COVID Financial Challenges Can Be Teachable Moment for Parents

(From The Portland Press Herald) – Opportunities for children to learn about finances and money management often come in the form of abstract concepts or simulation exercises. My own credit union uses these techniques through the financial wellness fairs that we facilitate for local high school students. While these are useful in helping provide students with basic money management exposure and understanding, opportunities to learn from real-life events can be even more powerful.

Because of current events and the accompanying financial challenges, many people and families are facing or experiencing possible loss of employment, reduced job hours or increased expenses. As a result, parents and adults have a rare opportunity to communicate with children on a personal level about actual financial circumstances and the impact that these decisions have on family finances. Ironically, April is Youth Financial Education Month in Maine, and since students of all ages won’t have classroom opportunities to expand their financial knowledge, this is your opportunity for a teachable moment.

It is essential to understand that the life-changing events brought about by the recent COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak affect the entire family. A growing number of families are coping with layoffs and furloughs from their jobs and are trying to figure out how to pay the bills. The coronavirus has not only disrupted our everyday lives but also added a great deal of stress, worry and uncertainty about what the future holds. There are likely quite a few questions being asked of parents by their children, regardless of their age, about the impact that the coronavirus is having on family finances. We believe it is important to be prepared for the questions with some responses that both acknowledge the reality and offer solutions that can help reduce the impact.

Talking with your children about the impact of the coronavirus on your family is important – both what you are doing to keep them safe as well as the financial challenges you may face because of job loss or reduction in income. Kids are smart. If you are upset or concerned, they usually can tell. Open communication is the key in helping children cope with and feel secure during challenging times. Involving children in financial conversations can help bring a family closer together. Plus difficult times present opportunities to teach kids about money management.

A few ideas to facilitate a discussion about finances between parents and their children include:

  • Plan a family meeting to discuss how COVID-19 is affecting your household financially. This should be an honest, positive discussion about what is going on.
  • Explain the situation as simply as possible. Have age appropriate conversations.
  • Update your household budget and share it with your family. Get the kids involved in cost-cutting discussions – give them choices about which activities are important to them.

The goal is to get the whole family on the same page. And remember, unexpected financial challenges like those brought on by the coronavirus outbreak present the opportunity to talk with children about the importance of having emergency or rainy day savings.

With most, if not all schools, doing online learning for the remainder of the school year, this is an ideal time to apply a practical lesson that can help positively shape their money management and financial skills for life.

You may not have all the answers, but be honest and explain what you do know. It’s difficult enough for children to watch their parents worry about finances when we’re not doing things like “social distancing” and “shelter in place.” So the current circumstances, if not addressed and discussed to some extent, can be anxiety-inducing for children, already worried about the coronavirus itself.

Be sure to provide plenty of reassurance that you will all get through this together. The important thing is to keep talking.