Missing Half: How to Teach Money Management in a Modern Family
By Brian Page
April 28, 2017
Part of financial literacy is knowing how money works, which is common instruction in schools that offer a personal finance class. But to be truly capable, and enjoy better outcomes, adults must also understand the social and emotional aspects of money. That isn’t taught anywhere—and it constitutes The Missing Half of financial education. In this series, Right About Money contributor and award-winning financial literacy teacher Brian Page examines how to nurture behavioral skills that lead kids to better financial outcomes in adulthood.
I recently ran across a tip sheet for married women, published in 1950—and, honestly, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. It featured 10 headings, ranging from such gems as “let him talk first” to “never complain” and “make the evening his.”
It’s not just that I cannot imagine this world; I wouldn’t even want to. I am married to a strong woman and would have it no other way. That will be the reality in more and more households as today’s children reach adulthood, and our job as teachers and parents is to make sure they are ready—including, and perhaps especially, as it relates to household finances.
In our 21st century economy, the two-earner household is de rigor. My wife is the primary breadwinner, which allows me to pursue my passion for teaching while also nurturing our children and preparing them for the world beyond our door. We are happy with our choice. It works because we share important tasks surrounding money and each have an equal voice.
That is not the case in many households, and I worry it will not be the case in many households even as our children become adults. Raising a family in a dual-income household is hard work. To be prepared, kids today—boys and girls—need a 21st century version of that marriage tip sheet.
Key tips might be “work together” and “share information” and “compromise.” Managing relationships is one of the core competencies described by the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning. These skills are defined as “ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups. The ability to communicate clearly, listen well, cooperate with others, resist inappropriate social pressure, negotiate conflict constructively, and seek and offer help when needed.”
Development of such emotional skills begins at a young age and occurs over time. They are important in all aspects of a union between two people, and especially useful in managing common finances. Angela Barber-Joiner holds a degree in early childhood/Montessori education and has a master’s degree in clinical mental health. I asked her how she helps kindergarten students see the world through the eyes of others?
“When an intentional or unintentional situation occurs, students are asked how they feel and how do they think the other student feels,” she explained. “The conversation with students is based around awareness of self and awareness of others. Their world is very small right now. It only includes them and their immediate group of people. Allowing students the opportunity to process the incident and supporting them by coming up with solutions, helps them see how others are affected by their actions.”
One in three adults with combined finances admit to financial infidelity, according to a survey from the National Endowment for Financial Education. When financial deceptions occur, 76% say it strains the relationship. Disagreements over money are the strongest predictor of divorce. The point here is that it isn’t enough to just teach how money works; we have to teach how to talk about it too.
With this in mind, I am now putting together a lesson for my class that I will share broadly—via NextGen Personal Finance and the Council for Economic Education—when it is complete. It will involve an assignment that integrates career exploration, family planning, household budgeting, the costs of raising a child, advice on how to talk about money with a life partner, and questions to ask a financial planner before taking vows. Students will be assigned partners and “married” based on core values uncovered through the NEFE Life Values Quiz, which helps people identify what drives their financial decisions.
They will have to make every financial decision together—and nowhere will they be asked to “touch up your make-up, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh looking.” We’ve come a long way but have much further to go.