Children look for role models (as do adults, to some extent). They look for people who embody the things they see as successful and important and emulate their behavior to some degree.
I recognize that, for my children, I’m going to be a role model, both consciously and unconsciously, but I also know that I’m not going to be their only role model. Far from it. They’re going to draw on a lot of people for ideas on how to live their life, and they’ll be exposed to them in a lot of different ways.
The challenge for parents is that positive uses for money are rarely lauded in popular culture. Instead, the media tends to shine their light on expensive items or people with exceptionally high incomes who can afford to spend in a way that’s inaccessible to most of us.
What can I do as a parent to ensure that my child has money heroes that behave in a sensible fashion?
First, I need to act in a financially responsible way at all times, not just when my children are watching.This is true for any aspect of parenting. If you don’t live what you’re telling them, they’re smart enough to ignore the words and watch the behaviors.
The person you are when no one else is watching is eventually revealed to be the person you are when everyone is watching. Putting on a show works for a while, but as people see more and more of the full picture, your true nature is revealed.
At the same time, though, you can train yourself to behave better and naturally make better choices. The more times you make the conscious choice to act in a better way, the easier it becomes to always naturally act in that way.
So, the first step for establising money heroes for my kids is to simply make financially strong choices as often as possible until those choices are completely natural for me.
Second, I need to watch for and identify those who make smart financial choices. If I read about someone who has made smart financial choices and put themselves in a secure place for the rest of their life, that’s something I’m going to save for later.
The flip side is also true, to some extent. There is value in the cautionary tale of people who spend their money foolishly and end up without anything at all.
Once I’ve identified people who have achieved financial success in their lives, I filter those people to find those who might be role models for my children in other ways.
Not too long ago, I read a great article concerning how Tony Hawk has wisely leveraged his skateboarding success into long-term financial security. In that article, he talks about how he took some of his skateboarding earnings and invested them in Tony Hawk Inc, building lasting financial security for himself and his family by bridging what he was good at (skateboarding) with financially lucrative opportunities.
“Tony Hawk is an amazing skateboarder, but he’s also smart. He figured out how to turn that skateboarding skill into money that will last for the rest of his life. He didn’t just blow what he earned on more skateboards. He saved and built something lasting, and now he can skateboard for the rest of his life without worry.”
It’s a lesson my son gets. It connects something he’s interested in and thinks is “cool” to the idea of financial security, so financial security becomes a “cool” thing.
My children see Sarah and I making constant financially sensible choices (budgeting, careful thought about purchases, etc.), and they see the positive outcomes of those (my career freedoms, a lack of worry about making ends meet, etc.). They also learn that some of their heroes and role models do the same thing.
Our goal is to present financially sensible choices as the “good” and “normal” way to behave, and overspending as the “bad” and “abnormal” way to behave.
With a little bit of Tony Hawk’s help, of course.