This special series is part of CentSai’s commitment to financial literacy at every level. We’re collaborating with financial education advocate Sam X Renick on a series of short interviews, videos, and tips. Wealth psychology expert Kathleen Burns Kingsbury, the author of Breaking Money Silence, tells Renick the most important money lesson she learned as a child and shares a tip for teaching kids about money.

A Childhood Money Lesson

Sam Renick: What is the most important money habit you learned as a child? Briefly share the story behind how you learned the habit and what impact it has had on you throughout your life.

Kathleen Burns Kingsbury: The most important money habit I learned as a child was how to regularly save money.

When I was 7 years old, my parents took me to the local savings bank and opened a passbook savings account in my name. (It was called a passbook savings account because you got a booklet that looked like a travel passport where they would print your balance and any credits or debits to the account.) Each time I got a cash gift, I would deposit the money into this account.

As a young girl, I loved to see the balance go up, and I truly believe I was born a natural saver.

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When my family moved to a different state than the community bank was located in, I still regularly made savings deposits into that account. My parents would giggle as I filled out the savings form and put it into an envelope with my $5 in cash, along with my passbook. They would then mail it to the bank out of state and a few days later I got the passbook back with the new, higher balance.

As an adult, my ability to save money has contributed to my financial success. I save regularly and still enjoy seeing the balances in my accounts grow. I have taught my husband this skill, as he didn’t learn it growing up and together we balance enjoying life by spending some money along with saving regularly for the future.

The Most Important Money Lesson to Teach Kids

Renick: If you could teach a child only one money habit, what money habit would you teach them? Briefly explain why?

Kingsbury: If I could only pick one money habit to teach a child, it would be the ability to talk about money and understand that it is okay to have feelings about spending, saving, and investing.

We live in a society where discussing money is still taboo, with almost half of Americans reporting that they would rather talk about death, religion, or politics than about personal finances. I call this “money silence.” This silence contributes to the financial literacy crisis in this country that negatively impacts so many adults and families.

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If each child of this generation could learn that it is okay to break money silence and proactively talk about money and their feelings about finance, we would live in a more financially and emotionally rich world.

Difficulties in Teaching Kids About Money

Renick: A variety of surveys indicate that it is a challenge for parents to talk to kids about money. What would you say are one or two of the primary reasons why parents find it difficult to talk about personal finance with their children? And if you have a suggestion on how they can overcome the obstacle, please share that, as well.

Kingsbury: There are many contributors to why parents may not talk to their children about money, and I detail them in my book, Breaking Money Silence. Overall, these challenges boil down to the fact that many parents don’t have a roadmap for talking about money and teaching their children how to be financially literate. It is hard to teach what you do not know. In addition to not feeling competent to empower their children . . . parents live in a world plagued by money silence.

Society reinforces that money should not be talked about or that children are too young to have to “worry” about finances.

These myths about money and parenting ultimately make it challenging for parents — and other adults — to model healthy financial communication skills for the next generation.

The first step to overcome this obstacle is for parents to realize that not talking about money with their children actually hurts their kids more than it protects them. Once they acknowledge this fact, then they can take action to change this money myth in their family.

Parents should reach out to resources in their communities and ask for help. Ask your local banker, your financial adviser, or a trusted teacher to coach you on how to talk about money with your children. Read a book on the topic and then break the money silence in your own life by talking about what you learned with your partner or other parents.

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Eventually there will be a ripple effect, and more and more Americans will opt to engage in these conversations and show their children that it is not only a good thing to discuss finances, but it is also an important part of responsibly managing money.

Teaching Personal Finance in Schools

Renick: Why do you believe that there is not more personal finance being taught in schools?

Kingsbury: I believe that administrators and teachers suffer from the same money silence that impacts parents and families. The societal taboo around money contributes to teachers not understanding or taking the time to consider how they could incorporate financial literacy into their lesson plans.

And without mandates to do so, the tendency is to avoid the topic all together. It will take a concerted effort for schools to address the financial literacy crisis in this country by requiring that teachers are equipped with financial knowledge, skills, and insight into their relationship with money so that they can feel empowered to pass these lessons on to their students. I have hope this can happen as it has in other areas that used to be neglected, like sex education.

A Final Thought: What if the Research Is Wrong?

Renick: Cambridge University research indicates that adult money habits are set by age 7. What if the research is wrong and adult money habits are formed earlier than age 7 — perhaps around the age the “give mes” set in? What does this mean for families, schools, and the financial education industry?

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Kingsbury: No matter what age money habits are formed, I believe that as adults, we can change unhealthy financial practices. If adults focus on understanding their money mindset (the collection of their thoughts and beliefs about money that impact how they save, spend, gift, and invest daily) and shifting the mindsets that sabotage their financial health, then parenting young children as they form their money habits and attitudes . . . would come more naturally, and the silence would be broken for generations to come.

Discover more about Kathleen Burns Kingsbury at KBK Wealth Connection.