Give Kids the Big Picture of Stewardship

Matt and Kelly Kaye live in Memphis with their two sons, Ross and Nash. To teach Ross and Nash biblical principles of saving and giving, they created TillSOS, a wooden till that helps children manage their money by dividing it into five categories: God, Others, Savings, Spending, and Extra. Under each category, a purposeful Scripture reference is overlaid on artwork, which helps them better understand the true source of stewardship (SOS). The Kayes are hoping to share TillSOS with interested families, but must meet a production minimum through a prefunding order process in order to proceed. Their website is tillsos.com.

I spoke with the Kayes about what they’ve learned about encouraging generosity in the next generation.

Where did your passion for stewardship start?

We think it’s important to define the heart of stewardship, since it’s so much more than handling money. Stewardship is a holistic approach of managing and being responsible for all things in your care. I (Matt) am in the grocery business, and I’m charged by God to manage my business to the best of my talents while it’s in my possession. As a business owner at a young age, I quickly realized that the better a resource is stewarded, the more options I have to enjoy and share the benefits in creative ways.

As far as the passion for stewardship, it certainly took on a new meaning when we had children. We want them to understand, at a much earlier age than we did, that stewardship isn’t our obligation to God; rather it’s our heartfelt response to him.

How did you develop an approach to stewardship with your kids?

Our approach is still evolving, but perhaps the closest thing to a Eureka moment came over Legos. No sooner had the boys gotten another Lego set than they’d turned their eyes to the next one. It dawned on us that none of those Legos held any value, because it didn’t cost them anything.

So, we didn’t tell the boys they couldn’t have any more Legos; we simply told them their parents were out of the Lego business. The goal then became to find ways to get money in their hands and coach them on how to appropriately steward it.

We knew we had to train the boys through hands-on experience and to cultivate their hearts with teaching straight from the source of stewardship, the Bible.

The original till

What’s the significance of the name of the product?

Till is defined in three ways, each applicable to our product:

  1. to prepare, cultivate, work
  2. a cash drawer for handling money
  3. a less formal way to say until

SOS is the universal call sign for help, which is relevant to the product’s purpose, and it conveniently serves as an abbreviation for the source of stewardship.

How did you pick the biblical passages you associate with each area of stewardship? How do they play into your routine? 

Attempting to incorporate biblical scripture

We have five categories—God, Others, Savings, Spending, and Extra—and we select verses that go with those categories and hopefully stir the heart. When the heart isn’t in it, we tend to slide down the slippery slope of legalism and self-justification.

We try to encourage generosity and some sacrifice. On payday we sit down; the boys say the category and read the verse out loud. Then they calculate the amount that goes into that category based on a predetermined percentage, which is paid, and then they slide their money into the till slot. This is repeated for each category. At the end, they take their God money and place it in their Bible for church.

For Others, money is used for any variety of things: hurricane relief, the Salvation Army, supporting missionaries, and so on.

For Savings, we opened passbook savings accounts so they fill out deposit slips and go to the bank. We said this money is off limits until they’re 21.

Spending is for current and future spending. This money is completely at their discretion.

Extra is simply a rainy-day fund, which they can draw on if they’re low in one area.

In the beginning, we set the baseline percentages for each category. Since then, we let the boys choose percentage allocations that hold firm for one year. This has been a routine for us for nearly six years.

What’s your advice to families with young children who want to shape habits of giving, spending, and saving?  

Beginning to reimagine the concept and product

The most important thing is to actually start, and do whatever you do with consistency and repetition. Begin as early as possible and understand that, while you’re sowing seeds that will bear some fruit under your roof, the primary objective is to prepare them for adulthood.

For earning money, we’ve found that earning opportunities need to be creative, fun, achievable, and worthwhile.

For giving, consider beginning with a family-centered opportunity. One year, we made household buckets for World Relief each month.

For spending, it may sound counterintuitive, but the sooner children begin wasting money, the quicker they will develop an appreciation for it. They have to experience that regret on their own. On occasion, we encourage them to wait 10 days and see if they still want an item. Often, they don’t. Bottom line: don’t make spending taboo, but try and minimize the worldly impulsiveness of it.

We’ve found it’s important to distinguish between short-term and long-term savings. This distinction leads to the “would you rather” conversations about the differences between immediate and delayed gratification. Short-term savings stay in the till for their consumption in the near future. Long-term heads to the bank for adulthood.

One of many many prototypes

Ross and Nash, how do you think using the TillSOS has affected the way you think about work and money? 

Nash: One time, Dad made me go through our routine when I hadn’t earned any money that month. So saying “zero dollars times my percentages equals zero dollars” five times was really annoying, but it made me understand I hadn’t done any work, and I wasn’t getting any more money.

Ross: We started a beehive. Dad made me get up when it was still dark and do a lot of things that weren’t fun. Also, the bee suit is really hot. My dad asked me why I thought he made me do it. I told him because it’s not all honey.

From Concept to Creation. A treasured keepsake for now and a legacy for their children.

How did you decide to turn your experience into a product to share with others? 

I can assure you we didn’t begin with anything like that in mind. We were simply trying to teach our children about the concept of stewardship. It was actually Nash who came up with the idea of sharing with others. We’ve encouraged both boys to think creatively and entrepreneurially, so we asked them if they wanted to give it a go. They said yes.

Through continuous usage, brainstorming, many dead ends, and lots of tinkering, we slowly rounded into a product that seems to be a unique strategy to confront an age-old issue.

How is your TillSOS different from other approaches to shape the financial habits of kids?

Clearly, what we’re trying to tackle is nothing new. You see divided piggy banks, give/save/spend jars, envelopes, wallets, and so on. While each is well-meaning and even intentional, something was lacking, and that something was drawing a direct line to Scripture.

We overlayed Scripture onto beautiful works of art on the lids of the TillSOS, which makes for wonderful visual reminders. By using multiple lids, we keep the process fresh with new Bible verses coupled with different paintings. The lids not in use are perfect standalone art pieces that remind kids of the comprehensive nature of stewardship as well as the source of it.

Another difference is that our approach is serious, while remaining age-appropriate. Last, we created a product with high-quality materials that would serve as a keepsake for our children to use with their children, as opposed to a poorly constructed, easily breakable, disposable trinket.

What has been the most rewarding part of the TillSOS process for you?

Nash: Reading and seeing God’s Word and how it applies to so many things beyond me.

Ross: I really like drawing, so adding the artwork helps me make it more real.

Nash and Ross: It has been a little frustrating, because it has taken so long, and there have been a lot of dead ends. But seeing the final prototype was definitively exciting and rewarding.

Matt: Working and brainstorming on a real-life opportunity with the boys.

Kelly: The most rewarding part of the TillSOS process for me has been to watch my sons make the connection that all things (including money) come from the Lord and are his, and that we have the responsibility to use what we’re given for his glory and not just for ourselves. I’ve seen the transition from obedience and obligation to parents to genuine charitable giving to God and others.

For more details, visit us at tillsos.com or email [email protected]