FIRST-PERSON: Raising debt-free children

by Elizabeth Owens, posted Monday, October 16, 2017 (one month ago)

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) -- Money. Everybody talks about it. Almost everybody thinks they need more of it.

Some people have budgets or spending plans, while many people are in debt, some deeply in debt.

Most of us wish our children would learn to manage their money well -- perhaps better than we manage our own.

What does the Bible say about money and how do we communicate these principles to our children?

The Bible says that God is the Creator and owner of all (Psalm 24:1-2; Psalm 104:24-30). We are merely stewards of the money and possessions He has entrusted to our care. We are to return back to Him a portion of what He has given to us, obediently and cheerfully, to advance His Kingdom (Malachi 3:10; 2 Corinthians 9:6–8). We are to use the rest to provide for our families and to care for the needs of those around us in a discerning and thoughtful manner (Ephesians 4:28; Micah 6:8).

These are the principles we are to teach our children, from their earliest moments -- not only with our words but by our actions. Do our children see us return a portion of what God has given us regularly, cheerfully and obediently? Do they see us work hard and make thoughtful decisions to meet the needs of our families? Do they see us helping others with wisdom and kindness?

How do we help our children apply these principles with their own money?

First, they need to have their own money! Different families do this in different ways. Some children are paid specific amounts for completing certain chores. Some children receive an allowance. I heard of one creative couple who paid their children for each biography they read. However you choose for your children to receive money, they need to be taught that some of it needs to be returned to God.

Our children started to receive an allowance when they turned 5 years old. We taught them that at least 10 percent needed to be given to God at church, and we requested offering envelopes from the church office for the new tither. (Some seemed surprised at the request for a 5-year-old but no one ever turned us down.)

We also taught our children that at least 10 percent of their earnings had to be put into a savings account, to develop a habit of saving from the very beginning. Our rule was that savings could be dipped into only for a car, tuition or a house.

It is much easier to continue to live on 80 percent of one's income as an adult when it has been done since childhood.

We also have observed that a 5-year-old who receives 10 dimes for an allowance feels rich when he sees only one dime go into his offering envelope, and one dime go into savings, realizing he has eight dimes left to spend as he chooses. When did we lose this sense of God's generosity and blessing in our lives, and think that our "needs" demand more than 80 percent of our income?

Now, how do we teach our children to use the 80 percent wisely? We gave our children a fairly wide latitude in what they did with that money, offering guidance and suggestions, but giving them freedom to make choices and to learn. Some chose to give extra to meet special Kingdom needs. Sometimes they frittered it away on trivial things. When they found something they really wanted and discovered they did not have enough money to purchase it, they learned that when you run out, you do without.

We had to learn not to try to "fix" their mistakes. We realized that it is better to let them make some bad choices with a few dollars -- and learn from it -- than to make bad choices later on with many more dollars.

What about debt? The Bible teaches us not to become a slave to debt, and this is certainly something our children need to learn. On extremely rare occasions, when there was a particular item one of them wanted, we would let him "borrow ahead" to purchase it, in large part so he would learn about debt firsthand. We were very strict about re-payment, and when the child saw how little was left from each week's allowance after tithe, savings and debt payments were taken out, he soon learned to find debt a burden and something to be avoided. Planning ahead and waiting to purchase what he wanted seemed a much better option.

All of this may sound good and helpful, but we don't want our children to give only because we say so or to scheme to get the most for themselves from their money. The most important element in teaching our children to manage money is to teach them about God's gift of salvation through the death, burial and resurrection of His Son Jesus. We demonstrate His life in us daily before them, and we pray earnestly for their salvation.

When they do make the choice to follow Jesus, His Spirit in them will guide them in all their life decisions, including how they handle the money and possessions He has given them. Only then can they know the true joy of obedient giving and of living a life of discipline and service to their families and others.

Elizabeth Owens is the mother of four with her husband Waylan, dean of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary's Jack D. Terry Jr. School of Church and Family Ministries. This column first appeared at the seminary's BiblicalWoman.org website.
Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
Download Story