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My Kids Are Obsessed With Money!

Dear Catherine,

Why are my kids obsessed with money? They're always wondering what things cost, and if their friends have more money than they do, and how much money we make. While I want them to understand that Legos cost money, and mommy and daddy have to work to make that money, it seems like they're way too fixated on it. I realize it may not be very American of me, but how can I get my kids to stop thinking about cold hard cash all the time?

Thanks,

Roiling in It

Dear Roiling,

You nailed it. We want our kids to respect and understand the value of money, but at the same time we don’t want them to obsess about it. I’m not sure this is entirely possible. When kids learn about the power of money, a necessary lesson, it’s natural for them to become infatuated. I’d say that the real trick is helping them process money’s role in their lives and, at the same time, steering them away from boorishness.

RELATED: 10 Things Your Kids Should Never See You Do With Money

Recently, I found myself deep in the vault with my daughters and their money mania. We went to a fairly fancy wedding on the other side of the country. Half the visitors stayed at a nearby Four Seasons, and the other half went to a proximate Hilton hotel. Well, almost the other half—we were the only out-of-towners to book a room at the Best Western Plus (which, for the record, was fab). As we had many friends staying at both of the tonier joints, we paid multiple visits to the other hotels, and my girls—ages 6 and 9—had plenty of time to compare and contrast. This, in turn, led to the unhealthy amount of time spent discussing the differences in hotel quality—with whoever would listen.

My daughters became hung up on the differences between “them” and “us.”

At first it was kind of cute listening to my 6-year-old explain the many advantages of the Best Western over the Hilton to a movie mogul: “At the free breakfast, you can pick from three kinds of cereal and toast your own bagel!” After a “swim date” at the Four Seasons, however, it was clear to even my die-hard Fruit Loop lover that we’d opted out of luxury land for more budgeted accommodations. The conversation, at this point, grew a little darker. Instead of spouting pride for the Best Western Plus (Plus!), my daughters became hung up on the differences between “them” and “us.” I found it increasingly difficult to endure the cross-examination over everyone’s finances, and I existed in a state of near panic that my kids were going to blurt out something totally churlish in mixed company. I had to stop and think about how a French parent might deal with such a situation.

In France, discussing money matters in public is taboo. We American parents could learn a lot from this practice. Although it may be a good thing for kids to understand money, it’s a very good thing for them to learn that it’s crass to constantly talk about it, and utterly impolite to grill others about their finances. I’ll never forget when my daughter’s little friend, at the weathered age of 7, asked me how much I brought in each year.

My inner-French mom sprang out: “None of your business!” I don’t think anyone had ever spoken to her like that before. Too bad. It’s a repugnant question—especially from a child to an unrelated adult.

Back to the hotel lesson. After I reminded my children that money is a complicated and delicate subject that, as a rule, should only be talked about at home with family, they backed off considerably. There were still a few questions at night in our totally adequate Best Western beds, but the whole subject felt more like a conversation than an obsession.

RELATED: I Want to Bring My Kids to a Wedding

We never could, nor would we really want to, know the intricacies of our friends’ financial affairs, and they are certainly not worth any self-torment. I am still open and honest with my kids when it comes to their money questions, and more than ever I’m trying to instill a respect for money (this is another story, involving less irresponsible spending and more talking about “earning”), but while making it a private, family matter.

I’ve also reduced its dominance in their conversation. When they have to save their thoughts for a confidential conference, they often let them go.

Good luck,

Catherine

Have a French (or any nationality) parenting question for Catherine? Email her at mommecs@bermanbraun.com.

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