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Sep 3, 2019

Kids And Money

by Kelley Keehn

Kelley KeehnYou’ve likely had a lot of talks with your kids. But have you had the money talk with them? Many parents are intimated to speak about finances with their youngsters. When should you do it, what do you discuss? The process can seem overwhelming.

You might be thinking it’s the role of the school system to equip our youth with a financial foundation, and that is a missing element to financial literacy to be sure. However, do you remember ParticipACTION? It was a 1980s challenge that’s resurfaced recently, encouraging all Canadians to move more and eat healthier, a worthy goal indeed! However, how much can our government and schools affect the wellness needle with education outside of the family? If a child learns about the importance of eating more veggies but then comes home to a dinner consisting of burgers and fries, what’s the likelihood they’ll choose the better option? And if they see mom and dad overspending and keeping up with the Joneses, what’s their chance in breaking that learned behaviour?

The hard fact is that most individuals in our country don’t have a solid grasp of financial well-being. A recent survey found that 50%1i  of Canadians are $200 away from not being able to pay their bills, more seniors are retiring with debtii, and because of parents’ desires to help their kids buy a home, a large percentage of them will have to delay retirement and paying off their own debtii.

Good News On The Horizon

Gary Rabbior, financial literacy veteran and President of the Canadian Foundation for Economic Education1   (CFEE) and founder of Talk with Our Kids About Money Day states: “according to the last PISA2 survey, Canada came in second in the world in terms of financial literacy among those countries surveyed. That speaks well for the progress that Canada is making – but we need to keep in mind that the state of financial literacy in many other countries is not particularly good.”

“We can be happy with the result but need to temper our enthusiasm with an understanding of the state of financial literacy, generally, in the world. We are doing well in Canada, though, and there is expanding efforts to do more. I am encouraged for our youth since I feel (a) they understand the importance of financial literacy in their lives and want to learn about money, (b) there is rapidly growing interest and effort to do more in our schools, (c) we are getting better at financial education and learning from past mistakes and successes, and (d) improvements in technology, communication, etc. are putting more and better resources into the hands of youth,” continues Rabbior.

More Work Needs To Be Done

“The greater challenge is now with the many Canadians who have not had adequate preparation. Many have not been able to resist the pressures and influencers and, as a result, have gotten themselves over-extended through spending and debt. Too many Canadians are living beyond their means and have lives far too full of stress, anxiety and feeling out of control”, cautions Rabbior. “We need to keep the momentum going for youth—but we have to find new and better ways to engage, and help, adult Canadians who are struggling. Overall, if we can help Canadians better understand the correlation between financial health and well-being and physical and mental health and well-being, Canadians are more likely to advocate for financial education for their kids – and more actively seek out ways to improve their own financial health and well-being.”

What's The Solution?

CFEE also conducted a surveyiii recently of over 6,000 youthiv and one of the questions they asked was how and where youth want to learn about money. Given options such as games, the Internet, etc., the overwhelmingly source identified was at home—and the second, by a large margin over third place, was school. These findings echoed the results of the 2013 CPA Canada report.

“Youth overwhelmingly also indicated that they want to learn about money—and they want to learn about it from trusted sources—home and school,” reports Rabbior. “Unfortunately, most parents, however, lack confidence in their ability to help their kids learn about money. This is, we believe, misguided. As with many teachers today, the aim is not to have all the knowledge and information to share—but rather to be a facilitator of learning. There are many great resources and programs that parents can tap into. Our “Talk with Our Kids About Money” program provides a ton of resources and activities for parents through the “Home Program” to help parents of kids from ages 5 to 18 and older learn about money. The activities are fun and engaging and make it easy to get conversations, and learning, started.”

Here’s CFEE’s top tips to help you start the money talk with your kids:

  • Develop good financial behaviours. It's much easier than modifying behaviours later.  If you start early you can help them develop good behaviours in dealing with money rather than trying to change behaviours when they are older. Good financial behaviour is likely more important than financial knowledge. For example, there are many sources of help to budget and plan – but actually taking the initiative to budget and plan is the behaviour goal – and what will make a difference in the future.
  • Financial health and well-being can impact physical health and well-being.  Good financial health contributes to physical and mental well-being. Help your child develop the knowledge and skills to build a healthy financial life to be able to avoid the stress, anxiety, and feeling of being out of control. So many Canadians live a life of financial stress and anxiety which leads to so many issues. Help your child avoid such an outcome.
  • Early small mistakes can teach big life lessons.  By starting early and involving your kids in activities and decisions related to money, they can make mistakes that do not have great consequence, yet those mistakes are likely to teach important life lessons that will be retained in the future.
  • Prepare your child for all those who will try and influence their money decisions.   Starting at a very young age, your child will encounter many efforts by others to influence their decisions and actions, including advertising and peer pressure. You can help your child better understand such influencers, resist the temptations to buy and spend, and learn to make decisions that are in their own best interests.
  • Begin money talks early so you can be a key source of help and advice later.  Talking about money with your kids when they are young and at a stage in life when money matters are less complex and consequential can enable you to establish a good, open, and comfortable “financial relationship” with your child, open up the lines of communication, and make it easier and more natural to help them later when decisions and matters become more complex.
  • Kids want to learn about money at home, so the interest door is open.  A survey of over 6,000 youth by CFEE found that the number one place youth want to learn about money, by a large degree, is at home. Most youth are hoping to from a trusted source. The opportunity and interest are likely there. Take advantage of that and be a source of help.
  • Help your kids learn from your mistakes and how to avoid them.  You have probably made a few money mistakes along the way – and probably learned some great lessons from those mistakes – lessons you can share with your kids so that they do not make them.
  • Remember "Bet you can't eat just onetm"? Start talking and watch what happen.  Experience has shown that getting started is likely the hardest step. Once you start talking, more and more opportunities to talk will arise. The survey of youth by CFEE showed clearly, and overwhelmingly, that youth want to learn about money. Once the door is open, many questions will likely come – each with an opportunity to learn.
  • In the future, looking back, you will wish you had helped; so why not help!   As a parent, and in those later years when you reflect on what you did to help your child build a successful life, won’t you want to feel that you helped them to achieve happiness, financial well-being, and healthy life? Avoid future regrets for talks you didn’t have. Enjoy the good things you observe from the talks you did have.

You can’t start the money talk earlier enough. Simple lessons about money and currency can be had young and often. Saving, responsible spending and negotiating are topics that can be had almost weekly. You don’t have to reveal every detail of your financial life to your kids, but if you’re renewing your mortgage, getting a car loan or rebalancing your investments, why not introduce your children to the concepts. Consider taking them to the bank with you or on your next visit to your Certified Financial Planner. Start small, talk money often and check out the resources for parents and teachers at


Kelley Keehn is a best-selling, award-winning author, personal finance educator and is the Consumer Advocate for the FP Canada. She has written ten books on personal finance. Her newest book, published by Simon and Schuster, Talk Money to Me, will be released December 17th, 2019 and is available for pre-sale now on Amazon. She’s the Marilyn Denis show’s personal finance expert, was the host of the W Network’s Burn My Mortgage, sat on the National Steering Committee on Financial Literacy, currently serves on the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada’s Consumer Protection Advisory Committee, the Ontario Securities Commissions’ Seniors Expert Advisory Committee, and is a member of the OECD’s International Network on Financial Education.


  1. CFEE is a federally chartered, non-profit, non-partisan organization that works to improve economic, financial, enterprise, and career development capability to enable Canadians to undertake their economic decisions and actions with confidence and competence.
  2. The Programme for International Student Assessment is a worldwide study by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in member and non-member nations intended to evaluate educational systems by measuring 15-year-old school pupils’ scholastic performance on mathematics, science, and reading.