What Will You Teach Your Kids About Money?

Profile photo of Amrita Jayakumar
Written by Amrita Jayakumar
Profile photo of Rick VanderKnyff
Edited by Rick VanderKnyff
Senior Assigning Editor
Fact Checked

Many, or all, of the products featured on this page are from our advertising partners who compensate us when you take certain actions on our website or click to take an action on their website. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.

Hey, internet: Remember millennials? Many of us have graduated from our lattes and leisurely brunches to become parents with jobs, car loans and perhaps even a mortgage.

On our road to adulthood, we’ve experienced two global crises — a recession and a pandemic. Many of us are also still carrying mountains of student debt. These years have shaped our outlook on money, and now we’re teaching our kids what we know.

Here are the money lessons five millennial parents around the country want their children to learn (answers have been edited for length and clarity):

‘Don’t ever think your child is too young to learn’

Laurynn Vaughn

Laurynn Vaughn, 37, of Kissimmee, Florida, is a single parent to two daughters, ages 5 and 4. She runs a day care that closed during the pandemic but has since reopened. Vaughn is working on a savings goal using SaverLife, a nonprofit whose mission is to help working families save money. She is also an active volunteer.

“I don't want to pass on the fact that I was not taught about money. I think the earlier you teach your children, the better. I already teach them that there's pretty much three principles with money. The No. 1 thing is giving. The second thing is saving. And the third thing is, what you have left is what you can enjoy. My principles are a little different, there’s really four: I pay bills, then I give, I save and have money left over to enjoy. Teaching them at their level is better than not teaching them because you're waiting for them to get to a level.”

‘It’s better to be a working student and leave college with much less debt’

Mae Waugh Barrios

Photo by: Margaret Waugh

Mae Waugh Barrios, 34, of Holliston, Massachusetts, is a parent to three children, ages 10, 4 and 2. She is an instructional coach for middle school and is on an unpaid leave of absence to look after her children during the pandemic. Her husband, Francisco, runs a landscaping business. She has $20,000 in student loans left to pay off.

“That was the biggest mistake I made in my whole life. Everyone said go to whatever college you want, just take the loans. Nobody told me the real after-effects of student loans. My husband didn’t go to college. Our plan is to open a college savings account for [our children] when I go back to work. It’s [also] better to be a working student and leave college with much less debt. My husband and I have made sure we don’t get so bogged down by debt that we can’t survive. We talk a lot at the dinner table about being rich and being poor. If you are rich, your money works for you. If you are poor, you work for money.”

‘A greater emphasis on experiences’

Steffa Mantilla and family

Photo by: CJ Mantilla

Steffa Mantilla, 36, of Houston has a 4-year-old son. She is a certified financial education instructor, a former zookeeper and founder of the personal finance website Money Tamer.

“In our household, we're putting a greater emphasis on ‘experiences’ rather than ‘things.’ [For my son’s birthday], instead of buying tons of presents, we'll buy one present and then tickets to the children's museum or local zoo. We encourage relatives to give gifts of experience, as well, that they can do together. This puts the focus on family and friends while also teaching him to live with less stuff around.”

‘Not being afraid to invest’

Alan LaFrance, 37, of Austin, Texas, has a 5-year-old son. He works in digital marketing and his wife, Meladee, is a respiratory therapist.

“You could pay for a car in cash, but you could [get] a loan for that car and take that capital and invest it. If you can make more with that money, you’re in a much better situation overall. At some point you can’t just squirrel everything away, you have to start letting the money work for you. As parents, we want our kids to save, but in reality, you can do that too much and really miss out on a lot of opportunity.”

‘Build another stream of income’

Jernessa Jones and her son Kyan

Photo credit: Saving Grace Photography (Sommer Hamilton)

Jernessa Jones, 39, of Florence, Alabama, is a single parent to a 6-year-old son and is an accredited financial counselor at Operation Hope, a financial literacy nonprofit. She graduated from an MBA program during the pandemic and started a fashion accessory business.

“My mom and dad didn’t own a business and neither were homeowners. I was looking for houses last year because homeownership is the first step to building generational wealth. I realized I could afford the mortgages for some of the houses I looked at, but I’d probably be house poor. I decided to step back and see what I could do to build another stream of income. Entrepreneurship was another thing I could teach my son about. From beginning to end, even when I opened my business bank account, he was there.”

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.

Before you build a budget
NerdWallet breaks down your spending and shows you ways to save.