Teaching your children how to manage money is a very rewarding experience.
I am a certified financial planner and a father of four young children. Naturally, I want my children to be happy, healthy, educated and financially secure. I have noticed that it is challenging for parents to find time and interactive ways to engage their children in learning about finance. Often, the school systems don’t even provide the option for financial classes until college.
However, when you gently incorporate financial responsibility into your children’s lifestyles every day, it can make teaching and learning about finance easier and more fun for the whole family. Check out these 10 simple ways my wife and I motivate our children to learn about financial management, and see if they will work for your family as well:
1. The first step to teaching children good financial habits is to be an example yourself.
Save, spend intelligently, keep score by budgeting and plan for the long term. Don’t forget to explain to your children how and why you are doing these things. You will be amazed how much they will understand finances at an early age.
2. Get your children interested in finance by keeping it simple.
Educate them on investing by showing them what companies’ specific products are used in your daily living at home or at the store. For example: General Mills makes Cheerios, Apple makes iPads and Heinz makes Ketchup. My son recently asked me why our 529 accounts don’t own Target. He is 10 years old. I was very surprised and excited, for sure.
3. Assign your children chores for pay.
The good “old fashion” allowance approach works wonders. It is critical that you hold them accountable. No results means no pay. Also, consider additional bonus incentives, like getting the chores done before a certain day or completing tasks outside of their normal chore list. I like to be creative on that front, because it can be more fun and teaches them a strong work ethic and to always look for opportunities for growth.
4. Consider penalties for unwanted behavior.
My favorite is “Fifty cents is taken out of the piggy bank, if you don’t flush the toilet.” Penalties are habit-forming for kids, just as they are for adults. Everyone says it takes 21 days to form a habit, but it may take less if penalties are involved.
5. Open a bank or brokerage account in their name.
Children love getting statements that have their name on them, or any mail, for that matter. Seeing their name on the statement usually helps them focus. Work together with them to make short-term and long-term goals. A short-term goal could be accumulating enough funds for a certain toy or an ice cream treat. A long-term goal could be a ticket to an amusement park or even a car.
6. Share the concept of retirement accounts and college accounts.
I do not suggest specifics, unless you would like your children’s friends to know your balances. Children tend to repeat to others what they hear in their home. The idea we are trying to instill here is that many big-cost goals, such as retirement, college funding or a home, will take years of savings.
7. Teach your kids about account fees and costs.
They are particularly important for smaller, recently established accounts. If an account has a $50 fee and only has $500 in it, it’s not likely the account will grow very much. On the flip side, make sure to also point out to them how interest will grow their savings.
8. Observe how each of your children responds to the financial tutoring differently, and talk about it as a family.
Some of the funniest and most rewarding conversations occur at our dinner table. Just like sports, subjects at school and everything else in life, each child will vary in their approach. Some love to work to get ahead and some don’t. Some want all short-term spending goals and others get excited about long-term savings. In fact, my wife and I have learned a lot more about ourselves financially through this process as well.
9. Educate them on comparison shopping.
The grocery store ice cream aisle is a great place for this lesson. Show them how to compare store-brand ice cream to gourmet ice cream. We pay nearly five times the cost per pint or quart for the high-end stuff. It’s pretty telling. Once again, they will each see value in their own way.
10. Commit to the cause.
Just like eating, exercise and work, you need to dedicate a real long-term effort to teaching children about finances. Ordering a diet soda with a double cheeseburger doesn’t work. Eating well on a regular basis produces results. Here is where you can be a good example for your kids.
In short, think of finances as you think of education, health, fitness or faith, by making it part of your weekly routine and the whole family will benefit.
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