Dinnertime During A Pandemic: 10 Ideas For Creating Money-Smart Kids

Westporter Tom Henske is a partner and Certified Financial Planner at New York-based Lenox Advisors. As he’s helped client’s over the past 25 years, he developed Lenox’s “Money Smart Kids” program, empowering parents to teach their children about finances.  

A frequent contributor on CNBC, Tom helped them build their financial literacy “Money & You” segments. For years, he wrote a biweekly column, “Money Smart Kids,” for the Westport News.

Today — in these financially turbulent times — Tom helps parents talk to their kids about money.

You’ve probably heard a friend or colleague joke, “Don’t let a good crisis go to waste.” While a sense of humor can lighten a very dim mood, there is some truth to it.

Never has our community had so many consecutive nights of discussion opportunities. Family dinners are amazing opportunities for deep conversations that can be both interesting and educational.

Tom Henske

That’s one benefit of quarantine. But if the discussions are getting a bit stale, or you want a prompt beyond “How was your day?” here’s an idea.

Why not help your kids emerge from this crisis “money smart”? You can help your middle or high schoolers build their financial literacy. What a gift as they begin to blaze their path in the world.

But how do you bring up that dinner dinner conversation without sounding like a dorky parent? Well, you can slip in some questions as conversation starters. Whether they spur a 5-minute conversation or lead to a 30-minute debate, the drip-drip-drip method of helping develop money smarts may be better than the fire hose.

You’re not trying to create the next Warren Buffet. You’re just trying to make sure the topic of money isn’t taboo in your household, and help build a foundation of the basics of handling it that your kids can carry with them forever. For example:

Parent: “I heard today that kids don’t graduate with enough money smarts before they go to college. Can I try a question with you guys? Do you happen to know what an emergency reserve fund is?”

Then: Don’t talk. Be patient. Let them come up with the answer themselves. If they don’t, ask other questions that leads them to the answer.

Below are 10 suggested topics. Don’t be tempted to move on to #2 the same night. Save it for another evening. If we’re locked in much longer, you’ll need those dinner topics. Otherwise you’re back to “How was your day?” (Answer: “I was here all day with you!“)

Money does not grow on trees — or lie in the sand. Teaching financial literacy to children is important.


  1. Emergency reserve
    • What is an emergency reserve?
    • Why is an emergency reserve fund important to have?
    • What can people use for their emergency funds?
    • How much should people have in emergency funds?
    • Where should we keep those emergency funds?
  2. Investing
    • What are stocks? Bonds?
    • Why is your time horizon (short vs. long term) important for which combination of stocks/bonds you choose?
      • What are things we might want to spend money on in the short term?
      • What are examples of things we invest for the long term?
    • What is risk tolerance?
    • What have the historical returns of stocks been? Bonds?  How about the last 4 weeks returns of each of those?
      • Fun Game:  What was the S&P at when you were born?
      • How about when we (mom/dad) were born?
  3. Budgeting
    • What is a budget? Why do we need one?
    • Based on our quarantine situation
      • Where are we spending less than usual?
      • Where are we spending more than usual?
    • Will we change anything based on what we’re experiencing?
    • Will we recover money we’ve already laid out but now won’t get the benefit of?
        • Camp
        • Sports
        • Gym memberships
  4. Credit card spending
    • Why is it important to have credit cards during this time?
    • What other ways do we pay for things when we are social distancing?
    • Should we still keep some cash just in case? Was there ever a time in our history that we were concerned about having cash in our hands? (Y2K)
  5. Identity theft
    • What is identity theft?
    • Why should we be more careful during this time?
    • What are things we need to look out for?
    • How can we proactively be careful?
    • What happen if our identity is stolen?
  6. Insurance
    • What type of insurance become more/less important during a time like this?
      • Health(+)
      • Life (+)
      • Auto (-)
    • Are we now finding out that some insurance contracts don’t cover pandemics?
  7. Economy (general)
    • What companies will thrive in this environment and why?
    • Which companies will struggle during this time period?
      • Airlines vs. Zoom
    • Lost revenue from sports
    • Small business
      • Restaurants
    • Government stimulus
      • Pros/cons
      • How much is $2 trillion
      • Why are some people getting checks for $1,200?
  8. Charity
    • Should we be more or less charitable during this time?
    • Should our donations be more local vs. national focused?
    • Who in Westport is helping?
    • Who needs help?
  9. Financial media
    • What tends to happen during a crisis in the media?
    • Why is it important to chose your media sources carefully?
  10. Borrowing/lending
    • What are “interest rates?”
    • What’s happening to interest rates right now?
    • When financial consumers follow interest rates, what financial parts of their lives are they thinking about?
      • Mortgage rates
        • Why do people take out mortgage loans to purchase their homes?
      • Auto loans
      • Student loans (How do you feel about the governments proposal to eliminate student loan debt? What consequences will that have?)

(How did those questions work? Click “Comments” to let us know!)

In September 2017, Tom Henske’s daughter Sammi and son Spencer went shopping to help Hurricane Harvey victims.Their shopping cart would come in handy today!

13 responses to “Dinnertime During A Pandemic: 10 Ideas For Creating Money-Smart Kids

  1. Seth Sholes

    Tom. As usual great ideas. We will try and implement between yelling.

  2. Jo Ann Davidson

    I don’t have a teenager, but I wish I could answer all these questions myself. That means some research. In my spare time.

    Jo Ann Davidson

  3. Tom Duquette, SHS '75

    If I were a kid I’d be eating in my room. Not that these aren’t important topics but shouldn’t dinner conversation be a bit lighter and not an economics lecture? Like Jo Ann I doubt I could answer all of them either. Stay safe everyone.

  4. Raymond Lopez

    This is great stuff Tom – one additional idea for us parents is to try to familiarize yourself with the topics and bring one up naturally when a parallel conversation is taking place…for example here in my town there was a food drive for those struggling to make ends meet. My daughter showed a great empathy for those struggling and wanted to do something about it. All the questions in your number 8 could have been brought up during our talk with her at that moment. So this is great stuff to apply whenever the opportunity presents itself!

  5. Patrick Beusse

    Great stuff, Tom! Early conversations on these topics are undoubtedly helpful. Otherwise you find yourself figuring it all out after graduation! The current situation provides a clear opportunity to tackle projects/topics that we otherwise might avoid. Best to you and your family!

  6. Susan Donadeo

    Loved this!! Excellent questions, pandemic or not!

  7. What a great way to break up the monotony of being at home all day especially while kids have no sports on TV and are sadly missing out on spring seasons and activities. Such a timely discussion as as even kids cant help but hear about “economic consequences” as this continues. Relevant!

  8. Sean Gallagher

    The list above describes mostly items that kids learn while living life. To lay a foundational understanding for high schoolers would be monumental prior to taking on the real world. Well stated Tom, looking forward to linking up hopefully soon!

  9. James Hickok

    Love it Tom! Some of this might sound crazy to discuss with kids and young adults, but I think that can be attributed to the topic being relatively taboo in many households over the years as you said. Whether or not kids understand the specific ins and outs of the stimulus, stocks/bonds, etc. is probably less important than opening up that avenue for healthy and continued dialogue on these subjects with your parents. They will be better prepared for the “real world” without even knowing it. Well said!

  10. Tom,
    Great stuff!
    I wish I would have had these conversations with my oldest before sending her off to college. First semester was a finance crash course for her (and us). Now that she’s back… let the dinner time talks begin – It’s not too late for her and certainly not to early for my younger kids.
    I’ll try to keep it light. No PowerPoint slides.
    Thank you Dan for sharing Tom’s insight and great ideas.

  11. Well rounded thought provoking questions – even for adults to ask themselves. Thanks for sharing Tom!

  12. Matthew Tanzer

    I really enjoyed reading this article. Learning about finance and financial situations is extremely important, especially in a time like right now where there is so much uncertainty. For me, being a freshman in college it’s important I make sure I have knowledge on all of these topics.

  13. Linda J. Skidmore

    Where were you when I was 15?Such an important topic to discuss with kids! Keep going!!!