PORTLAND, Ore. — When Sara Tetreault taught her kids how to be responsible with money when they were 5-year-olds, she may have done too good of a job. She jokes that her 16-year-old boy and 14-year-old girl think she is a bad mom because she and their father would not buy them smartphones or video game consoles.
So the kids did what they had been taught to do. They saved their money, pooled it and bought an Xbox 360 on their own.
"I didn't want them to buy it at all," Tetreault says. "My husband and I had to let it go. They earned it. They bought it. And they are responsible for it. … I have a hard time biting my tongue. It is a good thing I have a blog."
Tetreault's outlet is GoGingham.com, a blog on "stylishly frugal living," where she writes about the adventures of being a mom in Portland and, like most moms, trying to make the dollars stretch.
But many moms don't think they are doing a very good job talking about money. Investment firm T. Rowe Price's "2013 Parents, Kids & Money Survey" says more than one-third of moms (36 percent) grade themselves with a C or below when it comes to being a good financial role model. But are moms really doing that badly?
The survey also found that 41 percent of moms think discussions around savings and spending wisely are "critically important," versus only 28 percent of dads. Kids also have confidence in mom's money savvy.
Sixty-seven percent of kids agree that their parents do a good job of teaching them about money and 23 percent strongly agree, according to the survey. That's 90 percent on the side of the parents. "That speaks to the confidence parents need to have in bringing up the subject," says Stuart Ritter, a financial planner and vice president of T. Rowe Price Investment Service — and a father of three young kids.
The survey shows that kids are interested in money and even in specific topics such as learning about how banks and credit cards work (34 percent), inflation (27 percent), and diversification (20 percent).
"Parents have this great opportunity to take advantage of that interest," Ritter says, "and it centers around taking advantage of everyday teachable moments."
For example, a mother could be in the store with her children and trying to decide whether to buy something. She could talk about why or why not to buy something.
When she takes something out of the ATM, she can talk about how hard she worked to make that money in the first person. She can talk about credit card bills and how she pays them off every month.
"It is working into all those daily discussions so that kids feel comfortable in asking questions," Ritter says.
"Unfortunately, people think talking about money means a formal sit-down in the living room when your child is 18 years old, and his eyes are rolling, and you are supposed to talk about price to earnings ratios and stocks. That is not what it is about."
And whom do the kids turn to first to learn about money topics? Fifty-nine percent of kids say they turn to their mom.
Sharlet Bouchelle in Buena Vista, Va., was surprised at first that kids expect mom to have the money answers. "That isn't something you think of typically being part of motherhood," she says. But then, after thinking about it for a minute, Bouchelle says, "Of course, kids spend more time with their mothers, so that makes sense."
Bouchelle is somewhat of an expert in spending time with her kids. She homeschooled her four children (ranging in age from 27 to 13) and was Virginia's Mother of the Year back in 2011.
She says home-schooling meant, in part, that she couldn't ever hide money challenges from her children. During particularly tight months, the family would get together to discuss what was happening. "We included them in those conversations," Bouchelle says, "I didn't want there to be unexplained tension. I think that is frightening for children if they don't know. … Children have a tendency to think they did something wrong if mom and dad are upset."
The survey says that more than one-third (38 percent) of parents avoid talking about their financial situation with their children. And the kids know it.
Ritter says parents should feel free to talk with their kids about financial things. "We shouldn't use a lack of perfection on our part as an excuse to not talk with our children," he says. "It's OK to share. It's OK to share some of the adversity you faced and what you did to overcome it — or how you may be trying to deal with it now."
Tetreault says the best time to help kids learn good financial habits is when they are young — "while they still like you and think you know everything," she says.
One of the things she did when the kids were younger was to give her kids an allowance. She also made it so the kids had to use some of their allowance to buy their own underwear, socks and birthday gifts for family and friends. This taught them, she says, the difference between spending for needs and wants.
Tetreault also says part of teaching kids is modeling the behavior and showing that the great things in life do not involve shopping or going to the mall, but in experiences. For example, for her birthday, instead of material gifts, Tetreault has her husband and kids choose a poem each to memorize and recite to her. "I absolutely love this," she says. "It is such a gift to see what they will choose."
Ritter, however, notices that it is getting more difficult to model proper money behavior.
"We saw our parents writing checks and paying bills and arguing about the money," he says.
Today, bills do not come in the mail. People do not write paper checks.
"I need to do more for my kids to experience that same kind of discussion than our parents had to do," he says.
Bouchelle says the same thing. When her kids were smaller, she went out of her way to use cash in front of them and would, if there was nobody waiting behind them in line, have the kids count out the money to pay for items.
As her kids grew older, Bouchelle involved them in bigger decisions.
She says she had many discussions about money with one of her daughters who is a very talented ballerina. The girl worked to pay for her lessons. For expensive summer programs, she often had to choose carefully among various options. These decisions also often involved the rest of the family making some sacrifices for her. "These discussions are very good experiences," Bouchelle says, "although they are sometimes hard."
Ritter acknowledges that talking about money isn't always easy, but says his wife does an amazing job with their kids.
And for people to be part of a team, money needs to be discussed. "It's a lot to juggle," he says, "and she does it well — as do most moms."