The Struggle to Raise Generous, Financially Savvy Kids

The ushers came around and Tony handed Fulton our envelope. Teddy insisted it was his turn to put money in the  offering basket, so Tony handed him a dollar to stop the complaints. Both happily put the money in the basket as it passed. But this Sunday for some reason, something clicked. As our older three sat behind us, oblivious to the ushers, I wondered why were Tony and I still the only ones putting money in the basket? Our oldest kids earn money for extra jobs and all the kids have gotten money for special occasions. I realized I wanted them to donate money. And I wanted them to WANT to donate money.

It was time for a plan. Actually, it was long overdue for a plan. In my usual fashion I checked a book out of the library and read lots of posts online. The kids knew Mama was on some new crazy mission and started to worry. Finally I told them over dinner one night that they’d have to start donating, and saving, percentages of their own money. Panic, anger and general pandemonium ensued. I was facing mutiny and honestly, it was disappointing to realize I’d allowed it to get to the point where my kids were arguing with me about donating a small percentage of their money.

So, some changes have been in the works for a bit around here, and not without growing pains. It’s become less of a short term plan and hopefully more of a shift in mindset for the kids and I. One of my parenting goals has always been to raise virtuous kids, but for the forseeable future, we’re going to focus on learning to be generous; with our time, talents and yes, even our money.

1. All their money is divided into save, spend and donate categories which we track on separate ledger sheets. (So much easier than three separate banks for those of us who NEVER have cash on hand.) Now they know that not all of their money can be blown at the dollar store.(Praise God.) If I want them to grow into adults who can save and ideally tithe, they need to learn to track their money now and set it aside for things they’re less than enthusiastic about. (Hello NJ property tax!) We settled on 10 percent to donate, 30 percent to save and 60 percent to spend.

2. Giving kids an allowance to learn money management is great if you can afford it, but I think there are many families like my own who can’t pay their kids a set amount every week. Think I’m kidding? In my research I came across several authors who wrote that kids should get an allowance equal to their age. I currently have a 6, 8, 11, 13 and 14-year-old; that would equal $52 a week, at least $208 a month and almost $2,500 a year. We do not have an extra couple thousand lying around, and I’ll bet that many other families don’t either. I think we have to look for opportunities to teach our kids to manage money and be generous with what they have and not get stuck thinking we need to shell out cash on a weekly basis to do so.

3. I’m trying to focus on generosity as a virtue as it relates to all things, not just money and donating. We can still give in so many ways even if we are stretched financially ourselves. We can be generous in our time, our prayers, and our talents. Some of the most generous people in the world have taken vows of poverty. I see families of similar economic status who regularly volunteer, or foster, and their children mirror that generosity in their interactions with others. Regardless of how much money they have, these kids understand the importance of giving to those in need. I hope we can model generosity in our own home and more in the community around us.

4. Since they started setting aside money to donate, we’re talking more about current events and where they can donate their own money in the event of a natural disaster or humanitarian crisis. Until recently, donating money was something us adults did without discussion or input from the kids. Now when the bishops appeal is mentioned at church, we talk about what we give and why. If our  intention during family prayer time is an earthquake or terrorist attack, we can talk about charities helping affected regions and whether or not any of us want to donate . And if we don’t have money right now, can we say extra prayers, collect food, or use our time and talents in another way? We don’t need to sit helplessly by and try to make sense of the senseless; there’s many ways we can be generous even from miles away.

5. With my older kids, we talk a lot about the lifestyle pop culture idolizes; fame, money, big houses, new cars, and materialism. What is it about these things that are appealing? What kinds of people do you see being worshiped as celebrities? Contrast these people with the lives of the saints and what do we see? I don’t discourage my children from becoming rich, but I try to stress the importance of hard work and following your vocation rather than seeking fame and fortune for their own sake. Our culture is not selling a lifestyle of generosity and humility. We can’t ignore the influence of the media in shaping our kids future plans, but we can hopefully offer them a more appealing option.

6. I’m watching how I talk about money more and trying to practice more gratitude. I still occasionally catch myself saying in a knee jerk reaction, “We can’t afford that! It’s too expense!”, but now, if time allows, I explain why. “We’re saving for this or that”, or “If we spend money or that, I’ll have less for groceries so unless you want to eat rice and beans three nights in a row…” I try not to complain about money (even though I still really want that beach house) and stress that I’m happy with the trade-offs and sacrifices we’ve made and the way our family benefits from them.

7. I didn’t grow up in a family that talked about money and once I was on my own, I was clueless about managing my finances. It’s only through luck I manged to marry someone who could manage the books and help educate me.  And it was only as an adult I started donating money to church and various charities. Maybe you’re thinking you can’t teach your kids about generosity and finances because your own finances aren’t so hot. Then there’s no time like the present to remedy that situation in order to provide a better example for your kids and set them down the right path. (Update: some of my readers have made specific recommendations in the comments!)


What advice would you offer? Please be generous! I’m all ears. Then write down and link up your posts below. Be sure to include a link back to this post so your readers can find the rest of the Quick Takes. I look forward to reading your posts!





  1. Phenomenal post—great suggestions Kelly.
    This is something we struggle with too….. As for church donations in the collection, we’ve done Direct Pay…the option in our diocese where you can have a certain amount withdrawn weekly/monthly and it goes right to the church. A portion to the parish/ a portion to the diocese. Special collections not included. So the weekly discussion is something we’ve been putting off bc of the convenience of the withdrawal system.
    We do not have allowances in our family TBH. When the kids need/want something, we discuss $ .
    My dh and I are extremely frugal, put ourselves through college, bought our house before we got married, save like crazy and don’t really spend unless NECESSARY bc of how we were raised…. in families w/o extra $$ at all….bc of our perception of money, it seems our kids HARDLY ASK FOR ANYTHING. I kind of feel like we have to badger them to get a souvenir, etc when we go away., even. So hard to instill economic values and yet let them see that $$ CAN be spent and enjoyed, you know??

    Thank you, my friend…and thank you for hosting!

  2. We took a Dave Ramsey class 3 years ago and it changed our life. Before anyone rolls their eyes too high, I just want to say that I don’t agree with everything he says and I don’t follow all of his rules, but a lot of what he said made sense and for the first time in our marriage we were able to be intentional about our spending. Our lives changed dramatically, but the most amazing thing is that by getting our finances under control we were able to be more open to life. We no longer felt that having more babies was the death knell on our budget. 2 babies later, I couldn’t be more grateful for that class.

    As for our kids, they (mostly) know that when they need something, they need to ask us to budget it in for next month. My oldest has a job as a mother’s helper and she saves 20% and donates 20% every week. I’m so proud of her and she (so far) hasn’t complained about it. She *really* likes having money to put in the collection basket too.

    So, good for you, Kelly. I bet once it becomes habit they’ll like it just fine. There’s something extremely adult about being charitable.

  3. Our kids love to eat Panda Express. It rarely happens and is quite a treat. But they ask for it all the time. It costs about $20.00 for us to eat it. So we use ‘a trip to Panda’ as our currency exchange rate. Mommy buys enough food at the grocery store for the entire week for what five trips to Panda costs. Those new shoes you want, but don’t need are two trips to Panda. You get the idea. It gives them a concrete grasp of what things cost.

    I second Dave Ramsey. We call him ‘Uncle Dave’ in our house. When my husband or I want something frivilious, we look at each other and say, “Uncle Dave says no.” 🙂

  4. I like all your points but especially #6. Usually I explain why we weren’t buying something by saying “That’s not a very good deal” or “I don’t really want to spend my money on that” or “I’d rather have X dollars than that item.” Or most frequently, “We don’t need that.”

  5. My parents also didn’t teach me about finances. I’m so grateful to my childhood best friend who taught me the envelope system, something I still (basically) use today! She also had the same categories/percentages that you picked for your kids!

  6. Great suggestions, Kelly! I feel like my kids (16, 14, 12 and 9) didn’t see the point of any of it until they had more than the measly allowance I doled out once a month. We talk about money at home and have made a point to change our “we can’t afford that” to “we choose not to buy that.” But like everything else in parenting, it’s not a one-and-done talk… it’s an effort to talk as we go along, every day.

  7. We have assigned books such as these as part of homeschooling:

    I’m glad you said that about allowances. I had a system where they saved, tithed, and could spend their allowances….but then was embarrassed that we couldn’t keep affording allowances! And we weren’t even giving them their “age worth”.

    We give half of our tithe to church but we use the other half for Unbound. I chose sponsees that are close in age to each of my kids and let them do the writing —I hope that, even though they’re not paying for the sponsorship, at least the correspondence helps them to develop charity and to see how others live and how blessed we are in this country.

  8. These are really great suggestions. My husband and I came into our marriage with almost no understanding of good financial decision making. Now, we are debt free, and very intentional about how we give, spend and save. We constantly converse about how to pass this down to our kids. Thanks for this!

  9. I love the idea of having the kids donate money to causes! What a great way to instill in them a sense of care and generosity, and that donating money (and time) isn’t just for adults!

  10. Dave Ramsey all the way!!! It really did change our life and we are able to give more than we ever thought we could. Our kids all know who “Dave” is and have learned that when the out to eat, clothing budget or entertainment budget is gone for that month that’s it. They also have begun to understand and appreciate the value of money because we use cash as much as possible and see my envelopes full and empty as the month goes. They bring there own money to church, and we do not give a weekly allowance. However they are able to save money ( birthdays, special treats, keep the change) or the few times I pay them to do something for me they know to set aside some of that money for God. I was super skeptical about The Whole Dave Ramsey thing and totally made fun of all the videos we had to watch during class but it truly has been a blessing to our family.

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