It's been such a long time since Mr. Sense and I had an honest to goodness disagreement about money. I'm not even talking about a yelling and screaming fight (can't say that's ever happened). Nope, I mean just a plain and simple heated debate... I can't remember a single one. We never fight about money.
Life has been this way for so long that I really take it for granted. I forget that "normal" couples fight about money. It's so interesting how people become accustomed to the great things in their lives and begin to see them as a given, a constant, rather than one of the fresh and exciting aspects of life.
I think back to the day that Mr. Sense proposed and gave me a gorgeous platinum and diamond ring (that he totally couldn't afford back then um hmmm.. Mr. Sense). Our love and relationship wasn't particularly new by then, but the ring sure was! I stared at it, cleaned it, assumed (falsely) that everyone else was wowed by it. I even had special place to put it when I took it off. That was then.
Now, like the financial harmony that seems to be engrained in our lives, this ring, that is every bit as beautiful and special as it was back then, isn't something I think about every day. (I'm sure Mr. Sense would attest to this fact given the
unsafe odd places he's caught me placing it.)
It's not that I don't love my engagement ring nor the stable finances as much as I used to. In fact, as time goes by I appreciate them even more. It just seems these elements of life that were once exciting and new have become engrained in the fabric of my world. I have a pretty ring, and we never argue about money... BORING! (As Jr. Sense would say.)
Every once in awhile I stop and think about families who don't experience the financial harmony that we do. I know these people! They're my family, friends, and neighbors. They're all around me, but still I forget that my situation is not the norm. There are hordes of couples who do not have healthy financial communications habits... apparently.
What does this have to do with the kids?
Obviously fighting about money (or anything) in front of your kids is not healthy for them. But beyond that, the more out of control your finances are, the more difficult it is to instill healthy financial values in your kids.
Trying to teach your kids good money habits while you allow your own to spiral out of control, is like sitting on the couch with a bag of potato chips, telling your kids that it's important to eat vegetables and exercise. Right Mom... sure Dad!
One day a neighbor kid was at my house telling me "we are not a rich family" and commented that "we only have 60 dollars." Though I take this child's words with a grain of salt, it's obvious that the parents are sending a specific message, whether intentionally or unintentionally, and it is "we are not doing well financially."
I am not privy to this family's financial situation. But what I see is a family who lives in my rich neighborhood, who drives a VERY nice vehicle, and owns a plethora of possessions that would suggest that they have money to spend.
Why would they not consider themselves to be rich? Could it be that despite all of the luxurious things that surround them, they're drowning in debt? Or that they don't have the skills to quantify their financial status?
I'm just wondering when the kids will walk in on them eating all those junky treats in the closet!
Before We Knew How to Manage Money
Before you get the wrong idea about Mr Sense and I, I'll give you some background. You should know that we didn't get to this "we don't fight about money" state by accident. Too, we weren't born into money nor raised to be good with it. In fact, our parents made (and ocassionally still make) financial choices that we wouldn't recommend to our kids.
When we left home after high school we didn't have college (or cars, or clothes, or food, or housing, or our wedding) paid for by someone else. We worked in college. We took advantage of scholarship opportunities. And still we took out student loans. We began our marriage in debt. We began our lives together as financial idiots. Post college was when our financial self-education began!
Our transformation did not happen over night. Over the course of many years we learned how to eliminate our debt, how to track our spending, how to reduce our spending, and even how to invest for an early retirement. We put in major time learning and acting! You could even call it our period of "financial bonding."
Fast forward to today... the money flows in and we know where it will all go. (How we manage money without a budget.) When unexpected expenses come our way, it's no big deal.
I recognize that the Sense kids are lucky to have parents that have already worked through some of the really tough stuff in the financial learning curve. I wish all kids could experience the harmony that this brings to our home.
So what if your financial house is crumbling? Can you still teach your kids about money?
The answer is "yes, but."
If you want the answer to be YES, you have to be willing to do the hard work of communicating with your partner and with your kids about your own financial woes first. The kids don't need to know every detail, but it's important for them to hear you say... "I made some mistakes. It's okay, we're working hard to get better. Let's learn together."