Raising financially savvy children

Filed under: Big Kids, Tweens, Teens, Work Life, Day Care & Education

Despite growing up in an accounting office, I never really learned about money as a kid -- I learned the hard way later on. First, it was a department store credit card, followed by an American Express card. That made it easy to buy expensive gifts and treat my friends a lot. And I bought CD's and recording gear and computers and the next thing I knew, I had thousands of dollars of debt piled up. So what happened?

Stephen Epstein knows. He had a similar experience, finishing college four thousand dollars in debt. Now, he runs a company called DollarCamp, providing "financial survival training" for youngsters around the San Francisco Bay Area. And that's probably a good thing -- a survey conducted by Capital One Financial Corp. found that while eighty percent of parents felt they were good role models, financially, only nineteen percent had discussed budgets with their kids. Thirty-six percent had not talked about money at all.

Epstein points out some common mistakes parents make when it comes to kids and money, the most common being not teaching kids about credit cards, including the effect late payments have on their financial future. He also warns against bribing kids with gifts and money: "Parents who buy their kids lots of gifts complain that their kids don't know the value of a dollar. How could they?" I've seen that a lot with kids whose parents bought them a car -- they then go on to trash it or even total it without worrying about it. Easy come, easy go.

Here are some more tips for teaching kids to successfully handle money, culled from around the internet:

Allowances -- if you are going to give your kids an allowance, decide up front what you're going to expect them to pay for from then on, be it candy and comic books or clothing and cars. Make sure they have enough to cover these expenses and then don't bail them out. If they blow their entire allowance on candy the first day, then they won't be able to get anything else until the next time. That's an important lesson.

Work -- There will, inevitably, be things that they'll want that their allowance simply won't cover. Offer them opportunities to earn extra money by doing additional chores such as washing the car or, if you can, helping out at your work. I worked for a publisher friend of my parents' photocopying pre-release, review copies of books. I made a little money and learned about the publishing business.

Saving -- It's a good idea to encourage saving, both for the long term and for short term goals. Consider mandating that some percentage of their income -- allowance and salary -- be set aside for their college education. They can also learn from putting money away towards a larger purchase, such as a bicycle or a car. Help them see the advantage of doing so by tracking their progress and, perhaps, even comparing that to what it would cost them to purchase the item on credit.

Investing -- This is an important topic to cover as kids get a little older. The familiar piggy bank just doesn't cut it if they want their retirement years to be spent having fun instead of going to work. The Young Investor site has information for kids, teens, parents and teachers, including games and tutorials.

Charity -- Consider having your kids set aside a portion of their income and allowance to help out others less fortunate than themselves or to assist causes they believe in. Whether they use the money to help their school, donate it to an environmental group they support, or buy food and blankets for the homeless, they learn that the world doesn't just revolve around them -- we're all in this together.

I'm hoping that my kids do better financially than I did; I'd love to hear what advice others have for teaching kids about money. So far, with our oldest having just turned six, our lessons have consisted of "put it in your piggy bank" (and it's not even a Money Savvy piggy bank.) I suppose, however, it's about time we started talking to the kids about money.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.