. You have the power to set your kids on the path toward success by showing them financial behaviors that inspire them to develop the financial habits and values you want them to have.
As we know, a parent is not their child’s only influence. By connecting the dots for your kids about how wealth was built, you will better equip them to practice the habits of a wealth-builder. Finally, it’s also important to think about the other influencers who shape your younger family members. Surround your children with people who can help model good financial behaviors, and live out values like giving to others.
For more advice on modeling healthy financial habits, you can find Pass It On on Amazon.
Roger and Lori Gervais are proud parents of three wonderful children: Anna, Will, and Jack. Roger and Lori are also the husband-and-wife team behind The Gervais Group, named by Forbes as “Best in State Wealth Advisors” in Wisconsin. Lori, a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional, has been recognized for her commitment to clients and to the profession by Forbes, which named her to its America’s Top Women Advisor List. Roger, a CFA® charterholder, uses his background in engineering to offer clients a unique set of problem-solving skills. Throughout their thirty years of combined experience in the industry, Roger and Lori have made it their mission to simplify the complex world of financial planning.
I wrote this one from Roger's perspective since the core story was from a portion of the book he narrated.