An accelerated seminary program is hurtling me toward pastoral ministry. Someday soon, I am likely to cast a vision for spiritual formation in a church. I am not aiming specifically to be a children’s pastor, but will help out with children’s programming from time to time. When I imagine what sorts of things it is helpful for kids to take away from church, I tend to think about fun, feel-good lessons about how God loves them and gifted them so they can love and serve their neighbors. I rarely think about financial management as something helpful to teach kids—or to equip parents to teach their kids. However, a trip down memory lane suggests otherwise.
My older brothers and I sat around the dining room table with my parents, talking about money. My parents led children’s programs at the church I grew up at, so we were actually testing out a kids’ curriculum about money management that we might use at church. That month, we spent an hour or so each week talking through the lessons and doing activities, but financial learning was hardly new to me.
Give, save, spend
I did chores to earn an allowance a long time before those table talks, and one of the first things I knew to do with my allowance was to tithe. Tithing was assumed, and it became a deeply ingrained habit. That ten percent was not the only money I would give God, but giving ten percent was a good starting point that got me used to the idea that one thing we did with money was give it back to God.
The second thing I was encouraged to do with my allowance was to save it. My parents set me up with a savings account at a local bank, and I remember being proud of every deposit I made and documented in the silver booklet that tracked my balance. I knew those deposits added up and would enable me to do things I could not do with one week’s allowance. I was pleased when I could buy myself a bike, or buy a gift with the money I had saved. College, cars, and houses would become saving goals for later in life. I knew, because my parents told me and demonstrated saving up for their big purchases too.
I planned how much to save. Maybe it was the money curriculum that got me started making monthly budgets for my allowance. My budgets were simple, scrawled in big letters on scrap paper with four or five categories and usually one or two-digit dollar amounts. Probably at the time I did not really need a budget, but I was not too young to try. My basic attempts got me used to planning and deciding where my money should go. I wish budgeting now were as easy as it was then, but my budgets grew with me as I added income from dog sitting and nannying, and as I went off to college. I learned how to make my spending, giving, and saving work out with whatever money I was earning.
I do not remember the name of the money curriculum my brothers and I sat around the table discussing, but the principles I learned have set me up well for life. This was my foundation, and the positive impact remains visible in my life. I still think of ten percent as a baseline for giving and like giving to special causes on top of that. The tendency toward saving has resulted in way less debt weighing me down than many of my peers deal with. My digital budgets keep me thinking about where money goes and if that matches up with where I want it to go. I have refined my techniques, but I use the same basic principles I learned as a kid.
My experience is an example of the proverb: “Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray” (Proverbs 22:6 NRSVUE). Money is actually a great topic to talk about with kids. If you are a parent or caregiver, talk with your kids about the household finances and the values that shape how you deal with money. If you lead or influence ministry with children, create opportunities for kids to give their offerings, and talk about ways we can be generous with each other because God is generous with us. I invite you to imagine ways you can share the ideas about stewardship—giving, saving, and spending—with younger members of your community and see what happens. I am grateful I was trained in the right way, and I hope my work as a pastor can influence parents and caregivers to introduce their children to thinking about and managing money from a Christian perspective.