As we neared the exhibit of rides and activities my four-year-old son turned to me “daddy, do we have money?”

I didn’t anticipate such an astute question from my little man.

He could tell what was coming. What he saw ahead was thrilling rides and fun festivities. For me, well I saw the fun, but mostly I knew that this would be expensive.

We were on vacation with my extended family, and as we approached the “Fun Park” each of the adults glanced at each other knowingly. Some false impression had invaded our midst that there were free playgrounds in this area of town.

Turns out, the only “fun” things in the “Fun Park” required a $50+ wristband per person. The area is heavy for tourism and vacationing families, so we shouldn’t have expected anything different. We were naive in approaching this place, and now the hard conversations came.

“Daddy, do we have money?”

The question burst with innocence. I couldn’t rebuke his materialism for wanting to blow hundreds of dollars in a single afternoon. The boy wanted to have fun. And what he saw was, legitimately, fun. But I also couldn’t express to him how this place turned my stomach. An overt money trap luring in families. The engineers of such a place made every effort to empty families pockets (or max out their plastic); all the while distracting them with extravagant games.

I also know that my four year old’s question wasn’t rooted in a concern for our financial well-being. So how can I respond to a question that tugs on every fatherly emotion I have?

There are two core ways I wanted to encourage my son when he asks such a question. I didn’t articulate them clearly to him that day at the Fun Park. I bumbled over a response in the midst of the glitzy setting. But in the long term I want to slowly teach him about how money works in our family.

– God has given us money, but we need to be careful about how we spend it.

Money is valuable in more ways than the numerical value on it’s face. Money wields influence because it shows us what we care about.

“Son, when mom and I make decisions about how to spend money, we are showing you and your brother what we think is important. If we spend money on everything that looks ‘fun’ than you will learn to think that everything is important. If you don’t learn from mom and dad how to say ‘no’ to some ‘fun’ and ‘yes’ to other ‘fun’ than it will be very hard for you to make decisions when you grow up.

If we say “yes” enough to the wrong things than we may not have enough money to do really important things. Like give you food, a bed and a house to live in.

You know when mommy and daddy give you a toy and we tell you to be a good ‘keeper’ of the toy? If you broke or lost the toy, would that be acting like a good ‘keeper’? God has given us money and he asks us to be a good ‘keeper’. If we spend money on the wrong things we won’t be a good keeper of God’s gift.

– We don’t have to spend lots of money to have fun.

Money does not guarantee fun. Also, fun is found in many things that don’t cost money.

“Son, you love to play this game every night at dinner called “favorite parts.” You go around the table and ask each person what their favorite part of the day was.

When we play this game I want you to notice something. Often the best part of someone’s day was free or almost free. A conversation with a good friend. Swimming in the kiddie pool in our backyard. Those amazing enchiladas your mom made for dinner. Going to church and playing with friends. The best things in life are often free. Fun and joy do not cost money.

God loves it when we have joy and fun in life. Mom and dad also love it when you smile and laugh with joy. Fun is important value in our family. God has blessed in amazing ways where we can have fun without spending lots of money.”

Spending money is a great teaching opportunity. How do you talk with your kids about money? How do you help them understand the relationship between money and fun?