As my husband and I prepare to have our first child, something I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about is how to financially prepare her for the future (along with how to prepare her emotionally, and in every other way a parent needs to prepare her child, as well). As a financial writer who has spent her career surrounded by smart, savvy financial people, I feel I’m somewhat at an advantage — but that doesn’t make the task any less daunting.
Teaching our kids to be financially savvy begins at an early age, even if at the ripe old age of 2 there isn’t much they’re doing other than playing with toy cash registers (hey, it’s a start!). Over the course of my career writing about parenting and finances, here are some of the pieces of advice I’ve picked up along the way that might help me to subtly teach my own daughter how to handle her finances. Maybe they’ll help you, too.
Idea 1: Keep a family money jar for coins
What it teaches: Every little bit of savings counts.
I will never forget the big, wooden coin jar we had in our family kitchen the entire time I was growing up (and it’s still there to this day). I remember being amazed at how much money could actually fit into that jar every time we counted it (who knew coins could amount to hundreds of dollars?). The point of the coin jar is to show your kids how even the smallest amount of change can add up, and if you can put that money towards something fun for the whole family, a new game for game night or ice cream out, for example. You can show your kids that it’s possible to save up for fun things without having to dip into savings or put it on a credit card.
Idea 2: Shop with lists
What it teaches: How to avoid impulse spending.
This is a small one, but since kids notice everything, it’s not surprising they would pick up on this concept, as well. Taking a little time to put together a list with your kid before shopping will teach them the importance of planning and cutting down on waste, and you’ll be less likely to make impulse purchases along the way, as well, which helps teach the concept of budgeting.
Idea 3: Make charitable giving a family effort
What it teaches: The ability to make donating a priority.
Kids who grow up with families who donate will be more likely to make charitable giving a part of their future, as well. It’s always easy to say we don’t make enough money, there are too many other expenses or we’re busy saving for something else. Instead of putting it off for the future, if you can show your kids that budgeting for charity makes it easier to donate — and get your kids in on the action of picking the charity your family donates to — then they’ll be more likely to get excited about the idea and stick with it into the future.
Idea 4: Provide daily allowances for kids while on vacation
What it teaches: The importance of financial planning.
Vacations can be a landmine of spending for families, or it can be a great opportunity to teach fiscal responsibility. Rather than deal with kids who get excited every single time they pass a souvenir store or ice cream shop, try doling out daily allowances at the beginning of each vacation day and having your kids use that money as they chose. When the money runs out, they won’t be getting any more to spend. This is also a great way to teach kids the value of saving up for things they really want. For example, if your child spots a more expensive item at the beginning of the trip that he’d like, that’s a great opportunity to sit down with him an explain exactly how many days he’d have to save up his daily allowance to be able to afford the item, and then he can decide on his own if he’s patient enough to do so.
Idea 5: Match your kid’s savings
What it teaches: How some retirement plans work.
Whether it takes a little added incentive to get your child interested in saving or not, the idea of matching your child’s savings contributions (up to a certain amount, if you’d like), will help prepare him for the real world, as well. If your kid has grown up with the concept of savings matches, she’ll be more likely to do everything she can at her future job to get that retirement match, assuming it’s still being offered.
Idea 6: Include your child when you monitor your credit score
What it teaches: How to access credit scores, how credit cards work and why it’s important.
For most young kids, material possessions appear from out of nowhere, as if they’re free to whoever wants them. Of course we as adults know this isn’t the case, and it’s our duty to teach our kids how buying and using credit actually works. To do so, include your child on the practice of checking in on your own credit report and credit score (find the best free credit score sites for each bureau here), and explain to him how your credit score helped you attain the things your family enjoys, like your car and house, and how your behavior with credit cards and loans impact the score.
Idea 7: Set them up with different savings accounts early on
What it teaches: The importance of divvying up their money.
If you have a 529 for your children, involve them in your monthly (or however often you make them) payments, and explain to them the concept of compound interest and how this will help them be able to better afford an education down the road. (Don’t have a 529 set up yet? Check out this piece for the five best 529 savings plans anyone can use.) Set them up with a savings account and checking account as well, and help them determine how to best divide up their allowances and/or earned incomes into these two accounts so that they have money to save for emergencies, as well as to spend on fun things. If your family partakes in Idea No. 3 (charitable giving), have your kid contribute a portion of her allowance and/or earnings towards your family goal of donating to a charity, as well.
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