Include the value of giving while discussing family finances with your children

Dawn Franks

Temperatures are rising, so it must be time to head for the swimming pool or the lake. As a kid, I spent a lot of time in the swimming pool at my grandfather’s ranch on Greenbriar Road, then outside of Tyler.

Privately operated, it offered family memberships. On any sizzling summer afternoon, bikes leaned against the pool fence while tied-up horses waited patiently for the ride home. It was rural Smith County.

When not in the pool, we played games like “Mother, May I.”

Remember the rules? One person is “Mother” or “it.” Kids line up, and Mother is positioned 15 or 20 feet away, facing the opposite direction. She calls out a name, and that kid requests permission to move some number of steps, bunny hops or giant leaps.

“Mother, may I take five steps?” The answer was either “Yes, you may,” or “No, you may not.” Then Mother calls on another kid. Eventually, one of the kids gets close enough to touch her and has won the coveted spot of playing “Mother.”

Now, the winner has all the answers, yes or no? Mothers and dads always have all the answers. Some questions are harder to answer.

Here’s a popular question, “Can I …?” This one’s not a game. You get a lot of practice answering it.

Practice makes it easier, right? But then “can I” questions get more sophisticated. “Can I get a new box of Legos?” is easier to answer at 6 years of age than the question “Can I have a truck for my birthday?” at 16 years.

The “yes, you can,” or “no you can’t” moment is a time to teach family values. The fact that you have the money to purchase the Legos or the truck is a measure of the resources available now. The value of a discussion about why you might not be able to purchase those items right now is the life lesson.

Frame life’s lessons to encourage hopes and dreams, nurture resourcefulness and entrepreneurial thinking. Discuss how to earn money to purchase the Legos or save money from the first job to pitch in and help purchase the truck.

If you do have the money right now to make the purchase, you might say, “Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.” That’s a valuable life lesson for children raised in affluence where everything seems easy, even entitled.

Affluence today doesn’t foretell a multi-generational condition. A sobering reality is that “70 percent of wealthy families lose their wealth by the second generation, and a stunning 90 percent by the third,” according to the Williams Group wealth consultancy.

What about this one? “Are we rich?” You might be asked by your 7-year-old at the company picnic, your 17-year-old on the drive to the beach or your 21-year-old who wonders if she will someday have a trust like some of her college girlfriends and drops it into a call home.

Avoid letting that question trigger feelings of anxiety over not providing enough for your family or choosing to book first-class seats when you fly. Try not to fret over how to answer the question without revealing your total net worth to your 5-year old, whom you fear will be freely sharing it with her teacher when she gets to first grade in the fall.

All parents experience this challenge. The right way to answer is as honest as you can at the moment, reserving the right to more discussion when they are older or the time or place is more appropriate.

According to Joline Godfrey, a wealth consultant, good answers to this question are in fact questions. What makes you ask? What do you think? What are you referring to? These questions prompt discussion and help you better understand what your child is asking. Perhaps, she only needs to know if you can afford summer camp. Perhaps he is now old enough to begin understanding more about the family’s resources and the responsibility that will come with it.

Include in these conversations the value of giving to help others and not just ourselves. When giving matters, always work it into your explanation of family income and expenses.

Dawn Franks, CEO of Your Philanthropy, offers advising services to families, businesses and foundations to enhance the giving experience and maximize impact. She writes a blog, the YP Journal, at Comments and questions are welcome. Send to

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