As we continue to focus our efforts on behavioral finance, we like sharing stories that are worth reading and can help us put into perspective the real challenge of financial literacy. The following article, written as a letter to parents, not only provides insight on how to teach children financial responsibility at various ages, but it also reiterates the importance of early education and parent engagement. Parents and culture will definitely influence the way children understand money and the habits they will develop and continue into adulthood.
The long-term key to improving America's overall financial literacy quotient is to get to the kids. What's important is to establish good financial behaviors early because those behaviors will carry over to adulthood. As a father of four, and grandfather of nine, I've seen it work firsthand. Start early, insist on consistency in behaviors, and set a good example. Monitor your saver's progress and celebrate the successes. With that mantra, here's how to get started:
When kids can walk, it's time to start saving. Establish the first behavior of saving by teaching your child to drop coins in a piggy bank or a jar. Explain the meaning of the word save.
Show the money. Periodically, show the child that consistent saving adds up by regularly tallying up your savings.
Take it to the bank. Make a ceremony of taking the child to the bank to deposit the jar of money. Teach them that the bank will give them money (interest) to "store their money."
If there is an allowance, it's time to budget by putting savings first. No matter what the size of the allowance is, break it down between what they can spend, and what they have to save. Note: this may be your first financial "negotiation" with your child - start with saving 50%, and settle for 25%.
The first large purchase. As your child ages, he or she will inevitably want to spend their entire savings - on one item. The answer is "no." Modify budget into more line items - discretionary spending, mandatory saving, and "saving for the large item." This is where the behavior of "buying within means" is established.
"But, I want it now..." This may be the time to develop a new financial concept - borrowing money. That's okay as long as the rules are set, and the "borrower" adheres to them. This is where the behavior of "borrowing within means" is established.
"Can I have a credit card?" Response: No, it's too early. We're sticking to the plan above. However, let me teach you about credit cards - after the "eye roll," stick to your game plan.
"My friends have credit and debit cards." Response: I'm happy for them. We're sticking to our financial plan, and here's why. In my own experience, my children were grateful for instilling financial responsibility at a young age. Start early, consistency, monitor progress, and celebrate success - I'm convinced that's the formula for increasing America's financial literacy quotient many times over. Get to the kids.
Carl George, CPA
Note: This letter first appeared as an e-Wealth Coach article from America Saves. Carl George is the Senior Executive Partner at Clifton Gunderson LLP, a national CPA firm; past Chairman of the National CPA Financial Literacy Commission of the AICPA, www.360financialliteracy.org and www.feedthepig.org; and the proud grandfather of 9.