I recently heard a talking head on the internet commenting on how to teach kids about money. I agreed with some of what they said: start early; it’s the parent’s responsibility to teach their children about money; let the kids suffer the consequences of a bad financial decision when they are young; use three jars marked give, save and spend to develop a kid-friendly budgeting system.

But one of the things I heartily disagree with was that we can feel good about ourselves if we have “a little left over for charity.” Giving back to God some of what he has given to us needs to be our first priority to teach our children, not something that comes up if we have “a little bit left over.”

The idea that charity is the last thing we think about is backwards– charity needs to be the first thing we teach our kids. Let’s face it. If charity is our last priority, there will never be enough left over.

Kids are not natural givers. The first words a toddler usually learns are Mama, Dada and MINE! In our consumer society where children are walking bill boards with their character based book bags, lunchboxes, shirts, dresses, shoes pajamas and underwear, no child will be naturally generous because everything in our culture influences them to be selfish. Children will only be generous if their parents intentionally teach them to be generous.

Google the words “children and generosity” and you will get about 35 million results in nano-seconds, most of which use words such as teach, learn, lesson, activities, raising, developing, growing, engaging, fostering, cultivating, helping, and nurturing. None of these words make generosity sound like an automatic way kids think, do they?

"Teaching Kids Dollars and Nonsense" by Evelyn Bean (CatholicMom.com) Photo by Sergey Novikov; licensed by author via 123rf.com, CC

If we want our children to be generous, we need to teach them to be generous, and the best way to do that is to be generous ourselves. We often hold money tightly grasped in our hands as if our very life depends on it. But the Bible tells us that all the money and possessions we hold onto so tightly really does not belong to us. It all belongs to God.

God owns everything. Think about that for a minute. The Bible tells us that God owns everything: the highest heavens (Deuteronomy 10:14); the world and all that is in it (Psalm 24:1); all the land (Leviticus 25:23); all the silver and gold (Haggai 2:8) all the animal, cattle, wild birds all living things in the field (Psalm 50:10-12); all the earth Exodus (19:5); all of life (Ezekiel 18:4).

Boiling it down to the smallest possible denominator, what do you have that does not have God as its source? Your job? God gave you the talents and gifts you use in your work. Your life? God is the source of all life. Your health? Your family? Friends? Everything you have comes from God!

Once you recognize God owns everything, it’s easy to become generous. Once you become generous your kids learn by osmosis.

1 Chronicles 16:28 tells us “Give to the Lord, you families of nations, give to the Lord glory and might.”

Proverbs 25:21 tells us to be generous to our enemies “If your enemies are hungry, give them food to eat, if thirsty, give something to drink.”

Tobit 4:8 challenges us to “Give in proportion to what you own. If you have great wealth, give alms out of your abundance; if you have but little, do not be afraid to give alms even of that little.”

Above all else, giving directs our heart to Christ. Matthew 6:21 tells us, “For your heart will always be where your riches are.” This is why it’s necessary to give each gift to the person of Jesus Christ: it draws our heart to him.

It’s not how much of your money you have to give to God. The real question is how much of God’s money do you need to keep.

Read the story of the faithful steward in the parable of the talents, (Matthew 25:21). Giving is one of our responsibilities as stewards, and the more faithful we are in fulfilling our responsibilities, the more we can enter into the joy of knowing Christ more intimately. (“Well done good and faithful servant. Come share your Master’s joy.”) Nothing in life compares with that.

For most of us, becoming more generous is a journey that takes time. The more we expose ourselves to what the Bible teaches about giving, the more generous we become. And once we become generous, it’s easy to teach our children to be generous.

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There are lots of things parents need to teach their children . . . stranger danger; to look both ways before crossing the street; how to speak properly; how to do their assigned chores and how to dress themselves. But the most important life lesson is how to be a good steward of all God’s many blessings and that includes being a careful spender, a wise saver and a generous giver.

Copyright 2017 Evelyn Bean

About the Author:  Evelyn Bean and her husband Jon are co-founders of Compass Catholic Ministries. They have been teaching the link between faith and finances for 30 years and are passionate about freeing Catholics from the materialistic influences of our secular society.