3 Lessons I'm Teaching My Toddler for Better Money Management

by Christy Bieber | Updated July 25, 2021 - First published on May 26, 2021

Many or all of the products here are from our partners that pay us a commission. It’s how we make money. But our editorial integrity ensures our experts’ opinions aren’t influenced by compensation. Terms may apply to offers listed on this page.
A mom and her toddler son rolling out dough on a kitchen counter.

Image source: Getty Images

It's never too early to learn some sound principles that help you manage your money.

Every day, I teach my 19-month-old some important money lessons.

This doesn't mean that I sit him down and explain to him about tax brackets or how to pick a good savings account. After all, those lessons may be a bit over his head as he's just learning the alphabet.

What I'm actually doing is providing a foundation for developing good personal finance habits that will help him manage his money more effectively throughout his life.

Here are three lessons that I work on teaching him every day. They should help him make better money moves decades down the line -- once he actually figures out what money is.

1. Patience is important

Like most toddlers, when my son wants something, he wants it immediately. Waiting even a minute for some applesauce can seem like the end of the world -- at least judging by the dismay I've seen him express.

Lately, however, we've been working on learning to wait as we watch the second hand on the big clock turn around. This lesson in delayed gratification is essential to effective money management later on in life. That's because patience pays off in all sorts of ways when it comes to your finances.

For most people, it takes patience to build wealth because you have to save diligently over time. You may not be able to take that vacation or buy your home right away and will need to wait as you save for a down payment or big purchase. And you may need to patiently wait for investments to recover when the stock market is down.

By learning that patience can only make the reward sweeter, my son should hopefully be well poised to make the types of decisions that pay off in the long run rather than seeking instant gratification that could lead to debt or prompt him to fall victim to get-rich-quick schemes.

2. You can't have everything you want

Throughout the day, my son wants lots of things. He wants cookies, toys, bananas, mommy, and possessions, just to name a few. He gets a lot of his requests (sometimes after a little patience). But he doesn't get them all.

When he gets upset at being denied, we shift gears to focus on something else. Although he's too young for much discussion, he's usually pacified by a favorite toy or a hug when he can't have a cookie.

Learning that you can't have everything is an essential money lesson because there are always trade offs, and most people can't afford absolutely everything they'd like to have.

Hopefully, my son won't grow up and buy things that are beyond his reach and perhaps use credit cards to do so. Instead, I'm hoping that these early lessons will encourage him to focus not on the disappointment of denial but instead on gratitude for all the things he can enjoy.

3. Take care of what you do have

As a toddler, my son isn't always 100% careful with his toys. We've had a few broken crayons and a truck that no longer drives because it was pushed into the pool.

He's not developmentally able to understand that if he breaks something, it will no longer work. But we're still taking the time to work on lessons about putting away toys and being gentle with our things.

This, too, will help him out later in life. That's because when you spend good money on something -- whether it's a major purchase, such as a house or car, or even a minor purchase -- you don't want to waste it by not taking care of the things you own.

I'm hoping that by teaching him to value what you have, recognize you can't have it all, and put in the time to wait for the things you want, that he'll be able to translate these lessons to managing his money wisely throughout his life. Of course, there will be challenges, as these lessons are things that I and many other adults still sometimes struggle with today -- but I believe it's a solid foundation.

Alert: highest cash back card we've seen now has 0% intro APR until nearly 2024

If you're using the wrong credit or debit card, it could be costing you serious money. Our expert loves this top pick, which features a 0% intro APR until nearly 2024, an insane cash back rate of up to 5%, and all somehow for no annual fee. 

In fact, this card is so good that our expert even uses it personally. Click here to read our full review for free and apply in just 2 minutes. 

Read our free review

About the Author