Whether you’ve been laid off from work, are having to tighten your belt, or you’re just trying to explain homelessness to your child, these books can help you navigate tricky money conversations
It’s no secret that most adults will go through tough financial times at some point in their lives. My husband, Paul, and I are not immune to this; between the two of us we’ve been laid off from work four times in the last ten years.
Chances are, even if you’re trying to keep conversations between you and your spouse, your kids are they’re picking up on red flags.
Maybe you’re a bit more cranky around the house, or giving in less to what they’d like from the store. Perhaps you’ve introduced a new budget out of left field and they wonder what happened to their weekly movie + dinner nights with the family.
When I think back to my own childhood, I distinctly remember the conversation my mother had with us in the year or two before declaring bankruptcy. She sat us down and said that she would not be buying lots of the extras we’re used to anymore.
If she had had a book like the ones to read to us to accompany that talk, then I think it would have gone better. Not that she messed up in anyway, but it’s super nice to reinforce what’s going on through stories, as well as to show your child that they’re not alone in what you all will need to deal with down the pipeline (or are already dealing with).
Whatever it is that you’re dealing with, know two things:
:: you’re not alone
:: there are excellent books out there to help ease your child into your new and (hopefully) temporary financial situation
Let’s take a look.
Tough Financial Time #1: Laid Off from Work
Money Book #1: Hothead, Cal Ripken, Jr.
Age Range: 8-12 years
Connor Sullivan, a star baseball player (in a book by Cal Ripken, whowouldathought?:)), has turned into a bit of hothead when he doesn’t perform like he really wants to.
And where does all this extra tension and anger come from? From the situation at home that he refuses to share with others because he’s ashamed. His parents are in a hot financial mess, and it’s been stressful for everyone. Dad was laid off from work as a car salesman, and his mother was trying to fill the financial vacuum by taking extra nursing shifts in the emergency room. The stacks of bills are scoreboard-high. Connor overhears money arguments about monthly mortgage payments, whether to raid the kids’ college funds, etc.
This book is great for any kid who loves baseball, by the way. There’s lots of insider knowledge in here.
The Money Lesson(s): You can get scared by things you see on the television, such as a high unemployment rate. But don’t be afraid to talk to an adult about this. It will help you to separate fact from emotional scaremongering by the media. Also, don’t be afraid to talk to your parents about what you are hearing from them and not understanding, or what is frightening you about your household (such as money woes).
Life Lesson(s): When you hold things inside, they have a habit of manifesting in an emotional way. For Connor, this was through anger and temper tantrums that got him suspended for a game or two. But it could manifest in other ways. So talk it out and let others know how you’re feeling and why. Also, when you are a part of a team, your actions directly affect them. You need to remember that they need you at their best! Both on and off the court/field/etc.
Tough Financial Time #2: Not Enough Money for Extras
Money Book #1: Those Shoes, Maribeth Boelts
Ages: 5-8 years
Whether we like to remember this happened to us as tweens/teens or not, there is a lot of peer pressure when it comes to having “cool” clothes. And often the “cool” clothes cost more than parents’ paychecks can support.
That’s why I like this book. A boy gets transfixed by the newest trend of shoes at his school. His jealousy is palpable. Unfortunately, his grandmother can only afford to get him shoes that he needs − winter boots.
Even worse, his own “everyday” shoes fall apart at school. A helpful guidance counselor gives him a pair to have, but they’re what’s considered “baby” shoes and he gets embarrassed.
What happens? He finds that the one boy who didn’t laugh at his “baby” shoes actually was worse off than him. When he actually finds the shoes of his dreams − albeit one size too small − from a thrift store, he ends up gifting them to this other boy.
The Money Lesson(s): First off, I love how this boy figures out an alternative way of finding the shoes he wants for a price his grandmother can afford − the thrift store. I also love how the grandmother unabashedly told him what they could and could not afford instead of racking up a charge she didn’t need on her credit card to satisfy a current trend.
Life Lesson(s): Helping out someone else is hugely rewarding, just like when someone helps you out.
Money Book #2: How to Steal a Dog, Barbara O’Connor
Age Range: 8-12
You might be wondering (like I was) why any parent with a child would want them to read a book with this title?
This was a tough book to read for me. It was heartbreaking, to be honest.
The story revolves around Georgina Hayes, the daughter, whose father left his family recently. The mother, Georgina, and her brother, now live in a car. The mom works two jobs, but cannot save up enough for first/last/deposit on an apartment, at least not for awhile.
Georgina gets the idea of stealing a dog when, while parked in a parking lot for the night, she sees a flyer for a $500 reward on a missing dog. She figures if she can steal a dog, then the owner puts up a reward, she can get $500 to help her mother get an apartment and they can get out of their cruddy car.
Of course, she ends up becoming friends with the owner of the dog she steals, and she has to watch the sadness and depression it wreaks in her life.
Money Book #3: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Grace Lin
Age Range: 8-12 years
I truly enjoyed this jade-gem of a book. Minli and her family live very meagerly (poor according to American standards), but they have what they need. Though yes, just barely. The mother is always discontented with their circumstances. Her daughter is quite content, listening to her father’s stories are night, but she knows that her mother is not and she knows they have to work to the bone for the little they have.
So Minli decides to take some of the information from these stories and seek these people out so that she can change her family’s fortunes.
The Money Lesson(s): This is a beautifully written tale about greed, humbleness, dragons (yes, there are dragons!), and learning to be thankful with what you have.
Life Lesson(s): Being thankful with what you have, and feeling like you have “enough” is the secret to happiness. There’s also a strong lesson here about helping others along their journey, and accepting help from others along the way.
Tough Financial Time #3: When You Need to Tighten the Belt
Money Book #1: The Ant and the Grasshopper, Amy Lowry Poole
Ages: 4+ years
This is a twist on the classic Aesop’s fable, where the ants consistently, and without hesitation, prepare for the winter months while the grasshopper focuses on games + entertainment in the Chinese Emperor’s Summer Palace.
The Money Lesson(s): Consistent, and sometimes hard, work pays off. Preparation for tough times to come − such as being laid off from work − is a good idea.
Life Lesson(s): The ants may be super prepared for winter while the grasshopper is out in the cold, but there is something to be said for enjoying life more. The lesson here is somewhere along the lines of “work hard, but don’t forget to play hard. Play hard, but don’t forget to leave time for work.”
Money Story #2: When Times are Tough, Yanitzia Canetti
Ages: 5-7 years
This book is great for any family wanting to have a “we need to tighten our belts” conversation with their children (or perhaps not wanting to, but needing to from cases such as being laid off from work, or other financial monkey wrenches).
There are examples of what the parents and children will need to give up buying, but then really optimistic and fun examples of what they’re going to substitute instead that costs much less (or in most cases, is free). Such as turning off the TV and shutting down the video games in favor of family games and reading instead. Or foregoing vacation and instead making a staycation where they check out local spots together. Or cancelling the birthday party clown and instead making up family jokes and magic shows.
It’s very endearing.
The Money Lesson(s): The great money lesson − one I talk about all the time − is to still live your life, just without spending nearly as much doing so. An underlying lesson that’s not spelled out? Sometimes when you go through hard times, like the kind you may face after being laid off from work, you become closer with the ones that matter.
Life Lesson(s): The life lesson here is that money is not everything. Yes, it’s important, and this family does eventually have to move in with their grandparents. But what is actually important is spending time with the ones you love. That doesn’t mean you have to spend money doing so.
Tough Financial Time #4: Not Much Money for Christmas
Money Book #1: The Money We’ll Save, Brock Cole
Ages: 4-8 years
It’s all-hands-on-deck with this family who, you can tell, has very little money (set in a 19th century New York City tenement, to give you an idea). Everyone in the family has chores to do to keep things going. Christmas is around the corner, so they’re trying to save their pennies. Still, the mother needs two eggs and 1/2 pound of flour from the store. She sends the father, who resists temptation. Well…except when the Chicken Man tells him about how he can save money on his Christmas dinner: buy a young turkey at a lower price now, raise it, then eat it for Christmas dinner (all for lower than they would normally pay for their meat).
The turkey lives in a box by the stove, but soon grows out of it (as well as wants more than just table scraps for a meal). It becomes quite the mess.
Before you worry about where this is going…it turns out that they can’t possibly eat poor Alfred the turkey at the end because he has become a pet.
The Money Lesson(s): Sometimes it’s all-hands-on-deck with family to keep things running. And guess what? Some things that you buy to “save money” really aren’t worth it after all (though of course it was nice they got a pet…that they eventually gave away to a neighbor).
Life Lesson(s): There’s a small overtone of the early 19th century tenement life in this book; however, you’d have to dive deeper to really get that history from it.
Money Book #2: Coat of Many Colors, Dolly Parton
Ages: 4-8 years
I have to be honest here and say I expected more out of this book. I mean, after all, it’s written by Dolly Parton.
The lesson is a good one, but the rhymes left something to be desired (at least for me). Perhaps the rhymes will be musical to little kids’ ears?
Basically there is a family who has very little money. They’re given a box of rags, and the mother makes a beautiful coat for her daughter that turns out to be as colorful as Joseph’s from the bible. The daughter is proud, and so she doesn’t care when others make fun of her coat at school.
The Money Lesson(s): Most of the belongings you need are for utilitarian purposes. Like a car gets you from A to B. The fact that it can also be an entertainment center, have heated seats, and offer a choice of aisle seat or window (in three rows, no less) is irrelevant. To have what you need, it just needs to get you to the place you need to go. Just because you don’t have lots of money to spend on a super fancy ride doesn’t mean you don’t have what you need nor does it mean you should be ashamed of what you’ve been provided.
Life Lesson(s): Your mother puts a lot of love and attention into the things she does for you. That is something money can never buy.
Tough Financial Time #5: When You’re Trying to Explain Homelessness
Money Book #1: How I Learned Geography, Uri Shulevitz
Ages: 4-8 years
Is your child seeing poverty firsthand? Perhaps from homeless people on the corners, like the ones I pass here in Houston? Or maybe they don’t know how “good” they have it?
What I like about this book is that it gently introduces the topic of what poverty really looks like, from the perspective of a man who went through it as a child in Poland. One day his father buys a map with his bread money instead of bread − a seemingly ridiculous way to spend their money − but he figured they’d still be hungry after the bread was gone. The map would be a feast of the mind.
The Money Lesson(s): Poverty exists. This book shows a child what it can look like, through the eyes of another child.
Life Lesson(s): Sometimes you’ve got to think out of the box, even when resources are meager, in order to keep spirits up.