9 steps to helping kids and teens become financially savvy - Western Mass News - WGGB/WSHM

9 steps to helping kids and teens become financially savvy

© iStockphoto.com / Lowell Sannes © iStockphoto.com / Lowell Sannes

By Andrew Housser

With April’s designation as National Financial Literacy Month, this article looks at how parents can build base financial literacy of their children and teenagers. 

1. Share information – within reason. If you struggle with debt or have other financial issues, you do not need to scare children with details. But it is important that they understand that you must work to earn the money that you spend, and that going into debt has consequences. Talk with younger children about why you are choosing to buy one item over another, and how to make reliable purchases. With teens, discuss credit card use, interest rates, grace periods, late fees and the consequences of making only minimum payments. 

2. Know your cards – and explain them to your children. These days, just 9 percent of purchases are made with cash. Consumers use debit cards 43 percent of the time and credit cards 35 percent of the time. But to a child or teenager, a card might look like just plastic. Explain the difference between debit cards and credit cards. Point out smart choices. Explaining that paying for groceries with a debit card means that the money comes right out of the bank account, for instance, so there is no chance of paying interest next month for food you eat this week.

3. Model responsible choices. Every time children see you handling or worrying about money, you are teaching them. If you overspend and then worry about credit card bills, you are showing that debt is a way of life. Buying children everything they want teaches them that money flows like magic. Instead, talk through your choices: “I really want these new speakers, but they cost $100, and I only have $70 in my wallet right now. Next week, I’ll have the full $100, so I will come back. That’s great, too, because I can be sure I still want to buy them.”

4. Teach kids to save. Teaching a child how to build rainy-day savings is one of the most valuable gifts you can give. First, make sure you have a savings plan in place. Then model how you save. Talk with kids about how a portion of your salary goes directly into a savings account. Explain how you paid for a major purchase, such as a car or home repair, with money you had saved, and how you will rebuild your savings after the expenditure. Encourage children and teens to save a portion of their income. If possible, consider encouraging them by matching savings contributions.

5. Do not train children to go into debt. Allowing children to borrow from you consistently so that they can spend more than they have teaches them that “income” depends more upon what they want than what they can afford. Help them learn to delay gratification to achieve bigger rewards. You could explain, for instance, that if they spend $10 buying snacks at the movie, it might be fun. But if they eat popcorn at home later, they are one step closer to saving for the game or the jeans they have been wanting.

6. Let them earn their keep. Teach your offspring that work is the way to earn money. Many experts believe that paying for chores or grades is ineffective, because tasks like making the bed and doing homework are part of daily responsibilities, not optional extras. But it can be smart to give children an allowance, so they can practice making financial decisions. It also can work to let children earn extra for taking on bigger responsibilities. 

7. Talk about finances and futures. A 2014 study found that parents are good at talking with kids about saving, but not as open about their income, investments and debt. Especially during the teen years, think about discussing these. Teens need to know that their efforts and their future careers will affect their income and their financial positions. Begin looking at the big picture of income, college and career planning once kids get into middle school.

8. Teach them about credit. For some teens, you might view a credit card as a necessity – for instance, if they will be traveling, or if they need to purchase gas away from home. Before considering a credit card for a teen, teach them the basics of compound interest, credit scores and how their credit-card use can affect their financial futures. If you need a review, too, check a personal finance publication or online financial resource. 

9. Include both sons and daughters. The study mentioned above, as well as another study in 2015, found that parents incorrectly believe boys are financially smarter than girls. As a result, parents talk more about money with their sons. Yet unmarried people now outnumber married people in the United States, which means plenty of women are managing their own finances. And one-third of working women earn more than their husbands. Be sure you provide financial education for your children of any gender.

Many people worry about having “the money talk” with their children because they worry they will do it wrong, somehow. But like any other difficult subject, they are going to learn it someone. Learning from parents is one of the best gifts children will receive from their families.

Andrew Housser is a co-founder and CEO of Bills.com, a free one-stop online portal where consumers can educate themselves about personal finance issues and compare financial products and services. He also is co-CEO of Freedom Financial Network, LLC providing comprehensive consumer credit advocacy and debt relief services. Housser holds a Master of Business Administration degree from Stanford University and Bachelor of Arts degree from Dartmouth College.
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