The long-term career damage from not talking to your kids about money

According to a Chase study, Americans say they owe their financial foundation to their parents. How firm is your child's financial footing?
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The role of parents in teaching kids about money is tough to overestimate. Edyta Pawlowska / Shutterstock
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By Richard Harris

As I travel across the country and around the world training salespeople at all kinds of businesses, I’ve learned to spot those who grew up in homes in which money was rarely, if ever, discussed. They’re often the ones struggling the most in the world of work.

Fellow parents: I know it can be uncomfortable and awkward. But if you don’t talk to your kids about money, you could be causing long-term damage, impeding their future careers.

This is true for any field. To succeed, you have to be able to navigate conversations, and, in many cases negotiate. That requires talking about money.

Richard Harris, founder of The Harris Consulting GroupCourtesy of Richard Harris

And while about 14.5 million Americans have sales related jobs, just about everyone has to sell. In interviews, you “sell” yourself for jobs and promotions. As an employee or entrepreneur, you “sell” your ideas to build support. And as more Americans become freelancers — they may be the majority within a decade — people constantly have to sell themselves as candidates for gig work.

Most buyers and hiring managers want, and appreciate, straightforward communication. They’re looking for the value proposition. How much good will this do for them? What’s the economic impact?

I see people choke up all the time when it comes to answering these questions. They’re also afraid to ask questions, like, “What’s your budget?” Or, “What’s the salary range?”

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It’s very simple: The people who are comfortable having these conversations make better deals, and more of them. The people who aren’t comfortable talking about money end up losing opportunities.

Lots of experts call on parents to talk about money at home, and offer guidance on which financial topics kids are ready to learn at different ages. But in many families the topic remains taboo.

A study from Chase Slate found that a little more than half (56 percent) of parents have discussed money with their kids. T. Rowe Price, meanwhile, found that 77 percent of parents at least touch on “monetary requirements” as part of discussions about future careers, and 73 percent believe “it's important to include kids in discussions regarding the family finances.” But 41 percent admitted they sometimes avoid talking to their kids about money.

Some people have a sense of shame around finances. And some were taught things like “never count someone else’s money” — an adage that can lead to good lessons like not feeling jealous of another person, but can also lead people to believe it’s bad to even bring up money.

I’ve had trainees tell me they hear nagging voices of their parents in their heads saying, “Don’t ask about that!”

I have to explain to them that it’s not rude to discuss money, particularly with someone considering buying what you offer. And I know from experience that learning from your parents about the family budget and specific aspects of the economy can be very helpful.

I have to explain to them that it’s not rude to discuss money, particularly with someone considering buying what you offer.

My parents were open about money. They taught me about stocks when I was 6. I started buying stocks at age 15. (My first was in MTV, which is now part of Viacom.)

Now, my wife and I pass these lessons on to our boys, ages 10 and 9. Our conversations run the gamut. We talk about budgeting; how my business works; how people can get better at making money; real estate, and more. Like 69 percent of parents in the T. Rowe Price survey, we open up to our kids about financial mistakes we’ve made.

When we go grocery shopping, we each guess the total bill. It’s fun, but also draws attention to the costs, emphasizing that food doesn’t just magically appear in the house. And we’ve taken our kids to the bank to help them set up their own savings accounts.

We’ve also helped them make lemonade stands, and have taught them to always give a portion of profits to charity. It’s fantastic to watch your kids walk up to the local firehouse, hand over a contribution and explain how they made the money — and to see the mix of joy and confusion on the firefighters’ faces.

Of course, kids don’t just learn from what parents tell them. They learn more from what we do. So it’s important that we walk the walk. (More than 80 percent of parents surveyed by T. Rowe Price believe they set a good example with money, but 40 percent still admit that they take a “Do as I say, not as I do” attitude in talking to kids about money.)

It’s also true that kids can, and should, learn about financial issues and topics in other ways, including in school. But the role of parents is tough to overestimate. As the Chase study put it, “Americans say they owe their financial foundation to their parents.” The question is whether it will be a solid enough foundation for them to face the future.

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