• Building money-smart children
    September 22,2013

    I have always wondered what makes a kid smart about money. When I was a kid, I remember going to the bank with one of my parents, usually my mother.

    She was a devoted mother of her day, what we now refer to as a stay-at-home mom, and yes, she did, and still does, make really good chocolate chip cookies. We would go to the bank and while my mother was writing on one of those paper slips in the neat little bins on the tall glass table, my sister and I would see who could take more of the paper slips in our little hand so we could play “bank” when we got home. (Our hands were small so we weren’t thieves, just little bandits!)

    I recall watching grown-ups write checks, hand them to someone at the bank and get large stacks of money back. Same thing with credit cards. I’d watch my father pull one out of his pocket, give it to a cashier, sign a receipt, stuff it in his pocket and we would walk out of the store with our purchases.

    Wow, now that was easy. Give someone a card and get stuff. Write something on a piece of paper and get money in return. Finance and commerce can look pretty simple to a youngster. What I never saw was these same grown-ups paying bills, borrowing money and worrying about their paychecks. I guess they did that after I went to bed.

    Kids get smart about money by watching money-smart adults and getting good life lessons from the time they are old enough to count. Here’s a few to get you started.

    Lesson 1. Buying on a whim can have long-term effects. If you see kids getting what they want when they want it, you can label them as overindulged (or worse) but the more important reality is they may well grow up to be impulse shoppers. It’s like going grocery shopping when you are hungry. As an adult, try to limit trips to the store or mall so they are treats and do not become a lifestyle.

    Lesson 2. “As seen on TV” fills a need, for the moment. If you see kids in the store and they say to an adult, “that’s the one I saw on TV, I just really, really want it” and they get it, that can lead to a shopping addiction where fulfilling one’s need is more like a fix than a need. And why is it that just about everything that’s seen on TV is never that cool in real life?

    Lesson 3. There’s nothing like their own money. If a child wants, really wants, something, have them buy it themselves with an allowance. I remember one of our sons wanting something “all his life” and he was only 7. He bought it with his allowance. When you are 7, two months is an eternity. He asked for something a few weeks later and we told him that he had spent his allowance and didn’t have the money for the second item. The first toy he desperately needed was still intact but its allure had lost some of its luster. It was hard to watch him want other things and say no to him but he soon got the picture and became more selective in his purchases.

    Lesson 4. Managing money can be fun. Saving money and learning about money need not be boring. A colorful piggy bank, a play cash register can show kids how money works, how to save and what happens when you spend it. Try the Allowance Manager app. It’s a great tool to teach kids about money and it’s fun.

    The truth is that most parents love their children unconditionally and want to give them the world. Just remember that the world includes giving them a sense of responsibility. While not as much fun as buying them a new beloved toy, it’s a beloved life lesson that will pay them dividends many times over the course of their lives.

    Money-smart kids become money-smart adults when financial decisions really matter.

    Karen Paul is a financial services consultant based in Burlington.

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