Conversations With My 12-Year-Old Daughter About Money, Work and Happiness


Note: This is a post from Joan Concilio, Man Vs. Debt community manager. Read more about Joan here.

Since we started homeschooling our 12-year-old daughter, Sarah, in late February, it’s really been on my mind what a crucial age this is for her in terms of financial awareness.

I see so many of her peers in middle school with $200-a-month cell-phone plans, with outfits that cost more than my weekly grocery budget… but even more scary, I see them having no idea where the money for these things comes from. “I don’t know, my mom buys all that stuff,” is the common answer.

And, by the same token, I see so many kids’ parents working at jobs they hate, coming home and telling their children how much they hate the work they do, that they’re just doing it to pay the bills, and I worry that Sarah will grow up thinking, “Work is somewhere you go to be unhappy.”

I know I’ve certainly been guilty of that in the past, even when doing “work” I mostly enjoyed… talking about it with Sarah as something I have to do instead of describing the way I’m making a difference in the world. If that sounds familiar, well, Baker talked about that concept before in the context of a conversation with his daughter Milli, and that post was the start of a change on my part in how I talked about life and work with my own daughter.

So much about parenting for us can be summed up in two words: Be intentional.

We’re intentional about discussing our own financial situation, and we’re intentional about having Sarah make financial decisions herself.

The picture above is a good example… that’s Sarah with her brand-new Nintendo 3DS, which she spent all her birthday money and a little of her savings on, in addition to “selling some crap” of her own to help fund it. She did the work, figured out how much money she’d need, and made it happen. And we didn’t question her decision (though I was the dorkyΒ  mom who said, “OK, but you need to make sure you buy screen protectors!”)

The thing is, I know Sarah puts thought into her life and her money. So instead of wondering what her attitudes about money, work and happiness are, I decided to sit down and ask her.

About work

Me: So what kind of work do you want to do when you get older?

Sarah: Be a pet groomer.

Me: Do you want to work somewhere like Petsmart that does grooming?

Sarah: I want to own my own business. … Well, I guess I would start out working at Petsmart, to save money, because opening your own business costs a lot of money and you have to hire people and give them money as their paychecks. So I guess Petsmart would be my first bet.

About our family’s money decisions

Me: What are some things you think Dad and I think about money? Like, what do we do with our money?

Sarah: That you keep everything in a certain amount of budget. … You’re careful, about what you buy. You don’t, um, buy things that we don’t need. You don’t buy things that you guys want because you don’t need wants, you need needs.

Me: But I bought a Coach purse.

Sarah: Well… that was your Valentine’s present from Daddy.

Me: So do you think that’s OK?

Sarah: Yeah. Now if that wasn’t your present, then you wouldn’t really NEED it, you would want it. And you’d have to save up for it and make sure you have all your needs first.

About living like a grown-up

Me: How much money do you want to make when you get older?

Sarah: I want to try to make a billion dollars.

Me: In your whole life? In a year?

Sarah: In my lifetime.

Me: So what kinds of things do you want to do with your money?

Sarah: I want to give some of it to charity, to raise money for homeless and animals that need it. I want a Mini Cooper, I would use some of it to buy a Mini Cooper. Some of it to buy a Smart car. A pool. A spa. A pool table that can go in your pool. A 52″ flat-screen TV. And a castle. I would buy the castle first.

Me: (Drily) It would be hard to imagine you having all that stuff in an apartment. But what about food and clothes and things like that?

Sarah: I would still buy that stuff. If I need socks, then I will buy socks. If I need shirts, then I will buy shirts. But if I want a cool-looking shirt that has Angry Birds on it, yeah, I like Angry Birds, but that doesn’t mean I will buy it.

Me: So you need a pool table that can go in your pool?

Sarah: It would jazz up my pool. But I don’t really need it. I want it. To put in my pool, because then when I have a pool party, me and my friends can play pool in the pool.

About happiness

Me: So what would make you happy?

Sarah: In what sense?

Me: OK, well, what makes us happy, you, me and Daddy as a family now?

Sarah: A lot of things. Each other… Pets… Being together as a family.

Me: So is that the same stuff that will make you happy in your castle when you’re older?

Sarah: Being with family, hanging out, having pets and a fat robin on our deck (she was looking out the window.)

Me: So are you going to have a big family?

Sarah: I’m going to have Coby (our dog), our cats, a hamster, a guinea pig (well, I don’t know about a guinea pig, that’s a question mark). 4 Hermit crabs. A German shepherd.

Me: What about people?

Sarah: Oh, don’t worry, there are people in my house. Me. I guess my husband.

Me: So what will your husband do, in all of this?

Sarah: Well, his job will be “the animal sitter.”

Me: So is he going to go off to a job somewhere, or stay at the house?

Sarah: The house. I mean, I’ll help some, but… I don’t know if I’m really going to have that many pets. That’s just an idea.

Me: Are you going to have kids?

Sarah: I don’t know. That’s ahead of the time.

Me: OK. You have to get the husband first?

Sarah: Eventually. Not right now.

(That’s Sarah with one of our cats, Mitts. While I have my doubts that this cat in particular will make it to the time when Sarah lives on her own, I’m positive she’s not kidding – she’ll be the lady with every kind of pet under the sun!)

About finding your business niche

Me: Well that’s good. So do you think a pet groomer makes enough money for all this?

Sarah: Well… yeah. Because my own dog will be there with me every day. I would groom him before the store opens, and because of that, I would let him go greet the people, let them feel his coat, because I’d be using the Furminator, using the smooth brushes, bathing him probably… I’ll need some more people to do that too, maybe. And then they’ll get to see how good of a job I’ll do on their dogs, so they don’t think, “I wonder what she’ll do on my dog and what it’ll look like. It won’t look ugly.” And I’ll be like, “Don’t worry, your dog won’t look ugly, I’ll make it look exactly like you want and I’ll try my best.”

Me: So that’s kind of your business, like, your business’s gimmick? Having your own dog there?

Sarah: Yeah.

Me: So what would your commercial be?

Sarah: If you want your dog to look better than the old-fashioned way, then come to Sarah’s pet grooming. I’ll get the job done and make your dog look new-fashioned.

Me: And smell better too?

Sarah: Of course!

About “good money advice”

Me: So if you could give the people reading Baker’s blog any piece of money advice, do you have any ideas for them?

Sarah: Yeah, I have a good idea! Don’t buy what you want, buy what you need and save your money!

Me: So when is it OK to buy the stuff you want?

Sarah: Well, never. No, sometimes. For your birthday.

Me: Well, we don’t just buy stuff we need only. We have some wants too, right? When do you get the stuff you want?

Sarah: As long as you keep a limit of how much you want to buy. If you just keep buying and buying stuff that you want, and then you run out of money for stuff that you need, then you’re stuffed in a doom trap!

About credit cards

Me: And if the man at college says, “Hey Sarah, do you want to open a credit card?”

Sarah: No, because that would be something that I might want to do, but that I don’t need to do.

Me: Because do you know how credit cards work? (I admit, I was interested in this – Sarah doesn’t remember a time when we’ve made purchases on credit cards as a family, so I wasn’t sure what she’d say.)

Sarah: You swipe them and it takes money out of your account.

Me: Well, that’s our bank card, it works like that.

Sarah: Grocery cards give you extra bonus points.

Me: Yes, those are good too. But real credit cards, you don’t have to have money in an account somewhere. It’s like when we went to Target when you saved up the money to buy your 3DS. You spent $300, right? But what if you only had $5? The people at Target would say, “Do you want to open our credit card?” Then they would basically loan you the money, let you buy something that cost $300 now, then send you a bill.

Sarah: And then you pay it?

Me: Well, you can. Or you can pay a part of it, then they will charge you interest on what’s left and next month you will still owe what you owe, plus the interest.

Sarah: That kind of makes sense, but I don’t know if I’d want to do that.

My mom, chiming in: GOOD. Because then you end up paying twice as much as it costs.

Sarah: Yeah, then I don’t want to do that.

About entrepreneurship

Me: Anything else you can think of about what you think about money and being happy and working and stuff?

Sarah: Being happy motivates you to have a good attitude, and to focus on what you’re doing. And if you get unhappy, change your mood around to happy. Because when you get unhappy, not all people, but a lot of people want to go out and buy things because they think that would make them happy. … And use your money wisely.

Me: I think that sounds like pretty good advice. You’re pretty smart.

Sarah: Thank you, thank you very much. (In her best Elvis voice.)

Me: Thank you very much for doing an interview with me for Baker’s blog!

Sarah: Thanks! Do I get a dollar?

Me: Um, wait, what? Why do you want a dollar?

Sarah: Well, because I sat here and helped you, and I could’ve said, “No, I don’t want to help you with your blog post.” I did do all this work with you. Please? I said the magic word?

Guess what? I gave her the dollar.

All in all, I was pretty pleasantly surprised. Maybe it was the birth of Baker and Courtney’s second daughter, Charlie, this weekend, but it’s been on my mind a lot this week to think about the financial legacy I’m leaving behind – not just in terms of money, but with regard to ideas.

If I had to pick my top five things to impart on my daughter about money and life, they would probably go something like this:

  1. Do work that you love and that helps others.
  2. Treat yourself sometimes, but don’t buy everything you want just because you want it.
  3. Make sure your family’s basic needs are taken care of first.
  4. Don’t spend money you don’t have.
  5. Experiences and people are more important than things.

Sounds like she’s pretty close, huh?

I know there’s a lot more life ahead of her, and I know she’ll make her own decisions about all these things as her life changes. But I’d like to think we’re off to a better start than we might be!


So how do you deal with this idea of your “financial legacy” with your kids, especially as they get older? What sorts of ideas about money, “work” and happiness do you hope they’ll take into the future with them?

Would love to hear your thoughts!

42 thoughts on “Conversations With My 12-Year-Old Daughter About Money, Work and Happiness”

    1. Thanks, Angela! And Sarah says, “Thanks for the nice comment.” She’s kind of a publicity hound… she woke me up this morning asking, “Did anyone comment on our Baker blog?”

  1. A lovely interview with a very bright young lady!

    Sarah seems to have a good grasp of wants vs. needs which will be very helpful to her.

    The only part I have some issue with is the use of credit (cards) – a good knowledge of how credit works and a good credit rating is an important part of financial well being IMO.
    It is the misuse of credit that causes so much grief, not credit itself. If I may use myself as an example ( and I use credit cards for virtually all (gasp!!) my purchases – can’t remember the last time I used cash or debit card) – if I don’t have the money (in cash form in the bank) for the purchase I don’t buy (i.e. I simply use the credit card as a proxy for cash). The credit card bill is paid off in full monthly. In 35+ years of credit use I can tell you the exact amount I’ve spent on credit card interest – zero – yes a big fat goose egg. It is simply a matter of self-discipline.

    In short Credit = Bad is probably not the correct message – it is a tool – use it correctly and it can be very useful. Misuse it and it can be dangerous – same thing applies to chainsaws :-).

    1. Good points – and of course remember this was just a snippet of a short conversation. We’ve talked already about a few of those points and will keep talking about more as Sarah gets older. Ultimately, she’ll make her own decisions, and choose her own tools. My husband and I have decided that credit isn’t a tool we don’t wish to use – knowing that we’re giving up rewards and other things we could qualify for, and knowing we could be responsible – but that will be for Sarah to decide for herself!

      I think the bottom line is you can be responsible OR irresponsible with your money no matter what your “plastic situation,” and I hope Sarah grows up to be responsible in whatever way works for her!

    1. Ha, thanks, Dave! I showed her the photos of the dryers on your site and she goes, “Man, I have to buy a lot of STUFF for this business, don’t I?” πŸ™‚

  2. I would absolutely take my dog (except I don’t have one…) to be groomed by your daughter! She has already got more wisdom in her pinky nail than most kids have in their entire hand. I read this post with a big smile on my face and am looking forward to reading more of her insights!

    1. Aww, thanks, Cathleen, from both of us! I think the challenge for me will be to keep up the focus on my part about talking openly to her – and making sure that her awareness and interest about all this stuff isn’t drowned out!

  3. What a fantastic little girl! She is so very smart, and really knows what’s important. It’s a good thing you wrote all this down now, so if she gives you trouble in a couple of years, you can quote her on it! haha

  4. Joan, I absolutely love this interview with your daughter! Thank you for sharing it. Sarah could actually start off doing some pet grooming in the neighborhood right now! I love this line…. “I’ll get the job done and make your dog look new-fashioned.” LOL! So cute. She may be surprised at how well she can do if she just starts small (to avoid needed a ton of capital)…she can find a local mobile groomer to help out to learn the ropes first.

    My daughter Anisa (she’s 11) just started a business earlier this month selling items for people on ebay and Craigslist. She’s blogging about her experiences in business and what she’s learning so that she can inspire kids to start their own businesses. Her blog is at She’s already made close to $100 in net profit and I expect that to double over the next week. It’s so much fun to watch the kids learn and get excited about having control over their own financial futures. I teach a Financial Fitness workshop once a month for pre-teens in my local community and it’s a blast.

    Sorry to write so much…clearly your post resonated strongly with me. Keep up the great work with Sarah! Sarah, I wish you the absolute best and you have one awesome mom πŸ™‚

    1. Shae, Sarah and I both say thank you – and congrats to Anisa on her awesome business idea!! Good for her! I like that she is thinking big!

  5. This was really fun to read. I loved hearing your daughter’s responses! You’ve done a wonderful job teaching her to understand where money comes from.

  6. Hi Joan,

    I love the idea of “new fashioned” anything, let alone a “new fashioned” well-groomed pet. I appreciate your transparency here–how you are using what you are thinking about and exploring re: your financial life to teach your daughter about money and work.

    My own thoughts about work are very similar to what you described–that I’m afraid my kids will think of work as a place I (and eventually they) go to be unhappy. This is a scary legacy, and to be honest, I’m not really sure yet what I want to do differently. But I’m thinking about it! Your posts, and the info on the site in general are really helpful. Thank you for putting this out there. It’s making a difference.

    1. Leslie, I’m so glad to hear we’re making a difference – and that YOU want to make a difference in how your kids think about “work” and life and all! I think that’s probably my number-one biggest motivator right now for my own choices; what does THIS CHOICE, today, show Sarah? I have been slowly making some different “big” choices – like changing jobs, for instance – but in the meantime I’ve been trying to do the “little” choices as well as I can as an example too!

      Good luck as you try to make a new legacy for your family – I hope you’ll keep us posted on how it goes!!

    1. Lisa, I couldn’t have planned that better – and it was TOTALLY unprompted, I had no idea it was coming. (I shouldn’t have been surprised – she’s pretty entrepreneurial, but I was!)

    1. Hahaha, she knows that. I think she plans to invest… and have some side hustles. She also wants to be a groomer like for the national dog shows – not so much locally, though I think she would do that too. Or kind of a “groomer to the stars” sort of deal. Unlikely? Maybe, but I’m sure not going to tell her she can’t be!

  7. Wow! She’s got it going on! Nice work Joan! I love all your daughter’s ideas, and she’s got some whimsy thrown in there too πŸ™‚

    I like your basic tenets of what ideas you’d like to impart on your kids too. πŸ™‚

    My daughter did something similar with saving up her money for something she wanted too. She’s 7yrs old. She really, I mean really really really, wanted an American Girl doll. And I have a hard time getting behind just throwing over $100 at a doll. So, I said maybe she should save up for one, and we chatted about all the aspects (cost, used vs new, value, time spent earning the money for it, etc). And decided she’d rather get a used one. She had two lemonade stands last summer, made over $35! And this spring we started perusing ebay. She made a decision on how much she’d pay, and I offered to pay half, as a surprise πŸ™‚ She got her doll last week, and she is so pleased. She’s proud that she figured it all out and accomplished her goal πŸ™‚ Now she’s on to saving up money for clothes, (used naturally) and thinking about making stuff for the doll too. I’m going to share this column with her, I think she’ll like it!

    1. Leah, that is AWESOME!! Tell your daughter Sarah and I are both very proud of her.

      That’s exactly what we do. Like you, our answer is almost never a direct “no,” it’s more of a “well, we have to talk about x, y and z factors, and we have to figure out as a family if this is something we WANT to make work.” Vacations are like that – Sarah wants to go to Disney World, and we might at some point, but she also has a lot of other things she wants us to do as a family THIS year – like going to the Smithsonian – and she knows we can make a choice about what we all want! And like you said – we want some whimsy, too. I was that boring kid who, at 12, had long since given up on things like fun cars and pool tables, and I wish I hadn’t!

      Good for you guys… I’m so thrilled to see you’re passing your great thought process on to your daughter! πŸ™‚

      1. I will tell her! She’ll be excited, b/c I shared this column with her and she thought Sarah was cool! She wants to save up for a castle now too πŸ™‚

        Also, saving up for a trip to Disney Land is on list too πŸ™‚ Parenting high fives!

    1. TB, that’s incredibly nice of you to say! I’m not sure about the castle thing – or the pool table in the pool. She’s still very 12 (and kind of a “young 12” in a lot of ways), so, you know. πŸ™‚

      I figure if she ends up wanting one… well, if she can make it happen, good for her!

  8. We need more parents who would become more financially aware for themselves first then to teach their kids the same awareness (and possibly literacy) like you are doing. Yes you are off to a great start and hopefully no influence of external attacks will change Milli’s mind. The coming year will be when she’ll absorb through life experience, studying, learning, etc. as long as she’ll be able to stick to those sound principles and won’t get suckered in by media pounding turning everyone into consumeristic bots on auto-pilot, she’ll do great πŸ˜‰ Congrats to parents and daughter and kudos to Sarah for learning to value her time separating that from family time. And Joan, you were lucky to get off cheap with the interview! For a kid set on making 1billion in a lifetime that’s really cheap! ;D

    Of course it’s rather premature to try and give her an overview of how the Federal Reserve and the international financial system works ;P, but perhaps also helping with some simple math would help her put things into perspective… not the castle full of pets, but just sheer numbers so to have a more realistic understanding about the million dollar plan πŸ˜‰

    I am not talking about explaining the whole financial system with inflation, investments, savings, if she wants to get $1B net or gross and so forth, but just simple math calculation… that could be a good start.

    So perhaps let her consider that as the average age for women is somewhere above 80, for sake of rounding up let’s say the “lifetime is 82” (with my best wishes for her to beat Methuselah’s age ;D)… that would be a span of 60 years if starting to work at 18.

    So taking that $1 billion and dividing it by 60 years of working lifetime (just for sake of example since the amounts will be even higher with each year of retirement she’d like to enjoy before the lifetime reaches its end)

    It would roughly means to earn and average of $16,666,667/year
    (You may want to put these amounts in perspective with examples she will get easily at her age using maybe how many nintendo DS that would be, how many years of groceries, years of work mom and dad would have to do just to make that amount in their lifetime given the current earnings and so on… in other words, something she can easily relate to)

    Then let’s divide $16,666,667 by 365 days in a year and we’ll find what the daily income would need to be $45,662

    Considering that to reach in good health the venerable age of 82, working insane hours would make for a miserable existence so let at least consider an 8 hour day even we are considering no vacations ever… that would translate in $45,662 divided by 8h/day and we get that the pet grooming should make at least $5,707.75/hour

    Ok, one might say that’s impossible but here it will depend on the scale of her operation. If she can manage to have 200 people working for her pet grooming chain where she would the be able to take that $5,707.75 distribute them over 200 workers and get ~$28.6 on each hour worked so if grooming would cost $60/h then it would mean that $31.4 will be available to cover expenses, including paycheck, shop rent or mortgage, grooming products and so on…

    Just an example you can further simplify… what’s important is to get a good idea of scale from an early age because keeping things in the right perspective (on which you are doing a great job already) will not only give her an advantage in life, but will help her focus on what matters as well as achieve goals faster and with less risk and hassle.

    Good luck with the parenting task and financial challenges πŸ™‚

    1. Ha, that’s an amazing amount of math – and pretty cool to see. Sarah has looked at what groomers make; I think in her big number, she’s kind of taking an “aggregate” approach – I think she plans to invest, to have some “side hustles,” and she truly wants to take a pretty high-end approach; I think I mentioned in one of the earlier comments that she wants to groom show dogs, which is BIG business. (We used to breed show dogs as a family, so she’s gotten some insight into that from hearing about our experiences!) We knew some people who paid $5,000 for ONE grooming session for their show dog. So, I guess it can happen!! (Not if I’m the customer, though!)

      If I had to say at this moment, is a billion dollars realistic? Well, maybe, maybe not. But I think she can certainly aim for it, and I’m not going to be the one to tell her it can’t be done!

    1. Aww, thanks, Jenna! I bet she could’ve. One of her friends goes, “Why didn’t you ask for five bucks?” I cracked up.

  9. Thanks for sharing all of this, Joan. Loved it. As a soon-to-be Mommy of my first child (any day now, we’re trying to contribute to Daughter week, we really really are! COME ON, GIRL.) my husband and I just had a conversation the other day about our daughter and money. Specifically, what would we tell friends and family who ask how they can gift a monetary gift to our child? It makes you really think about not only your own financial goals, but what you want to help your child with in the future. College savings plans, savings bonds, investment accounts, etc.

    Anyway, your article sparked several things for me. Thanks for that!

    Keep up the good stuff,

    1. GOOD LUCK, ANNIE! I hope by the time you’re reading this, your own daughter will have joined our party! πŸ™‚

      Good for you for wanting to get your new addition “set up” the right way, right from the start. That makes so much of a difference… and I’m so glad you’re putting such thought into it. Wish I had started sooner myself!

  10. Pool Table for the Pool! Best idea I’ve heard today.

    Also, if you’ve got the money for the real estate, you don’t need a husband to go with that castle dear. Hiring a pet sitter is much cheaper than marrying one.

    1. Jenny, I love it!! πŸ™‚ She isn’t sure yet about the husband either. And definitely unsure about kids – which is just fine with this mom at this point!

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    1. Tracey, isn’t that awesome? She is big into plays-on-words right now, and I figure it’ll serve her well if she wants to go into infomercials in the future πŸ˜‰

  12. Like mother like daughter? πŸ™‚

    Sarah got her financial blueprint from you and your husband. So before saying my praises to Sarah- I salute you for the financial education you have taught Sarah.

    Everyone has financial blueprint. It’s how we look at our finances and what we do with it. This is like a subconscious perception of your financial status which is reflected in how you manage your finances. Kids get their financial blueprint from their parents and the environment. The most effective way of influencing the kids is teaching them by example. And that’s what you are doing Joan. Congratulations again.

    1. Belinda, I’m a little late in saying so, but thank you so much for your kind words!! I definitely recognize our influence – but I also see so many kids Sarah’s age whose parents TRY to be a good influence, but the kids are just so impressionable from everyone ELSE’S family’s “stuff,” which I find a shame! I’m glad she’s independent enough to stand up for what she does believe even in the face of our friend’s family’s new convertible!

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  14. Pingback: Two interviews: Me, through my daughter’s eyes, and her views on money, life and happiness | Unschool RULES

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