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Mom's Dirty Money Secrets


The other day I realized we were out of bread. So I grabbed my keys and wallet, happy for a brief stroll to the corner store to pick up a $5 loaf of multigrain. But before I opened the front door, it occurred to me I may not actually have enough, well, dough.

A quick peek into my wallet confirmed it: cobwebs. Not a single Washington.

But! My 7-year-old daughter has a little safe on the shelf by the door crammed with damp wadded bills and a battery of loose coins. Surely she wouldn’t notice (or mind) if some of her stash went missing. Right? I mean, I’d replace it.

I certainly wouldn’t be the first to “borrow” from my kids. Last month, Parenting joined forces with HLN’s Raising America with Kyra Phillips for an uncensored look at moms’ most revealing confessions. Together we surveyed more than 1,000 readers, viewers, and social-media fans from around the country to get the scoop on how they're really doing as parents.

The shocker? More than a third – a full 37.5 percent surveyed – admitted to having spent some of their child’s “birthday or special occasion money” on bills.

Plus: How To Teach Kids About Money

Across the board, money proved to be a sticky topic for these parents. Half of them admitted to lying to their partner about the cost of a purchase made for themselves or the kids. A third (35 percent) say they don’t trust their partner to handle the family’s finances and instead manage it all themselves.

“This survey highlights the fact that we’re not coming clean about money,” Neale Godfrey, CEO of the Children's Financial Network and author of multiple books on financial literacy for children and families, tells “This is about transparency in all relationships – with our partners and our children. We fight more about money than we fight about anything else. These are the things that tear families apart.”

The problem is that we’re passing our bad habits down to our kids. The only thing kids see us do with money is spend it, says Godfrey, who has created a new financial literacy app for kids called GreenStreets: Shmootz Happens!

“They don’t see us save, pay bills or give to charity,” she says. “Get them involved in all the rest of it. The only way to get money is to earn it. So make it really visible, simple and transparent for them.”

We might be able to show them how to earn it, but saving, aparently, is not something we're doing ourselves. Nearly half (44.9 percent) of parents surveyed by Parenting and HLN admitted to not having started saving for their child’s college education despite fully intending to.

This is not helping, say experts.

Plus: 5 Money Lessons for Mom

”When parents are really stressed about money, they pass down whatever dysfunction they have around money to their children – and it stretches across generations,” says Dr. Brad Klontz, a financial psychologist and author of Mind Over Money. “I’ve worked with people who are adults now that were cheated out of money by their parents and siblings.”

Fortunately there are steps all of us can take to be a little more proactive when it comes to money and our kids. A few tips:

Make your savings goals less abstract. If you really want to start saving for your kids’ college, open an account and put a name on it. Get emotionally attached to it. “Most of our financial behavior is rooted in our emotional brain, not our rational brain. Call it ‘Junior’s College Fund.’ Put a face on it and start saving,” says Klontz. “If you can attach some sort of emotion to an account, studies show you can increase savings up to 200 percent.”  

Be open about your finances with the kids. “Money is a taboo topic in a lot of houses, and so we don’t talk to kids about it,” says Klontz. “We’re teaching children that money is either not important, or it’s such a stressful topic that we don’t talk about it.”

Even if you can afford a big-ticket item like a big screen TV, you’re doing your kids a disservice by simply waltzing into the nearest big box store and swiping your card.

“We have to demonstrate for children what it’s like to save, what it’s like to bargain hunt. If you swipe a credit card and get it, you’re teaching children if you want something you grab this thing and it’s yours.”

Structure allowances. Give your kids money with strings attached; don’t let them throw it all away. If her allowance is $3, stipulate that one of those dollars goes to savings, the second to charity and the third can be spent however she wants.

Manage your kids’ expectations. If you haven’t saved for college, chances are your child may not be able to go to her top choice. Don’t lead her on, says Godfrey.

“Don’t say ‘if you get into school, we’ll figure out how to pay for it,’” she says. That is setting expectations unreasonably high.  

“I don’t want to be the one judging a parent who has to pay a bill. But if you have not started saving, you have to say ‘hey, look, I didn’t save for your college because we had all these other bills and all this other stuff.’” Community college may have to come first and your child will have to be ready for that possibility. 

Don’t steal. This sounds like a no-brainer. But if you need to borrow from your kids’ birthday stash, explain to him in advance that the family needs the money to pay the bills or make ends meet. “If you came clean with your kids, it would be hard to believe he or she would say ‘no, Mommy, I don’t want to help out the family’,” says Godfrey.

Plus: 25+ Ways To Start Saving Money Instantly

As for me, I ended up not taking a loan from my daughter’s piggy bank. I sucked up the $2 ATM surcharge at the corner store and bought the loaf myself. Her little stash is secure and mine is ever so slightly depleted.

And maybe tomorrow she and I will have a talk about how exactly that bread got bought.

We'll explore a new topic--from breastfeeding to spanking to money and sex--everyday this week here on, but be sure to tune into Raising America (check local TV listings) daily for even more juicy revelations from our survey! Click here for the full results of the survey. Click here to make your own confession!