When I was six or seven, my dad and I were at a favorite convenience store with the most enticing array of ice cream flavors and the best waffle cones. I can still smell them as they came off the iron. When I asked for an ice cream cone he said he didn’t have any money with him. No problem, I thought, and glibly suggested he just write a check, a proposal that practically begged for the “money doesn’t grow on trees” speech that followed.
Now that I’m a parent, I have a little more sympathy for my dad’s frustration. Teaching kids about money is no small task, and I love discussing great ideas and best practices. Years ago, Gabrielle’s sister Sara wrote a guest post about their family bank that inspired and motivated me, with great suggestions on breaking down earnings for giving, long term savings, short terms savings, and spending. I’ve thought about that post for years, and I’ve always gotten a kick out of the fact that the kids got a sucker with every trip to the family bank, since that was always my favorite part of a trip to the bank with my mom.
While there’s a great debate about how children receive an allowance (Just for breathing? For doing regular chores? Or for working beyond regular family contributions?), there does seem to be a general consensus among experts that kids need access to money to practice the essential skills of budgeting, saving, giving and spending. Without money to practice, our children might have to learn those skills as young adults, when the stakes are higher with things like car payments and college tuition at risk. Suze Orman suggests offering a sliding scale for work like mowing the lawn or washing the car that falls outside the realm of regular household duties, with easier jobs being worth less, but requiring completion before the more lucrative jobs—no leaping up the pay scale without putting in your time. She also suggests renaming the traditional allowance “work pay” to avoid a sense of entitlement and to reinforce the correlation between working and earning money.
When it comes to saving money, Janet Bodnar, of Kiplinger, suggests starting small with young children. Help them save for an easily attainable item to help them understand the principles of saving and delaying gratification. When they’re a little older, kids are ready to learn about the power of compound interest. When bank interest rates are low, parents might consider adding an extra point or two to sweeten the savings experience.
How are you teaching your kids about financial literacy? Are you giving allowance or work pay? Are you rewarding your children for saving or helping them work toward savings goals? Please advise!
P.S. — Great age-appropriate lessons and activities on MoneyAsYouGrow.org, plus more age-by-age suggestions about saving money here and a little more about the basics of financial literacy here. To explore finance through picture books, check out this great list of books about money, plus discussion questions. And check your own financial literacy with this short quiz.