In a few short years – or months – your child will be an adult making choices about how to earn, budget, save and spend their own money. While kids greatly benefit from learning responsible financial management at a young age, only about 20 percent of American teens have a bank account of their own. Is your child one of them?
Whether you just made the decision to start teaching your middle- or high-schooler smart money choices, or you’re looking for new ideas to continue the lessons you already started, here are six suggestions for molding your child into a financially responsible adult.
1. Set a good example.
Finances can be an emotional issue in many households, and kids are always watching. Those who see parents talking calmly about money, and making purchases strategically rather than impulsively, can grow to view money as a tool for reaching their long-term goals. If they notice you paying bills on time or proactively planning how to pay for a summer vacation, they’ll be more likely to adopt those same habits.
2. Have t(w)eens track their income and spending.
Maybe your 12-year-old gets a weekly allowance or your teen has a part-time job. Either way, earning $20 but wanting to spend $50 on a new video game is a real eye opener. It presents the opportunity to talk about concepts beyond cash. For instance, can they take out a loan from Mom or Dad to make up the difference and pay it back, with interest? Can they do extra work to earn the shortfall? Should they simply wait until they’ve saved enough, by which time they might decide they want to spend (or keep saving) the money for something else? The “right” answer will vary by family and that’s okay. It’s all about learning to think through the options.
3. Introduce the concept of longer-term saving for big-ticket items.
Link it to a specific purpose, because kids accept saving more readily when they have pinpointed a goal. Remember when they could use piggy bank money to buy a new toy? Now their desires may be shifting toward purchasing their first car, or saving for college. Help them understand the total costs of an item – like putting gas in that car, or paying for room and board in addition to tuition. Together, you can look at options like savings accounts, certificates of deposit, investment accounts and more. You could even offer to match their contributions, much like an employer might match your 401(k) contributions. Even if you plan on helping your child with bigger purchases, giving them the opportunity to contribute their own funds can build their financial planning skills and give them greater confidence in the future.
4. Talk about credit.
Ask how they’d feel if they lent a friend $20 and the friend never paid them back. Most would say they wouldn’t lend money to that friend again. Compare that to the importance of paying back loans on time as an adult, and how that impacts the amount you pay for an item. Here’s an example that can resonate with this age group. Say they buy $500 in new school clothes using a credit card with a 14.5 percent interest rate. If they pay $25 per month toward the debt, it will take 24 months (or the time it takes to get through two grades) to pay back that $500. With interest, they will have paid around $575 for the clothes. Was it worth it?
5. Don’t forget to mention credit scores.
Take the credit discussion one step further and appeal to your t(w)een’s feelings about their reputation. Explain that a credit score is really a measure of your financial reputation. Revisit the previous example and say that they stop making payments toward the $500 credit card debt. After a while, it negatively impacts their credit score that potential future lenders, landlords and even employers can see. Alternatively, if they pay the debt back in full without missing payments, it has a positive impact on their credit score.
6. Work through it together.
Here’s some homework. You and your child can do it all at once or break it down into smaller sections. Use this activity to talk through spending, budgeting, saving and credit using examples that apply to your own child’s circumstances, wants and needs.