Every child has their own financial personality. Three of our children are savers. Two are spenders. Of course, they take after both my husband and me, who sit at opposite ends of the spending/saving spectrum ourselves.
Regardless of our default tendencies in money matters, it is vital that as parents we teach our children sound financial principles. Their ability to handle money as an adult will be influenced by the financial education we impart as well as the habits we model ourselves.
Because faith is an important part of our life, we base our financial education on the 10-10-80 principle: 10% to God, 10% to savings, and 80% for spending. This provides us a foundation for all of our money lessons.
If you are trying to teach your kids good money management skills, here are some practical financial strategies to consider:
1) Resist making loans. Invariably, the kids will ask for an advance on their allowance or a short-term loan until their allowance or next paycheck and it is tempting to front them the money. However, this can plant the seed that borrowing is an optional financial strategy for short-term pleasures.
2) Teach them to spend based upon a budget rather than a paycheck. Help your children to identify budget categories like entertainment, future events (concerts, ski trips, etc), gas and auto expenses (if they are driving), clothing, and Christmas to allow them to learn the value of truly "managing" their money. If they sock away a certain amount or percentage into each category each time they are paid, then they will most likely have money for the things they want to do. This also teaches delayed gratification where they learn to wait for the things they want through short-term sacrifice rather than getting short-term gratification with long-term consequences (debt).
3) Open a checking account with your teen. Ideally this would happen a year or two before they go to college so they can learn to manage the account with your guiding hand. Teach them how to keep good records and how to reconcile their account each month. Set aside a regular time each week to financially "check in" with your teen, going over their register, checking the account online, and overseeing their reconciliation.
4) Rather than starting your teen with a debit card, ask the bank for an ATM card. There is a common misunderstanding that a debit card purchase will be denied if the bank account is overdrawn. However, a debit purchase is only denied after the account is already overdrawn and fees have likely been incurred. This is because the bank doesn’t know what purchases haven’t yet posted to the account. Therefore, it won’t stop a new purchase because it isn’t aware of recent purchases until it’s too late.
An ATM card allows access to cash anytime, but keeps teens from over-drafting the account with unrecorded debit purchases. There is still a risk of overdraft with an ATM card if the teen is writing checks and not keeping good records, but the risk is definitely less than if they are using a debit card.
5) Teach kids to shop wisely. Kids can use their fledgling math skills to divide the cost of a product by the ounces in the container to get a per-ounce price that allows them to make cost comparisons. Taking along a small calculator can come in handy.
6) Educate your kids about confusing marketing tactics, misleading credit card offers, and hidden costs in purchases. Television commercials provide many examples of misleading marketing tactics that our kids need to understand. The dozens of credit card offers we get in the mail can become an instant lesson in the dangers of borrowing money and how the minimum payment keeps a person in debt for years. Online purchases include shipping and handling costs that kids need to figure into the final price for an item they might want to purchase.
Certainly our spenders need to learn to be savers and our savers need to learn how to spend wisely. However, the most important lesson our children need to learn is money can manage us or we can manage our money!
Jill Savage is the founder and Executive Director of Hearts at Home. A mother of five, Jill is the author of seven books including My Heart's at Home.You can find Jill's website and blog at www.JillSavage.org.