As a parent, you know that the days are long and the years are short, or so the saying goes. One minute you’re loading them in a stroller and the next you’ve got your hands over your eyes when they take the wheel of a car for the first time.
Part of what we need to deal with as parents is teaching our kids about money – and this is a hard one. We often get too caught up in our day-to-day routine to stop and put things in place that educate our kids about finances gradually, so they’re prepared when they’re on their own.
Personally, I didn’t receive a lot of financial education growing up. I knew how to balance a checkbook, but I had no idea how taxes worked (other than they were taken out of my paycheck which I thought was wildly unfair) and I didn’t know how credit worked. Saving money wasn’t a priority for me and I thought an IRA referred to a political group in Ireland (it was the 90s, after all). In short, I understood the day-to-day tasks of my finances, but not the bigger picture.
As a parent and a financial advisor, I’ve vowed to do things differently with my own kids. Here are a few things that go on in my house:
Our schools no longer have a cash-based system for lunch – which I think is terrible - so my children have had to learn how to manage the money in their accounts. From the time that they entered middle school, if their lunch balance went into the negative, they would not get their refill until the next month.
This meant that they would have to make their lunch every day and no brownies or ice cream from the lunchroom. They both went over a couple of times, but they quickly learned that they needed to be aware of how much they were spending and how much money was left in their accounts.
Because my daughters tend to have expensive tastes, I started giving them quarterly allowances to pay for clothes, make-up, shampoo etc. to create their own plan. They get a set amount each quarter in their checking accounts and when the money is gone, it’s gone. The card won’t work if there is no money in the account! It makes them think twice about the expensive shirt or the $50 sunscreen. But they are also learning that some things are worth the extra money while others are not.
Earning and Saving
Instead of giving clothes that they no longer want directly to charity, we stop by the consignment store first. Any clothes that the consignment store takes, they get to keep the cash. They’re learning that it’s another way to make their dollars go further.
Whenever my children receive an allowance, I ask them how much they want to put in their savings account. I don’t give them a specific number, rather I wait to let them calculate what they think needs to be held in reserve. One of my daughters routinely saves 50%, the other looks at expenses that she knows will be coming up and gives me a dollar amount.
Understanding debit and credit cards
One of the biggest shifts when it comes to parenting and financial education is that we don’t use physical money anymore and we need to prepare them to deal with a digital world where a significant number of purchases are online, and you can pretty much swipe a credit card to pay for anything.
It’s important to educate your kids about how these things work before they’re off on their own spending like it’s free money. Ask your bank if they have banking options for kids or maybe check with a friend and ask if they use a teenage-friendly debit card. There are lots of options out there. Monitor what’s going on and allow your kids to fail once in a while (like in the lunchroom in our case) so they understand their limits. These are lessons that will hopefully shape their money habits for a lifetime.