It’s Never Too Late to Pass Along Financial Wisdom

Teaching Kids about Money” is a regular personal finance topic. Articles usually include discussions about setting allowances, developing good saving and spending habits, explaining how compounding works, etc. Giving your kids knowledge and experience with these items is certainly worthwhile. But a lot of it truly is “kid’s stuff” from a financial perspective. The “adult world” of personal finance is a lot more nuanced and complex.

And ironically, when your children become adults they might be much more receptive to your accumulated financial wisdom. This quote is frequently attributed to Mark Twain, but never verified. Whoever said it spoke a timeless truth:

“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

If you have adult children, now might be an opportune time to have some educational dialog about your financial experiences. A possible format for these conversations: Two simple phrases…

“I wish I had…” and “I’m glad I did…”

Take a moment to reflect on the arc of your financial life; skim through the ups and downs, the major events, the memories. As you process your financial history, identify moments where, looking back, you would say, “I wish I had…” or “I’m glad I did…” What do you find?

If you’re like most of us, you probably have items in both categories. Like:

“I wish we had made an offer on that vacation home.”

“I wish I had taken that job offer.” Or…

“I’m glad I talked with our attorney about a will.”

“I’m glad we started saving when we did.”

Here’s another item for reflection: For those “I wish I had…” situations, would it have taken very much to change them to “I’m glad I did…”? Possibly quite a few could have been different with just a small reallocation of time or money.

Conversely, when it comes to “I’m glad I did…” events, how many significant benefits and great memories were triggered by modest actions? In retrospect, many of the milestones in our financial lives may have tipped one way or the other on small decisions.

Your adult children will most likely appreciate hearing about your successes and your regrets, because both types of events can be instructive. And if you’re a typical parent of a typical adult child, you’ll probably be surprised at what your children know, think they know, or don’t know, about personal finance – even if you taught them well when they were just kids.

If you don’t yet have adult children, the “Wish-I-had/Glad-I-did” format is still worth your time, because it may prompt you to consider what you’d like to tell your children when they are adults. Seemingly small decisions made today will shape your future. You want it to be filled with “Glad-I-did” stories, don’t you?

And if you’re an adult child, the same questions are a good way to prompt your parents to share their financial wisdom.

Money, like politics and religion, can be a sensitive topic for public discussion. But this is family, and you may be their only teacher. Surveys repeatedly show that a high percentage of Americans graduate from high school and college with a substandard financial education. And sharing your wisdom is not just for their benefit. Continuing to discuss personal finances with your adult children may be a small but critical step to planning for generational wealth transfers.

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