How to talk to your kids about money and lesson this holiday season

Insider experts pick the best products and services to help you make smart decisions with your money (see how). In some cases, we receive a commission from our partners, however, our opinions are our own. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page.

  • Vacation “experiences” are now everywhere and cost families a fortune.
  • For those who cannot afford these experiences, you may be wondering how to explain this to your children.
  • Start by showing them your grocery bill and explaining how much the food costs and get them to volunteer.

Earlier this year, 8-year-old Frances was trying to convince her mom to let her go to a summer camp that was popular with her classmates. When her mom, Jennifer Gee, said no, Frances snapped: “Why are we so poor?!”

The Toronto mom of two was shocked. Ji had grown up with a single mom and not much money. How could Frances think they were poor? Gee and her partner have a house, food on the table, and even planned to take Frances and her brother on a Christmas light experience for the holidays!

The camp that caused this outbreak costs $4,000 a week. Although Frances, whose name has been changed to protect her privacy, attends a French public school in Toronto, she is in an affluent neighborhood where Gee says half the kids have nannies.

Ji and her family don’t live in this affluent neighborhood, but are segregated in this French public school. Ji is a school chaplain. Her partner lost his job during the pandemic and has not found the same secure job to replace her.

“We don’t have a nanny, but that doesn’t mean we’re poor. There’s something in the middle,” says Gee. “[Frances] she sees the difference in some cases between what we can afford and what her friends’ parents can afford.”

Gee knew she had to start talking to Frances about money and class, even though Frances is only 8 years old.

Talk about money at the grocery store

Although 83% of American parents believe it is their responsibility to talk to their children about money, 31% of them never do.

Parents often feel that talking about money is uncomfortable, scary and can seem “too grown up” for kids — especially for those in elementary school, according to Ed Grocholski, chief marketing officer at Junior Achievement USA, an organization that teaches financial literacy, entrepreneurship and job readiness. But kids don’t necessarily feel the same way.

“With inflation, some of the research we’ve done is that price increases are peaking for kids,” says Grocholski.

She recommends parents start talking about money when kids bring it up. While asking to go to $4,000 camps isn’t the norm, the money comes out when you’re grocery shopping or buying holiday gifts.

Gee does just that. He started showing Frances the family’s grocery bill every week to show her how much things cost. When Frances saw the $135 grocery bill, she couldn’t believe how much it was!

Insider’s featured grocery credit cards

Chevron icon Indicates an expandable section or menu or sometimes previous / next navigation options.

Chevron icon Indicates an expandable section or menu or sometimes previous / next navigation options.

$200 bonus cash back after spending $1,000 in purchases in the first 3 months of account opening

Earn unlimited 2% cash rewards on purchases.

80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

Earn 3x ThankYou® points at restaurants and supermarkets. Earn 3x ThankYou® points on gas stations, air travel and hotels. Earn 1x ThankYou® points on all other purchases.

60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening

Earn 5x points on all travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards. Earn 3x points on dining, including eligible delivery, takeout and dine-out services. Earn 3x points on select streaming services. Earn 3x points on online grocery purchases (excluding Target, Walmart and wholesale clubs). Earn 2x points on other trips. Earn 1x point per dollar on everything else.

On the other hand, I couldn’t believe how low the amount was! A Canadian family of four typically spends $287 per week on groceries.

Gee says she’s always been an avid couponer and price matcher, which is why she keeps her bill so low. She even showed Frances where she used coupons to save money (which also helps Frances with her math skills).

“I grew up with this lack mentality that I don’t want my kids to have,” says Gee. “But we also hope this teaches her that money is finite.”

Parents face pressure to give their children holiday ‘experiences’

During the height of the pandemic, 23% of parents with children under 18 felt the need to overspend to give their children the best vacation.

According to Gee, that feeling hasn’t gone away.

She says the holidays now aren’t just about presents and sits on Santa’s lap for a quick photo – they’re full of “experiences.” Holiday light displays are popular these days, costing about $30 per car. Toronto malls offer “Santa Experiences,” where kids take the classic Santa photo, but also build a gingerbread house and write a letter to the North Pole. These cost between $20 and $45.

“Keep in mind that saving money for you also takes away an experience for your kids,” says Gee.

Volunteering can be the antidote to the pressure of holiday expenses

Between the holiday experiences and the gifts, it all adds up. Many parents know they can no longer afford it.

Gee says she’s noticed an openness about money among parents over the past six months. Parents she barely knows talk to her in the school parking lot and at activities about how the price of keeping their kids busy is getting too much.

Geleen Donovan, the executive director of Family Promise of Union County, recommends that parents replace these activities with volunteering. Family Promise’s mission is to end and prevent homelessness. Donovan works with many volunteers to help these families in poverty. She sees a significant change in perspective in children when they start volunteering.

“Volunteering will cost money nothing and it’s going to be so rewarding,” says Donovan. “I really think it’s a good antidote.”

Donovan believes in practicing “radical compassion.” She believes volunteering will help parents and children see how good they really are – even if they can’t afford every holiday activity.

Gee gives this example for Frances. As the school chaplain, she is responsible for raising funds to buy gift cards for 40 low-income families for Christmas. Now that Frances knows how much their family spends on groceries each week, Ji asks her to help figure out how much it takes to feed 40 families.

Once again, Frances is amazed at the thousands of dollars it costs to feed people. Gee says she’s starting to see the meaning of money and privilege for Frances. It was also helpful for her as a parent.

“You remind yourself that it doesn’t matter,” Gee says. “He’ll be fine without the gingerbread with Santa.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *