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The Financial Tips I'm Teaching My Children

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As a daughter to immigrant parents, the importance of working hard and doing well in school were ingrained in me early on. I followed the path that was expected and eventually graduated from medical school, residency, and fellowship training. Life seemed good as an attending physician, but there was just one problem. Despite all those years of school, training, and perceived academic success, I had received no financial education. I was eight years into practice before realizing I was financially illiterate! I wasn’t managing my money effectively. 

It turns out many doctors have experienced a similar path, making the same realization much later than many of our non-physician peers. We are so focused on following the narrow path in medicine that we fail to learn about optimizing our finances, making smart investments, and planning strategically for retirement. Instead, we feel the depravity of delayed gratification and are eager to spend money as soon as our paycheck goes up. Lifestyle creep sneaks in. Some even find themselves realizing they have been taken advantage of by financial advisors who gave bad advice and were more interested in lining their own pockets with high fees. Simply put, we are not money-smart.

It took several years to educate myself in order to take steps toward smarter financial planning. But in the process, I learned to set clear goals, develop better habits, change my mindset, and commit to daily reading. Now that I have young kids of my own, here are ways I will teach my own kids about financial literacy so they don’t make the same mistakes I did:

  1. Start early, as early as possible. I cannot reinforce this enough. I wish I educated myself on basic financial education much earlier: investing in the stock market, understanding index funds, creating a budget, making financial goals, understanding different asset classes. Exposing our kids to money concepts early, even grade school, is a must. Over time, you will be surprised at what sticks. 
  2. Be transparent. Money should not be a taboo topic. I believe being open about how a family earns, spends, saves, gives, and invests money is important for children to see within their own home. If you don’t teach them, they will learn from media or other outside influences. 
  3. Help them learn budgeting. Use clear jars or a money management box so they can start budgeting and setting aside buckets of money. Help them find ways to earn. 
  4. Read books. Personally, I wish I spent even 15 minutes a day reading about personal finance or strategies on investing. Even small doses of information can add up and build on itself. A few pages from a book, one blog post, one podcast … anything is better than nothing! For kids, find lighthearted stories and books that teach money concepts. This is a fun way to introduce these concepts as part of the daily routine.
  5. Make money lessons fun. Play games/activities that will engage kids and make it entertaining. Have family game nights and play Monopoly (or Monopoly Junior). Even simple activities like playing store with fake money can teach them valuable money ideas.
  6. Teach gratitude. By showing thanks for what they have and recognizing these as blessings, kids are less likely to focus on what they lack and more likely to understand their ability to help others who are less fortunate. 
  7. Teach the importance of giving. Find ways to practice giving as a family. I believe this develops compassion and empathy toward others, and also develops a sense of social responsibility. 
  8. Introduce the concept of investing. Help them understand the concept of making money grow and having money work for them. Invest in the stock market? Show them the stocks and index funds in your portfolio. Have investment properties? Take them with you as you do work or maintenance. Own a business? Let them see you interacting with your employees or budgeting for supplies. 
  9. Help write down goals and review them regularly together. You know the saying “Where your focus goes, energy flows.” If you set goals and focus your energy on finding ways to get there, you are more likely to accomplish them. This will also help kids to learn about discipline, persistence, and delayed gratification.
  10. Help develop a growth mindset. I was so laser focused on getting through medical training that I developed a very fixed mindset, which I can only see now in hindsight. I believe this limited what I thought of my abilities and what I could accomplish outside of medicine. Teaching kids to see failures as opportunities to grow and helping them to navigate challenges will help build resilience and encourage them to be bold with their ideas.  

I hope to teach my kids much earlier what I didn’t learn until much later into adulthood. I believe by helping our younger generations develop a more solid financial education, not only will they be more financially savvy and confident, but it will empower them to be bold thought leaders and compassionate changemakers.

What money lessons are you teaching your kids?

Michele is a pediatric gastroenterologist and medical director. She is also a children’s book author and founder of Bright Futures EDG. Her book is called “Reach For The Stars” and introduces basic financial concepts to young kids. Bright Futures EDG was formed to be a platform to share this information while also empowering kids to be bold and to think big.

Image by Nuthawut Somsuk / Getty

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