What we learned from a Money Date with our 8-year-old.

written by Bari Tessler February 20, 2017
What we learned from a Money Date with our 8-year-old.

Last year, my publisher mentioned off-handedly that she thought my next book should be about parenting, kids, and money.

I know there’s a huge need for this. After all, I remind people often:


The vast majority of us were simply never taught about money, let alone how to manage our emotions about it. We did not learn age-appropriate, incremental money lessons, from grade school on up. Can you imagine if we did?!


So, I hope I can write this book someday.* Perhaps in ten years, once my son is 18, and I have the benefit of my own, fully-lived experience of giving him this money education I wish I had received, all through his childhood and teenage years.

But right now? I’m still in the trenches! Our child is only 8 years old, and Forest and I are truly learning on the job. We’re doing our best to dole out a money education, tiny bit by tiny bit.

I’m not an expert on this. That’s why I bring in a parenting expert to my Art of Money program, and have only written one article (before this one) about some of the money lessons we’ve shared with Noah from the age of 3 on up.

Sometimes I doubt myself — after all, this is such an awesome responsibility! I hope I’m teaching him enough about money — not too much, not too little, and balancing the practical, emotional, and spiritual. And, as I often remind my Art of Money students to do in their own money work, I also try to celebrate even the small victories and milestones around parenting and money.

I hope you’ll enjoy this, our most recent money milestone from parenting our wonderful, intelligent, creative, strong-willed boy-child. I have to give huge props to my dear husband, Forest, who initiated most of what I’m about to share with you.

What we learned from a Money Date with our 8-year-old.


A fresh Money Story … straight from the parenting trenches


Noah (our 8-year-old) announced to us last week that he wants to buy an X-Box. This freaked me out a little bit, and raised quite a few financial considerations.

On the one hand, this is Noah’s very own money, which he saved up, himself. And I love that my child is learning how to save — and what a wonderful thing it can be.

Neither Forest nor I learned to save, as kids — and it didn’t come easily to us. While my sister and brother seemed to naturally and easily save (we all have our own gifts and challenges, around money), I was far, far more interested in buying that ring for my mother at the school fair than watching coins accumulate in a piggy bank.

It really wasn’t until my early thirties that I fully grokked the importance and value of saving — and Forest and I want to impart this lesson to Noah much earlier. (Along with age-appropriate experiences with earning, spending, and gifting, too.)

So, when Noah was 5, we introduced the concept of savings to him. We explained to him that, instead of spending his $5 weekly allowance immediately on small toys, he could save it and buy himself a much bigger, cooler toy.

Motivated by the magic of Legos, Noah saved his allowance for a six whole months (an eternity to a six-year-old), and bought a big, fancy Lego set. We were so proud of him!


Here today, Lego tomorrow.


But those Legos didn’t just teach Noah about the value of savings. They also taught him an important lesson about smart spending: assessing the value of something.

You see, Noah loved putting together that big, awesome Lego set (with help from his Papa). But afterwards? He never touched it again. You see, he’s an extremely social child, and doesn’t like to play alone.

Noah and I talked about this, and I helped him consider: was this a good money decision? He decided that ultimately, it was a good money decision, because he’d enjoyed it — but that those large Lego sets were pricey enough, with a short enough window of fun, he wouldn’t buy another one.

So, when Noah began saving money again, he set his eye on something else.


Duh, duh, dunnnnnnh: an X-Box.


Noah informed us last week that he had saved up all the money he needs to buy an X-Box. Which made me cringe a little bit.

I’m very careful about how much “screen time” and technology Noah is exposed to. I’m glad that doesn’t get electronics at school and that he loves his soccer practice (four to five times a week). We have a wonderful night-time ritual with him which always includes reading to him, and make sure there’s plenty of non-electronic spaciousness in his life.

So as soon as he began talking seriously about an X-Box. it raised some red flags for this Mama Bear. I’m really hesitant to bring more electronics into our house and into his life.

But this was his money. Which he had saved. I know how empowering it is to buy things with money you’ve earned and saved, especially as a child, and I want to encourage healthy money habits. Yet he’s only 8 years old … and as his parents, Forest and I must set certain limits, for his well-being.


Our Modern Family Money Date


One of the core practices of my Art of Money method is the Money Date: quite simply, a time to sit down and work on your money relationship. Money Dates can include the emotional stuff (journaling or feeling about money), the practical stuff (tracking your numbers and paying bills) and the big visioning stuff (reviewing your monthly and annual numbers and setting longer-term goals). And, Money Dates can be with your honey, with a business partner, or by yourself.

It was time for a Family Money Date.

After clearing the dinner plates, Forest and I asked Noah if we could talk about the X-Box purchase, and the feelings we were having about it.

We took turns speaking, so each one of us got to express our feelings about this potential purchase. We did our best to listen, without interrupting — and no one got too worked up.

I was grateful to be able to fully express my concerns about Noah having too much screen time — and he really heard me. And, he felt heard, too: he was able to gush about how cool an X-Box is and how excited he is to have one of his very own.


Have the jury reached a verdict?


One thing you must know about Noah: he’s a born negotiator. He’s constantly wheeling and dealing, on everything from what he’s going to wear to what he’ll eat for dinner to how much screen time or reading time he gets. Forest and I wanted to work out an agreement that felt good to us all, so we tried to speak Noah’s language and treat the X-Box discussion as a negotiation.

We told Noah that he could buy an X-Box, but he needs to use it within certain limits and make sure to compensate for that time with other, non-tech activities. Then, all three of us brainstormed and negotiated what those limits and balances would be, including time limits on the X-Box and going on some hikes with me to balance everything out.

Once the negotiations were complete, Forest wrote out a contract summarizing our agreement. Noah read it aloud, and all three of us signed it.

Family play station agreement

This was such a beautiful money experience for our little family! I’m so proud of us for working this out, together. And I hope this has given Noah yet another bite-sized lesson about money, which he can bring forward with him into adulthood.

What we learned from a Money Date with our 8-year-old.

I’m looking forward to including Noah in more and more family-wide money discussions. The next big one I know we’ll have is around where we want to donate some money this year, and I hope we can have a similar discussion and negotiation.

Until then, I’m relishing this experience, seeing that even when the world around us feels crazy, these family moments are so deeply important, grounding, and connecting.

Here are some of the tools and concepts from my Art of Money program (that I teach to adults) that helped Noah and the adults, in this situation:

— Play to your strengths. We all have natural gifts and strengths, when it comes to money. It helps to remember these — especially if you’re trying to improve in areas you feel less naturally gifted in.

— Good money decisions aren’t just about the numbers. And only you can truly say what a good money decision is, for you.

— Saving money can actually feel fun — and not like a chore. Especially when you decide what you’re saving for.

— Money Dates are wonderful. If you’re including others, listen. What you hear just might amaze you.

— Celebrate even the smallest victories … because a conscious money relationship is all about tiny, sustainable baby steps.


This was our way … not the best way and certainly not the only way!


Forest and I aren’t experts about parenting and money. We’re figuring things out, as we go. And I believe we all must find our own answers and values, when it comes to money — whether we’re going at it solo, as a couple, or as parents.

And … it feels important to celebrate little moments like this one, where it seems like we are passing on new, more loving and honest ways of being with money to our son.

One baby step at a time, we’re creating positive change in our money legacy … and that feels amazing.

Thanks so much for listening and celebrating, with us!

P.S. If you’d love to give yourself the money education you never received as a child (or as an adult!), there’s still a little time to join my Art of Money program, before we officially close for the year. Clickety-click right this way.

* Pssst … If I do write another book (and that’s a big IF), I think it’ll be around couples and money. This I can speak to, from my own direct experience! For the past 16 years, Forest and I have workshopped and road-tested all of the Art of Money tools, in our own marriage. (And I’ve had the privilege of supporting many, many dear couples, too.)

But I also think it’s important for parents to do their own money work, before sharing it with their children. Most parents never received their own financial education — on a practical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual level. We must do our own work and create healthy practices and attitudes around money, before trying to teach others. If you’d like more support on this, check out all of my articles on Couples and Money, here.

You might also like: