Like many children, I grew up thinking I knew something about money. But in reality, I didn’t understand even basic concepts. One reason is that my parents never discussed their income, their savings or the price of a new car, television or home. In fact, they would tell me, “It’s not polite to ask what something costs.”
Then, my father died when I was 22. Suddenly, I was thrown into the world of finance. I needed to understand our family’s household bills and how much it cost each month to pay the mortgage, college tuition, car payments and insurance. I also had to learn about the many types of investments, their risks and potential rewards.
Eventually, that experience pointed me toward a career in financial planning and wealth management, educating clients about the basics of money as well as the latest investment strategies.
Now, as a father of two boys, age 7 and 10, I want to be sure my children have at least a basic understanding of money. For instance, when we eat at a restaurant, I ask my oldest son to figure out the tip. It teaches him percentages and gives him experience with something he will have to do with money as an adult.
After we recently bought a new house, I explained to my children how a bank was lending us money through a mortgage that we would be paying back each month. It was a great opportunity to teach them about how careful one needs to be when borrowing money.
As my children grow older, I expect to continue teaching them about daily finances, including savings and investments, and let them have the experience of earning and spending money themselves. After all, being able to manage money is one of the keys to being an independent adult.
If your children understand the concept of “spend less than you make” and can apply that lesson to their own lives, you can feel proud of your parental accomplishment.
However, studies by the National Financial Educators Council and other organizations indicate that most children fail even the most basic financial literacy tests. With that in mind, here are some suggestions to help teach your children about money.
• Once your children are old enough to count, it’s time to start teaching them about money. Have them stack up piles of pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters and count each one. Later, they can use their addition and multiplication skills to determine how many dollar bills they could get for a stack of 50 dimes.
• Give young children a small weekly allowance so they get used to handling dollars and coins. Don’t give them an advance before “allowance day” so they will learn that once they spend their money, it’s gone for good.
• Talk about the choices they make when spending their allowance money. After all, an allowance is a miniature version of a monthly household budget. In both cases there’s not enough money to buy everything you want, so you have to make choices about what’s most important.
• Increase your allowances for older children so that they can pay for school supplies, school lunches, clothing or other necessary purchases. It’s a good experience for a teen to get $25 a week, for example, knowing that a portion of that allowance is necessary for cafeteria lunches.
• When your child is older, consider opening a debit card account that allows them to make in-store or online purchases or withdraw cash from an ATM. They will need to use “plastic” in college or the working world, and a debit card is less risky than opening a credit card account.