Money lessons for my newly engaged daughter: She’s 4 years old

By Matt Matheson

Special to the Financial Independence Hub

My daughter is engaged.

Before you congratulate me, don’t.  I’m not happy.

It’s not that my prospective son-in-law is not a nice guy.  I mean, no one is ever good enough for your daughter, but he’s a solid kid.  Comes from a good family with good values.  I’m not totally sure what he wants to do with his life, but who among us knew exactly what we wanted to do when we were that age?

She says they’re best friends, and that’s definitely important.  I know every father who marries off a daughter probably feels this way when things get serious between his “little girl” and some new kid on the block, but they just seem so young.

They’re 4.

No Laughing Matter

That’s right. friends, last week my daughter announced she was getting married … at 4.

I know I should laugh and think it’s cute, but it actually kind of touched a nerve for me.  I mean, she’s only 4 and I know, Lord willing, that I’ve got a lot of years left with her before she strikes out on her own. But it made me realize that I don’t have as much time as I thought. It made me think that the time I do have, I need to be using wisely with her.

When we had our first child, I was chatting about parenting with a friend of mine who had kids in their teens.  He said that almost all the teaching and parenting he had done happened before 5. After that, he said, your job was to support and encourage your children.

I’m not sure I totally agree with him on that, but I will say that most of the impact you have on your kids will happen when they are young. That is, without question, true.

Big Dreams

As my wife was relaying to me the particulars of how I would be in the Guinness Book of Records for having the youngest child ever married and I was calculating the cost of the wedding, she told me a few things that stood out as far as the impact we’ve had on our daughter.

First, she is her mother’s daughter in so many ways.

Just like my wife, G knows exactly what she wants.  Apparently, she and the new fiancé have already discussed getting a dog and a cat.  They’ve decided on sleeping arrangements which include a bunk bed. She wants three kids and a house that is “a little bit cool.” And they want a van, because of the sliding doors.

For me, this all seems a bit strange.  Not the bunk beds — that makes total sense to me if I think like a 4-year-old — but just the level of dreaming she has done.  We’ve taught her, somehow, to dream about her future.  I’m not sure exactly how we accomplished this. My wife and I talk about our future plans a lot, what our hopes and dreams are, and maybe that has rubbed off on her.

I’m glad she has dreams. I know they’ll change (I hope the cat never materializes) but I’m glad she feels safe to dream.  I want to make sure she never loses that, and to encourage her to think big and not limit her expectations of what life offers.

A Wealthy Life

Second, this conversation reinforced that what we are teaching her about money is sinking in.

As she and her new flame were discussing what they were going to spend their money on, he remarked that he was going to spend all the money on “popcorn and candy.” My daughter asked matter of factly, “Why do you want to spend all your money on that? You’re not spending MY money.”

You see, Gemma is on commission at Matheson Inc.  She only gets paid if she works, and work she does.  Just today, as she was putting her dishes in the dishwasher, she was telling me how she needed to work to earn her money.

We have a chore chart that we keep on our fridge.  She has a variety of things she gets paid for, including making her bed, putting her dirty clothes in the laundry, cleaning up, and helping others.  I know some parents just expect their kids to do these things, and there are certain things we expect that she doesn’t get paid for (the helping others category is very broad for a reason). But we wanted to reinforce to her that if she doesn’t work, she won’t get paid, and that message has sunk in. Because we’ve reinforced this lesson, she doesn’t want to waste her hard earned money on frivolous things … like popcorn and candy.

My wife and I have tried to be very intentional about teaching Gemma lessons about money, and how it relates to faith, family, finances, and work ethic. We want to pass on our values for what it means to live a truly wealthy life. We’re doing this by modelling how we handle our money responsibly. And we want to give her real-world opportunities where she can begin to make financial decisions on her own.

At first, we’ll guide and support her as she navigates these new experiences. Slowly, over time, after we’ve scaffolded a support system of wise money mindsets and values, we’ll withdraw that support and let her experience her own financial consequences, both good and bad.

Be sure to check out Part 2 of this post tomorrow, where I’ll share some of the methods and mindsets we’re using to pass on our money values to our kids!

Matt Matheson is a husband, father and assistant principal with a passion for personal finance. He writes at where he focuses on methods and mindsets to inspire your finances. You can follow him on Twitter @method_money and on Facebook @methodtoyourmoney


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