Wednesday Wisdom

August 23, 2023


By Dr Cassie Rhodes



Over the summer, my teens have enjoyed excursions to various events, camps, breaks and social occasions. As the weeks ticked by, I began to become concerned about any creeping ‘entitlement’ on their part, so I decided to fulfil my parental duty by insisting they get jobs. The objective was to teach them the ‘value of money’ (as my dad used to call it) and introduce them to the world of work.

It dawned on me that at the tender age of 13, I was already hoovering the carpets of the local nursing home every Saturday for pocket money. My two, 14 and 16, were more than ready to do some odd jobs. Happily, the local farmer near to where we live required some manual labourers to pull weeds in the horses’ field. Once you realise how hard you have to work for a mere £14, suddenly the purchase of two cinema tickets is something to really think about. Sure, they likely see us going off to our jobs and understand that we earn a wage to pay for necessities and fund our lifestyles, but the act of working themselves really helps young people to become more conscious of money’s worth, and builds financial confidence and self-efficacy when it comes to managing it well.

It’s common to find money a difficult subject to broach with children, but ideally, we need to get past any discomfort, as teaching them the importance of financial wellbeing really is vital. My teens’ summer induction into the world of work reminded me that, a couple of years ago, I attended a series of webinars about financial literacy teaching in schools. The webinars were full of fantastic ideas, but I remember feeling concerned to discover how ill-equipped lots of children are when it comes to understanding and managing money.

In fact, a worrying report from 2012 found that a whopping 52% of UK teens have been in debt by the time they are 17. Around 55,000 children aged 11-16 have problematic gambling habits, 58% of young people don’t feel confident managing their money and almost 25% of 18-24 year olds have less than £100 in savings, often using credit cards, overdrafts or borrowed money to pay for essentials. We also know that many children routinely engage in gambling activities, most commonly in private bets with friends. A Gambling Commission publication from 2019 found that 11% of 11-16-year olds self-reported spending their own money on gambling activities in the seven days prior to completing the survey and that 1.7% of 11-16-year olds were ‘problem gamblers’. Over and above all of this, we know that children’s core behaviours around money are already established by the tender age of 7!

Research carried out for the UK Strategy for Financial Wellbeing, led by the Money and Pensions Service, notes that children and young people who are educated about money are more likely to save, have a bank account and feel confident with money management, and that the majority of children say that they find financial education useful. Within a school context, the strategy recommends that children should be taught about the world of money as early as possible (starting at preschool), through a combination of in-class activities and experiential learning which makes the most of everyday interactions with finance. This might be through a school savings bank, by supporting students to open bank accounts or providing children with the opportunity to manage a budget.

Crucially for us, the strategy also recognises the importance of parental engagement. Talking to children about money from a young age seems to be imperative and, as parents, we have a key role to play in developing positive money-wise habits. Interestingly, studies have shown that even young children can sense when financial topics are off limits in family life, and that they are more likely to draw their own, potentially inaccurate, conclusions when they are.


At home, age-appropriate conversations about money, which introduce children to the financial terms and concepts that they will need as they gain independence, are greatly beneficial.

With very young children, we can do this through play; setting up a shop, or playing games with coins. As they grow, we can all talk regularly about money in everyday conversations, involve our children in discussing and making some financial decisions and embed an understanding of the difference between wants and needs in family life, all of which will help to build a realistic sense of the value of money and where it comes from.

As we move towards a cashless society, we need to ensure that children see that the click of a button on screen, whether it’s streaming music, buying an app or spending ‘tokens’ on in-game purchases, has real life consequences. Because much of our financial life is now carried out online, children often don’t see us doing things like paying bills or going to the bank. We need to be proactive! We might encourage our children to watch (or help) us to set a budget before doing the supermarket shop or ask them to fill the basket when we are placing an online order, so that they can see how costs for essentials mount up. We can have conversations about why some things are more expensive than others. We could discuss the relative value of two products. Are comparable products worth the extra money? Is the higher price justified? Should we choose shop-brand cereal rather than Kelloggs? Why? We might talk about why a meal out is a lovely treat, but not something that can happen every day.

We could show our children how to source the best deals for utility bills or insurance, why this matters and the difference it can make to our disposable income or savings. In the past, I’ve asked my teens to look on comparison sites for me when it’s time to renew a contract. Perhaps yours could search for a better mobile phone deal? By means of motivation, you could offer to split any savings that they make with them. Seeing us engage with money positively and thoughtfully will help them to learn to do the same.

There is also a whole world of financial vocabulary that our children need to learn as they grow. Do your kids know what taxes are or comprehend how much money the government deducts from our wages? Do they understand the concepts of debt? Interest? Compound interest? Pensions? Fraud? Credit? Could they tell you what an asset is? Or why cash flow is important? Helping them to understand the language around money will enable them to make more informed decisions about their own finances.

Whether it’s in a piggy bank or a savings account, the earlier we explain the importance of saving, the better, and this can also help to curb impulsive spending habits. Talking about what larger items or experiences they might like to save up for and encouraging them to save a portion of their pocket money, financial gifts or wages helpfully shows them how their money can grow; a valuable lesson for the future. Don’t worry too much if they blow a bit of their birthday money on a game or item that they come to regret. Instead, use it as an opportunity for a non-judgemental, reflective discussion about what they could have done differently. What else could that money have been used for? How might that have benefited them? Are they happy with their choice? Understanding that not using money wisely can result in a tangible loss, and developing an appreciation of the ‘opportunity cost’ when we spend money, are fundamental money management habits, which will set them in good stead later in life.

Talking about financial mistakes that we’ve made, or periods of difficulty, can also provide good learning opportunities for our children. We should try not to be scared of talking about our past experiences, what we learned and how we fixed them. Hopefully, hearing about tricky times will also encourage our children to talk to us if they experience problems as they become financially independent. Good habits need to be learned and it’s much better to learn them as a child, when less is at stake.

If you’d like a bit of help getting conversations started, many financial institutions have produced excellent free resources. Barclays Life Skills and HSBC’s Financial Education programme are just two options to try.


Whilst many of us are still in holiday mood, in the coming days and weeks, our thoughts are likely to begin to rest on the return to school, especially my Northern Irish readers, where the new term begins this week.

Restocking pencil cases, establishing what bits of uniform actually still fit after a summer of growth, and the annual (and always unwelcome) shop for new school shoes are just around the corner. Let’s also not forget the endless labelling! It’s a time of nervous anticipation, as we all get ready for the work to come in the new academic year, prepare for the hustle and bustle of school routines and extracurricular activities and, if we are lucky, perhaps even get the opportunity to arrange a catch up with friends after drop off.

In the weeks ahead, it’s not only the practicalities that we ought to be considering. It’s also worth us all spending some time checking in with our children to find out how they are feeling about the year ahead and any changes that might be coming up for them. It’s normal for them to feel wobbly about some things (making new friends, meeting new teachers or new and trickier learning, perhaps) and it’s helpful to surface any worries now, and try to work through them together before school starts. An evidence-based tactic is to listen to any wobbles supportively, without overly reassuring them. Instead, aim to proactively encourage them to think through ideas that might help.

If they are moving to a new setting, give them confidence in their ability to form new friendships. You might want to help hone their social skills by thinking through conversation starters as a family. How might they initiate a conversation with another child on their first day? Which conversation openers might help to get the chat going? Talk about the end of the holidays in positive terms. If we exude a sense of excitement about the new school year and confidence in our children’s ability to settle in well, it’s more likely that they will!

Another tip is to talk about goals and expectations for the term ahead and initiate some conversations about the exciting learning that they will do. Help them to consider what they can do if they find something tricky. Who can they ask for help? How do you cope in this situation? Consider together what might work for them. Normalise and welcome mistakes as part of learning and invite them to talk to you about things they find tough.

One final thing… I know I’m always writing about it, but before children go back to school, remember to think about their sleep! Quality of sleep can directly impact on our offsprings’ ability to concentrate, memorise and learn at school. Sleep routines may have changed over the holiday. Particularly for teens, holidays can allow young people’s bodies to ‘shift’ to their natural biological cycle. This is not problematic in itself, but experts advise that it’s important to remember that there also needs to be a gradual movement back to school routines and bedtime rules, starting at least a week in advance of their first day back.

Are you a Tooled Up member?

Parents in Tooled Up schools and organisations can help to spark conversations about money with our Family Finance Quiz. Each question is accompanied by a fun fact to help give children the information that they will need as they grow. If finance feels like a difficult subject to broach, we’ve put together our top tips for money talk within family life and have compiled a list of books that can help to cultivate children’s financial literacy. If you’d like advice on talking to children about gambling, you can listen to our podcast with Anna Hemmings and Megan Pengelly of GamCare. If you want to give children some clear age-appropriate responsibilities to do alongside their pocket money, our ‘Chores Lists’ might be useful. We have separate lists for children aged two to five, for primary-aged children and for teens.

As we begin to think about the return to school (or imminently return in the case of some of our schools), we need to think about old routines, or start to establish new ones. If your child is feeling a bit wobbly about changes to come, we’ve recently added some new activities that might help. For older primary-aged children moving to a new year group, click here. For children moving to Year Seven, click here. And, for younger children, click here. You might also like to dip in and out of our 60 Transition ‘Family Talk’ Prompts.

If your children need a bit of a nudge to get back into the mindset for school, don’t forget to download our Back to School Checklist. Teens might like to use our weekly Mindset Planner and any young people moving to a new senior or secondary school may benefit from filling in our Settling In Journal during their first few weeks. For children starting new schools with classmates they don’t yet know, we have plenty of suggested strategies and conversation starters to try out as they start to establish new friendships, and our suggested questions to ask younger children after school will help to open up dialogue at home about their day (hopefully eliciting a more productive response than “fine” or “don’t know”). You could also set some achievable goals together using our goal setting planner.

Over the next week or two, watch out for some changes to Tooled Up. We’re currently upgrading our website to make it easier and more intuitive to use, so that you can find exactly what you are looking for even more quickly. You’ll still be able to access the site as normal whilst we work behind the scenes, so please do keep browsing and requesting new resources.