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Fighting Over Finances Turns Kids Into Reckless Spenders

fighting about money, kids and finances

Not in front of the kids! Money arguments should be rare and away from young eyes and ears.

You might want to take this week’s argument over the family budget into another room. These open spats over spending could have consequences on how your children spend (and pile up debt) in college.

It turns out, bad financial decisions are somewhat inheritable. Whether it’s from DNA or just bad role-modeling, researchers aren’t yet sure. But one thing is certain: kids tend to repeat their parents’ credit card mistakes.

In a new study called, are you ready, “College students and credit card debt — parents at fault?” researchers found that even relatively affluent kids reported having more cards and much more debt if they also reported their parents fought over money than students whose parents did not. The study is publised in the recent issue of the online Journal of Family and Economic Issues.

TIME magazine’s Josh Sanburn wrote about the study, which found parental conflict over finance the third biggest predictor of how many credit cards college students had on average. The biggest predictor was number of years in college: upperclassmen were four times as likely to have two or more credit cards than university freshmen or sophomores. Female students were twice as likely as male students to have two or more credit cards.

But regardless of age or gender, those students who reported they grew up in a household where the adults fought over money were more than twice as likely to have two or more credit cards than parents where money was less emotional. They were also three times as likely to have large amounts of debt. Researchers controlled for income and found that affluence played no role in these credit-seeking and spending behaviors.

Adam Hancock, co-author of the study, said that, much like homes where substance or physical abuse are present, kids who grow up where unhealthy financial decisions are being may have a tendency to act out those same behaviors in life.

Which isn’t to say money matters shouldn’t be discussed in front of the kids. In fact, most experts agree that open and honest — and unemotional — money talk, even if it’s about having to cut back and go without, is the best approach.

Thanks to easy, easy credit, college is really too late for kids to be learning important financial lessons. Instead, kids should be given plenty of opportunities while they’re young to make bad financial decisions — and to learn the consequences of those. So no bailing them out! And, especially, no fighting about it.

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