Being aware of money
Money is a subject that is difficult for many families. Husbands and wives may not agree about their family's financial strategies, so talking to their kids about money opens up an uncomfortable subject. Helping your children learn about money may be something you would like to leave "until they are old enough to understand." But if you wait until your children leave home for college or a job, you will put them at a big disadvantage. Living on their own means they will be taking on new responsibilities managing their expenses along with experiencing a new school or work-related pressures, all at once.
If you are hoping that they will learn about money management without your help, at school perhaps, that is unlikely. A class in personal finance used to be a graduation requirement for Oregon students - teenagers were taught about banking, saving, credit, and budgeting. Since the requirement was eliminated several years ago, only a few high schools still have this offering. Some of this content is covered during junior or senior year economics courses, but the practical, day-to-day lessons of dollars and cents may not be included.
So the responsibility to develop a good foundation in money management rests squarely on your shoulders. Your children's education about money should include the concepts of earning, spending, saving, borrowing, and sharing. But before you begin, you may want to consider these questions:
- Can our family discuss money issues openly, without conflict? What issues do we as parents need to resolve to be able to do so?
- How should our children "earn" money - through allowances or another method?
- What are our family values and attitudes about money? What do our children observe about our values and attitudes? What do we want to communicate?
- How might our children each be different with regard to handling money? How will we deal with these differences?
By learning about money, children are also given the opportunity to formulate their own values about income, life style, and work. This can be a powerful motivator in their education and career planning. As they identify their life style choices, they can connect career options that can meet their future needs. They will see that income is related to level of education, and they may make better choices about their education plans.
Money during the middle years
During middle school your children may have more opportunities to earn some money on their own. They may be able to care for a neighbor's pets, deliver newspapers, mow lawns, baby sit, referee for children's sports, or numerous other jobs that use their talents, interests, and energy. If you follow some of the suggestions in the section Building work experience, your children will learn a lot about themselves, develop responsibility and other employability skills, and have a small income that they can manage for themselves.
As your children begin to earn money on their own, make sure you have agreed to your level of support. Will you let them use your lawnmower? Will you drive them on the paper route when the weather is bad? You can also use the opportunity to help them learn about the expenses associated with their job and the concept of break even.
This is also good age to take your children to the bank to open their first account - a savings account. If the habit of putting money into savings each time they are paid is established early, then it will be more likely to become a lifelong habit. They will learn that savings is a way to get what you want and that sometimes getting what you want requires planning and "delayed gratification."
As your children earn more independently, they should also be spending more independently. They will make mistakes, but we all have (and make sure you let them know that you have made mistakes, too). Help them learn about comparative shopping, learning about quality, cost, supply and demand, and alternatives.
Finally, this is also a time to learn about the joy of sharing. Using their own money to buy gifts, to contribute to charities, or even to share with family members has unique rewards. They find out giving comes in many forms, and giving of one's time and skills is often the greater gift.