Not sure you need to teach your kids about money because you feel like they’re too young to understand? Think again.
According to astudy by the University of Cambridge, children have already are formed their money habits by the time they are seven years old. That means if you constantly have heated discussions about spending with your spouse, or impulse by when you’re out and about, your children will notice.
Teaching your kids healthy money habits will help them secure their financial future. But if even thinking about finances makes you feel queasy because you don’t feel confident about it, where do you even start?
You’re only human. You don’t need to be perfect with your money to teach your kids how to make smart decisions. In fact, recognizing your previous shortcomings can even make you a better teacher. Here are four easy steps to navigate financial waters with your kids like a poised pro:
Level Up Your Mindset
First things first: shift your mindset to boost your confidence, feel comfortable tackling money matters, and pass on healthy tips to your little ones.
Brian, an IT professional from New York, wasn’t confident at all with money before his kids came along. He learned simple tasks like how to write a check and or how to balance a checkbook from his parents, but never had any discussions about saving money or the concept of debt. As an adult, he found himself saddled with $109,000 worth of consumer debt and had to work hard to get himself out. Part of that plan was working with a debt counselling service and drastically reducing his expenses. When his kids came along, Brian knew he needed to level up to make sure they learned from his mistakes.
His advice? Do your studying! “There are many excellent books, blogs and podcasts out there that can increase your financial literacy,” he says. “Once you feel better about how you handle your money, then you can start showing your kids what you’re doing.”
Get Out Into the Real World
Whenever possible, try to do your teaching out in the real world. Instead of drawing pictures and thinking of hypothetical examples, use cash and piggy banks to physically show what happens to money when it’s spent or saved.
Debbie Todd, a Certified Public Accountant from Woodland, VA, gave her children piggy banks at a young age because she wanted to teach the value of money. As someone who grew up in a cycle of poverty, she knew firsthand how poor money decisions can impact your life.
“Aside from piggy banks, we encouraged them to save for larger items by having a board up with pictures of the items they wanted,” Debbie says. “They learned to earn money and roll coins and take them to their bank account so they could touch and see the impact of their choices.”
You can even take it a step further and take your kids on shopping trips with you to see how to compare prices and weight options. Chonce Maddox, a freelance writer from Chicago, suggests having your children learn alongside you so that you can sprinkle in teachable moments throughout the day.
“When I went grocery shopping, I was transparent about what my budget was,” she says. “I made it as fun as possible when my son and I would look at prices, compare ingredients, and find a way to make our budget work.”
Give Your Children Real Money to Budget
For children elementary school age and older, you can give them more agency by giving them real money (doesn’t have to be a lot!) to decide how to use and budget themselves. Whether your child is a natural saver or spender, they’ll learn to prioritize different wants and needs by thinking about how they want to spend their money. Do they want to save up for a new toy, or go get ice cream with their friends? Decisions decisions.
Jim Wang, founder of WalletHacks from Maryland, gave his son the opportunity to budget how he was going to buy gifts for his family. Jim encouraged his son to work out what to spend on his own.
“[My son] set a total budget, allocated that money across the different people in our family, and stuck to it as best he could as a 5 year old when he bought things at the shop on his own,” he says. “It was a good starting step.”
You Got This
You don’t need to jump in teaching your children specific tactics on reducing spending, or the benefits of investing, or the difference between stocks and bonds. Start small, start with money decisions they’ll encounter early on in their real lives. Give them skills to make informed decisions on their own.
“Be open and honest about what you don’t know and include them on the journey as you learn how to keep improving with your money,” says Charlotte Baker, a project manager from Jacksonville, Florida with two grown children. “It’ll help you develop a deeper connection with them as you learn together.”