How to Talk to Your Kids About Money

How were you taught about money when you were a child?

I wasn’t taught much beyond pocket money and tithing. Most of my financial education came later through hard experience.

But there was one lesson I will never forget.

I was at a leadership conference many years ago. The speaker began by asking us if we knew the difference between fruit and trees.

Well, duh. Of course we did.

“You can’t eat trees, but you can eat fruit,” he continued. “And fruit grow on trees.”

Ookay. Thanks for that.

Having laid his horticultural foundation, the speaker began peppering us with questions:

“A nice pair of shoes. Are they fruit or trees?”

Huh?

“A romantic weekend away – fruit or tree?”

Um.

“An online business – fruit or tree?”

Eventually we got the picture. Trees were things that make money (eg: investments); fruit were things that cost money (eg: shoes and holidays).

Once we understood this, we were able to respond to his questions:

He would ask, “A nice restaurant dinner?” and we would shout back, “Fruit!”

Or he might say, “a lawn-mowing business” or “a rental property” or “shares” and we’d reply “Trees!”

Then the punchline: “If you want to eat fruit, you have to plant trees.”

Aha.

Trees before fruit

I have never forgotten the fruit and trees speech, and I have shared it many times over the years. It’s a simple picture of sowing and reaping that comes straight out of the Bible.

Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground – trees that were good for food. (Gen. 2:8-9)

When God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, it was full of trees that were good for food.

Do you see?

If God had provided a few shopping trolleys of fruit, they would’ve eaten well for a week or two and then starved. But God planted all kinds of trees so they would have fruit for years to come, for themselves and their children.

Here’s another verse that says the same thing in a different way:

Prepare your work outside; get everything ready for yourself in the field, and after that build your house. (Pro. 24:27)

This makes perfect sense to anyone raised in a farming community. Fields earn money; houses cost money. So take care of your fields first.

I’m convinced that one of the reasons why many in the church have a poverty mindset is because we’ve been taught bad financial habits. Instead of hearing about planting trees and sowing fields, we’ve been told the offering basket is a magic wishing well. Throw your money in and you’ll receive back 30-, 60-, 100-fold or more.

And that’s just one of several bad habits we hear about in church.

This is not the place where I talk about giving, except to say you can’t give what you don’t have. Before you give you have to receive and one of the ways we do that is by planting trees.

Historically, the church has emphasized giving more than receiving and this may be why so many in the church are poor.

How do we change that mindset? It starts with our kids.

Here’s what we do in our house. Every fortnight, my children sit down in front of me and I pay them for doing their chores. It’s basically pocket money. The amount stays the same each time. But we want them to feel that they have earned it.

Three jars

Each kid has three jars labelled Give, Save, and Spend. After I hand them their money, they divide it up into the jars. They can divide their money anyway they like – it’s their money – but usually a third goes into each jar. It’s a tactile experience that is repeated every fortnight, 26 times a year.

What do they do with the money in their Save jar?

I don’t really expect them to buy shares or a lawn-mowing business, but I do want to instill into their young minds the principle of deferred gratification.

One of my daughters just bought herself an iPad, a purchase which would have been impossible without the diligence of saving. She’s a budding artist and she is using the iPad to develop her talent. I think that’s a great investment.

What do they do with the money in their Give jar?

We’re fairly loose on the rules but the deal is they have to give to those in need without any expectation of return. They can put the money in the offering basket or sponsor someone on the 40 Hour Famine. Sometimes they’ll go shopping with their Mum for food which goes into local food banks for the poor.

And what do they do with their Spend jar?

They’re kids. What do you think they do?

The God of trees

I want my children to think like farmers, because we are all farmers. It might surprise you to hear me say this but it’s true: We are all sowing and reaping all the time. It’s a fact of life.

Sidebar: How does this relate to grace? Grace says you get to reap what someone else sowed, but nobody ever reaps unless someone first sows.

The Give, Save, Spend concept has been around a while. The three jars were not my idea. But they serve as a good way of teaching our children about a giving God who created an earth filled with good things.

Then God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit after their kind with seed in them.” (Gen 1:11)

Our God is a God of trees, by which I mean he filled the earth with fruit-bearing trees so that we might be fed and learn a few things about how to take care of ourselves. The trees came first.

But our world is a world obsessed with fruit, and the message we often hear is “fruit come first.” Buy now, pay later. No money down. Extend your credit limit.

Which comes first: fruit or trees? You decide.

The world’s way leads to debt and poverty, but God’s way leads to abundance and a rich inheritance for our children.

I am thankful to patrons on Patreon for providing feedback on an earlier draft of this article. Patrons are sowers who have invested into this ministry. They keep this website free and enable me to give away thousands of books to leaders everywhere. Patrons rock!

8 Comments on How to Talk to Your Kids About Money

  1. Paul,
    This is excellent. As a full-time Financial Services professional and “practical Grace junkie“, I can’t even tell you just how true this is, and how much I appreciate you sharing this with the Church. -Ryan Haley

  2. Problem is, what if you hate money? And I don’t mean I merely dislike it – it’s on the list of top 5 things I despise the most. I honestly hate it for the same reason I hate math. No matter how many times you explain it to me, I can’t understand it and it makes me feel stupid (I literally get anxiety whenever I’m faced with a money/math problem).

    That, and I otherwise consider myself a smart person. I hate how money is often used to determine someone’s moral worth (yeah, that billionare is a totally self-made icon and that cancer patient with the GoFundMe page should just quit whining and pick up a third job).

    And I feel sorry for people who believe their life’s purpose is to make money and work a mindless job. Yes, money is necessary, but I’d rather be a useless intellectual than a useful idiot who’s just another cog in the machine.

    • Do you hate hammers and sewing machines? Probably not. Money is not something to love or hate; it is merely a tool whose usefulness is determined by the skill of the person wielding it. Abraham used money to employ hundreds of people. Solomon used money to build a temple. Barnabas used money to support the church in Jerusalem.

      Money is neither good or bad; it is the love of money that lies at the root of many problems. This is why it is important that we teach our children sound financial habits from a kingdom perspective. If we don’t teach them, someone else will.

      • Kintu George William // October 13, 2021 at 5:01 pm //

        Paul, in my country, Uganda, sowing and reaping is a magic panacea of wealth through a Church basket! You feel highly manipulated even to borrow what to give at Church to increase your chances of getting wealth. This lesson is vital to the Church today.

  3. The problem with that analogy is that money is a more abstract thing. Again, it’s like math. When I was growing up, you were just expected to learn the facts and remember them for the next test. I was never told why, only the what and how. And with every test I took, no matter how hard I studied, it was like all that knowledge was just thrown out the window and I couldn’t remember it – I barely graduated with a D. Inflation, insurance, mortgage, etc. – I’m 27 years old and I don’t know jack about any of it, even though it’s been explained to me a ton of times.

  4. I’m inspired to talk to my kids about about this. Thank you

  5. There’s only one way to describe this financial wisdom: Priceless!!!!

    Haha! See what I did there? There is something wonderful about explaining things in simple terms as you would for a child – it hits home with almost everybody. Anyone can get it and see what you mean. The more complicated your explanations become, the less people there are that will get it.

    The way I see it, all creation is the tree that the Father, Son and Spirit planted. All in the service of the eventual coming of Jesus to gather what has always belonged to them. The Gospel is simply the proclamation of this greater and higher reality.

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