It's back-to-school season, which means it might be a good idea for parents to think about something their kids won't be learning in a classroom this year: how to manage money.
While there has been a growing movement in some states to include financial literacy as a high school graduation requirement, most kids head into adulthood without a good understanding of money or a baseline for good financial habits. And finance is a taboo topic for many parents because they don't want their kids to worry about money or get a distorted view of the family's wealth.
My advice: start small. Here are three easy ways that parents can teach children the value of a dollar and start them on a path towards a greater Return on Life.
1. Let kids help budget for a family vacation.
When kids think about a big family vacation, they picture endless entertainment. Putting a value on what all those rides, shows, meals, and souvenirs actually cost can help youngsters set realistic expectations and prevent the trip from turning into a spending spree.
Once you and your spouse have settled on a total budget, break out a whiteboard or a large piece of paper and start making line items. Start with essentials like airfare, hotels, and the price of admission to attractions. Add in the estimated cost of a meal or two at a destination restaurant. And so on.
As the leftovers from your top budget number get a little smaller, your kids will see how splurging at the gift shop could be the difference between an extra day in paradise and coming home early.
2. Help kids set short-term and long-term financial goals.
There's nothing wrong with surprising kids between birthdays and holidays. But if you find yourself buying everything your kid points at any time you go shopping, your generosity might be sending the wrong message about how money works.
The next time your child is eying a new toy, talk to them about what that toy costs, how long you have to work to earn enough money to buy it, and how the child can help to pay. A couple extra chores might help the child appreciate the connection between work, money, and spending.
It can be challenging to help kids think about anything in the long-term. But simple money rules, like setting aside a set percentage of gifted money into the bank, can help kids start to understand concepts like saving, compound interest, and building wealth over time. You could also set family savings goals for that next big trip and talk to older kids about what they should contribute.
3. Encourage kids of all ages to earn money.
If your teenager doesn't have a part-time job by the time they start high school, you might want to have a conversation about who's paying what for college, and whose car they plan on driving when they turn 16. Even if you can afford these luxuries, working teaches teens teamwork, professionalism, and how to manage their time. They'll also need a bank account to deposit those checks, which is a good opportunity for you to start talking about saving and investing early. One popular strategy is to match what your teen puts into a long-term savings account with contributions into a custodial investment account.
Point your younger children towards ways they can earn money in your home and neighborhood. Simple lawncare, collecting recyclables, cleaning up around the house, and babysitting are all valuable services that can help them pad their piggy banks.
When your children get a little older, consider bringing them into our office for a friendly money chat. We can help you introduce your kids to basic saving and investing principles so that getting the best life possible with the money you have becomes a value the whole family shares.