THE BLOG
05/14/2013 04:39 pm ET | Updated Jul 14, 2013

Do You Keep Money Secrets From Your Kids?

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It's six o'clock, the pizza delivery boy is on his way, and you just remembered you forgot to stop at the ATM on your way home from work. Hectic days happen and we have certainly all forgotten to withdraw cash before. Luckily, you know that your daughter faithfully budgets her allowance money -- she always has her medium-term and long-term savings in those jars she has hidden behind her DVD collection. You can help yourself to pizza money and put it back in her jar tomorrow after you get to the ATM. You won't be embarrassed in front of the pizza boy or by having to ask your 12-year-old to kick in to pay for dinner.

Dinner accomplished. Mom saves the day, again. Problem solved.

Or is it?

You certainly wouldn't be the first parent to borrow from her kids. Recently, Parenting Magazine teamed with HLN for a survey of moms' most revealing confessions. They sampled more than 1,000 readers, viewers and social-media users (99 percent women) -- we're going to address the "Work & Money" portion, for which I was interviewed and quoted.

Do you recognize yourself in the pizza scenario? Over 37 percent of responders admitted to having used money that their child had received as gifts to pay bills.

Survey Results Relevant to Family Money:

  • Have you ever returned a gift your child received and gotten something for yourself?
11.6% Yes 88.4% No
  • Have you ever spent any of your child's birthday or special occasion money on bills?
37.5% Yes 62.5% No
  • Have you started saving for your kid' college education?
21% Yes, I/We started practically at birth.

16.9% I/We put money toward college off and on, when possible.

44.9% I/We intend to, but there are other financial priorities right now.

2.9% No, I'm/we're hoping to hit up the grandparents.

13.7% No. Are you kidding? The kids will pay their own way.

  • Have you ever dipped into your child's college savings account to pay bills, take a vacation, or do a home improvement -- intending to replace it?
15.3% Yes 84.7% No
  • If "yes," did you replace it?
50.8% Yes 49.2% No
  • Do you trust your partner to handle your family's money?
27.2% Yes, he does all. 37.6% We share. 35.3% No, I do it all.
  • Have you ever lied to your partner about the cost of a purchase you made for yourself or your kids?
50.2% Yes 49.8% No
  • When you go shopping, even if it's mostly purchases for the kids, do you worry about your partner finding out how much you spent?
36.5% Yes 63.5% No

Returning to the pizza dilemma, there is another, healthier, way that mom could have saved the day. The daughter had stashed her savings for safekeeping so that her pesky little brother wouldn't be tempted -- she never imagined that her mom would be the one to worry about. As I see it, the main theme throughout the survey is that of transparency.

Mom could easily have asked permission to borrow the pizza money -- instead of stealing it. There was an opportunity for a real-world money lesson, and mom missed it. It goes without saying that mom would have had to repay the loan at the soonest, practical time -- with interest.

In a recent Huffington Post article on money mistakes I addressed the topic of transparency. Don't shield your kids from the cost of living.

We are passing our bad habits down to our kids. They see us spend but not save, pay bills or give to charity. You have to get your child involved in all of it. The only way to get money is to earn it. Make sure your handling of money is visible and simple for them to understand.

Parents have many reasons for not talking to their kids about family's finances: "We don't want to take their childhoods away from them." Or you may have been taught, "Polite people just didn't talk about how much things cost."

Anything that involves money, and exchange of value, can be used as a learning tool -- if you take your kids out to dinner, show them the check. You can explain the tax and tip. For younger kids, it's a math lesson.

Shielding your children from the cost of things can keep them from getting a good start of their own, when the time comes.

Transparency includes managing your kids' expectations. Your kid probably won't be able to attend their top college choice if you haven't saved for tuition. Don't lead them on.
Don't say "We'll figure out how to pay for it if you get accepted." That is offering false expectations.

If you haven't started saving for college regularly and early enough, you have to be honest and explain if it was difficult surviving, financially, in a bad economy and that other bills came first. The choice may have to be community college and your child will have to be ready for that possibility.

How would you have responded to these survey questions? We'd like to hear from you if you have a story of your own. Please use the space provided below.