Paying bills fits into your everyday money management, and it’s an important part of financial adulthood that eventually your children need to understand and handle.
Some topics may be sensitive for your family. Keep in mind that children absorb much more than the words you say—they’re aware of your moods and attitudes too. Start a conversation when you sense it can be productive and comfortable.
For young children (ages 3-5)
Below are ideas for how to approach a conversation. For young children, conversations don’t always need to be about dollars and cents—instead, you can help them build the self-control, planning, and problem-solving skills they’ll need as adults. You can also try to work into the conversation other skills that your young child can work on, like practicing counting, waiting for what they want, thinking flexibly, and staying focused. See more about milestones your young child is reaching and how to help them.
Explain to your young child that things they use every day aren’t automatic, like electricity, television, water, and garbage removal. They’re services that you use and then you have to take time to pay for them. Talk about how you have to plan ahead to cover the costs of these services.
For school-age children to preteens (ages 6–12)
Below are ideas for how to approach a conversation. At this age, your child can build habits, values, and rules of thumb to support future financial well-being. You can try to work into the conversation other ideas that are appropriate for your preteen, like how to help them fit their experiences into the world around them, establish a system of values, resist peer pressure, and build automatic habits. See more about milestones your preteen is reaching and how to help them.
Take the time to make the task of paying bills visible instead of invisible. Your preteen might not know why you sit at the table with a checkbook, or work on your smartphone, or wait on the telephone. Tell your child that you are paying bills and it’s a regular part of your routine.
Thinking out loud
Connect the things you do to the payments you make. If you tend to put household expenses on your credit card, explain that when you pay the credit card bill, you are paying back the money you borrowed to buy those things. If you write a check for electricity, explain that the bill must be paid for the electricity you used to turn on the lights or watch television, so that you can continue to have this service at home.
For teenagers and young adults
Below are ideas for how to approach a conversation. You can also try to work into the conversation other ways your teenager can practice money skills, like doing their own research, comparison, and decision making. See more about milestones your teenager is reaching and how to help them.
Some people choose to pay bills automatically, deducted from their accounts. This helps make sure they’re paid on time. Talk about the pros and cons of other ways to pay bills, like paying in person, paying by mail with a check, and making payments by phone or online.
Talk about why you pay bills the way you do, and why your system works for you. This helps your teen understand the importance of having a system and how to form a healthy money habit. Your teen might already be responsible for a recurring bill—maybe your teen pays for a cell phone or car insurance—and you can help them set up a system to manage payments.