Growing up I always wanted to know how much money my Dad was making. I never found out and didn’t even have the neck to ask him. It was an unspoken rule that you simply didn’t speak about that.

My own kids are not so shy, especially my teenage sons (17.9 and 16 years old). In ways subtle and not so subtle they’ve tried to find out my salary through the years, and I’ve always gone to great lengths to conceal it from them. Shona and I never do our budgeting within earshot of the kids, and I’ve gone to extraordinary lengths to hide and shred wage slips, bank statements, mortgage statements, etc. That’s right, I wouldn’t even tell them how much my mortgage was.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
Then, a couple of weeks ago, I stopped and asked myself, “Why are you doing this? What’s the point in being so secretive?” I suppose I didn’t want them blabbing about it to their friends, but they’re “big boys” now.

Any other reason?

I couldn’t think of one, and realized that I was really only doing it this way because that’s the way my own parents did it. “Don’t ask; don’t tell.”

Then, as I thought more about it, I concluded that I was missing out a real opportunity to teach my kids about how to handle finances. I find it incredibly frustrating that schools spend so much time and money on teaching Algebra and Physics, and yet so little if any on teaching about how to handle time and money. I didn’t get one lesson on money at my public school. Thankfully, I entered the world of financial services and qualified eventually as a Chartered Insurer. Mortgages, Mutual Funds, and Life Insurance were my bread and butter, but that still didn’t make me an expert on personal finance and budgeting.

I feel it’s only in the last few years, mainly through listening to Dave Ramsey, that I feel I’m beginning to get to grips with debt-free living, zero-sum budgeting, and planning for the future. I don’t want my kids to take 30 years to learn that lesson.

Shocks at the Top and the Bottom
So, two weeks ago, I decided to put it all on the table. I got my two boys to the computer and took them through exactly how much I earn each month from different sources, how much tax, etc., is deducted, how much we have to set aside for fixed expenses (e.g. health insurance, mortgage, car insurance, school fees, church givings, etc.), how much we budget for variable expenses (e.g. food, clothes, gas, utilities, etc), and how much is left over each month. They were a bit shocked at the top line (one son was stunned to learn that I earn just a little more than he does in Chevy’s lube department after school). They were even more shocked when we got to the bottom line to see how little was left!

I explained how Shona and I are now working hard at keeping a daily track of our expenses, emailing every receipt into Evernote and sitting down every evening to write up what we’ve spent on index cards with running totals for each section of our budget.

It was a profitable time; I enjoyed being more open and transparent with the boys and they had their eyes opened wide to the expenses and complications of everyday living. We now pray together for God’s blessing on our budgeting and financial decisions at family worship. It all just feels a lot more “natural.”

As we continue this policy of financial openness with my sons, I hope they’ll not only help to keep us accountable but they’ll also learn how to organize their finances, budget, and plan for the future too. It also helps us all to work together on facing the looming college fees train that’s about to crush us. I now wish I’d done this a few years ago, but hopefully I’ve still got long enough to leave a good example of stewardship to them. It’s the only legacy they’ll get!

Funniest remark so far: “Well, I’m definitely not going to have so many kids!” (We have five)

Biggest benefit so far: Much less, “Dad, can I have…”

  • David (from England)

    I wish I’d done this. My 4 children have grown-up and left home now. When they reached the age of 15 instead of just paying for everything they wanted/needed, we gave them an allowance and showed them how to budget. I managed all our household budget using a spreadsheet but I didn’t want to show them that – whether it was pride or whether it was because I didn’t want them to worry about family finances, I can’t honestly say. But a few years ago it occurred to me I ought to have done exactly what you have done. Alas, too late!

  • Kevin Mulder

    Recently my 5 year old told a bunch of guests at our house that we couldn’t afford to buy more food at the grocery store that month because we had no more money left in our food budget. It was a bit humbling, but looking back it was quite humorous to hear my five year old explain part of our finances to our house guests.

  • Pingback: Credo Magazine » Credo’s Cache

  • Pingback: Links I like | Blogging Theologically

  • Pingback: Morning Mashup 01/10 | Theology Matters

  • Scott

    David, I agree, great post. Especially the part about schools not teaching kids anything, but could you be just as frustrated at parents for not teaching finances to their children as well?

    Have you heard of YNAB? It falls right in line with everything you’re trying to do, only does it 10 times better.

    • Stephanie

      Absolutely had the same thought as I read it! It’s a digital version of what they are doing and it is really great for helping to maintain that “spend less than you earn” plan.

  • Andy

    Thank you for this post David. Very helpful! You mentioned your use of Evernote for a place to send your receipts. I love Evernote but have never used it in this way. I am sure you are very busy but I’d love for you to share sometime how your system actually works, and how Evernote is used as part of your budgeting and financial management. Thanks once again!

    • Anne-Marie

      YNAB can be accessed from your phone so no need for the Evernote. You can enter transactions as they occur and all users will be up to date. Just sync it with Dropbox. It’s a great app. I don’t understand why Dave Ramsey never mentions it.

  • Jay Richardson

    David, we did the same things with our kids (listening to Dave Ramsey, showing our budget,etc) We also finally feel like we found some control using YNAB (You Need a Budget) software.

    However, I would challenge you to use your child’s “funny” comment about not having kids as another teaching tool. I challenge you to confront (and you already may have but I want to bring out this point for some of your other readers) this low view of children by pointing out things like: children being the gift of the Lord (Ps 127) and having more eternal value than any other budgeted item on the page, show them and reinforce that the Lord has provided (Jehovah Jireh) for all of the children (maybe not extravagantly, but always enough), and point out that we are to set our thoughts on things above (Col.3), not on earthly things.

    This statement, though off-handed, should also be a discipling moment in the Murray household.

  • Pingback: Good Things on the Web – Weekly Review

  • Pingback: Monday’s Links To Go | Tim Archer's Kitchen of Half-Baked Thoughts

  • Pingback: Web Wanderings ~ January 14, 2014 | Thinking Kids

  • Florida

    I was recommended this web site by means of my cousin.
    I am not certain whether or not this post is written by him as no one else know
    such particular approximately my difficulty. You are amazing!
    Thank you!