As we neared the exhibit of rides and activities, my four-year-old son turned to me. “Daddy, do we have money?”
I didn’t anticipate such an astute question from my little man.
He knew what was coming. He saw the thrilling rides and fun festivities. For me, well, I saw the fun, but mostly I saw the expense.
We were vacationing with my extended family, and as we approached the “Fun Park” each of the adults glanced at each other knowingly. Some false impression had invaded our midst that this area of town had a free playground.
Turns out, the only “fun” things in the “Fun Park” required a $50+ wristband per person. Tourism and vacationing families fill this market, so we shouldn’t have expected anything different. Our naivety led us here, and now the hard conversations came.
“Daddy, do we have money?”
The question burst with innocence. I couldn’t rebuke his materialism for wanting to blow hundreds of dollars in a single afternoon. The boy wanted to have fun. And what he saw was, legitimately, fun. But I also couldn’t express to him how nervous this place made me. It just felt like a money trap engineered to distract families while emptying their pockets.
I also know that my four-year old’s question didn’t revolve around a concern for our financial well-being. So how can I respond to a question that tugs on every fatherly emotion I have?
There are two core ways I wanted to encourage my son when he asks such a question. I didn’t articulate them to him that day at the Fun Park. I bumbled over a response in the midst of the glitzy setting. But in the long term I want to teach him about how finances works in our family.
God has given us money, but how we spend it reveals what we love.
Money holds value beyond the numerical value on its face. We spend cash on what we love. Or what we love is where we spend our money. Budgeting, saving, giving, and investing don’t fit into most young kid’s paradigm for money. With e-commerce and credit/debit cards, our children rarely get to see physical dollars coming and going.
When we spend money we can make the effort to explain to them what and why this is happening.
“Son, when mommy and I make decisions about how to spend money, we are showing you and your brother what we value. If we spend money on everything that looks ‘fun’ then you will learn to think that everything is important. If you don’t learn from mom and dad how to say ‘no’ to some ‘fun’ and ‘yes’ to other ‘fun’ then you will have difficulty making decisions when you grow up.
Jesus said ‘where you put your money is also where you put your heart’ (Matthew 6:21). When we spend money, we have to ask if this is where God would want us to put our hearts.
If we say ‘yes’ enough to the wrong things than we may not have enough money to do really important things. Like provide you with food, a bed and a house to live in. Or give money to help our church or friends when they are in need.”
We don’t have to spend lots of money to have fun.
As a parent I take so much joy in watching my kids have fun. Fun is a family value. However, that value can sometimes lead me to spend money trying to manufacture fun. Money does not guarantee fun (look at what happens to lottery winners). We can find fun in many things that don’t cost money.
When we have the opportunity, we can teach our kids that fun is often free and finding joy in God satisfies all our needs. (Philippians 4:4, Romans 14:17, Psalm 118:24).
“Son, you love to play this game every night at dinner called ‘favorite parts.’ You go around the table and ask each person which part of the day was their favorite.
When we play this game I want you to notice something. Often the best part of someone’s day was free or almost free. A conversation with a good friend. Swimming in the kiddie pool in our backyard. Those enchiladas your mom made for dinner. Going to church and playing with friends. The best things in life are often free. Fun and joy do not cost.
More importantly, we can celebrate Jesus and everything he offers us. God loves it when we have fun and rejoice in him and his blessings. Mom and dad also love it when you smile and laugh with joy. God has blessed in amazing ways where we can have fun without spending lots of money.
Spending money is so often a point of tension in our families. Yet, it can also offer tremendous teaching opportunities. How do you talk with your kids about money? How do you help them understand the relationship between finances and fun?