How To Make Financial Literacy A Family Affair

01/09/2017 10:46 am ET | Updated 6 days ago
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At the Gilson household, Sunday isn’t just an opportunity for a family dinner, it’s also payday. Robyn Gilson — a financial planning coach — and her husband, Graham, give their two sons, ages 8 and 12, a weekly stipend that’s one part allowance, one part lesson and one part conversation.

“Throughout the week, the kids keep track of their chores on a clipboard — it’s like a fun scorecard,” Robyn Gilson explains. “We evaluate the week as a family and give them feedback on what was ‘good,’ ‘great,’ and ‘so-so.’ We then share how much ‘pay’ they receive for the week [for] helping support the household. We pay them cash, which they then keep in mason jars in our family room.” The system is more sophisticated than simply getting paid for chores, though; the Gilsons’ sons can also choose to skip out on certain household responsibilities, although in return they’re docked money from their savings.

Assigning cash values to different tasks helps the Gilsons teach their children about the concept of working for pay from a young age, but there’s more to the kids’ financial education. Robyn and Graham also take the boys to the bank once a month to instill the importance of creating a nest egg. 

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“We’ve told the boys that 50 percent of the cash [they earn] can be for spending, but 50 percent is for saving,” Robyn says. “We have our sons walk right up to the teller counter with their wallet to deposit the cash into their savings accounts. They typically do stick to the 50/50 rule; it’s been really neat seeing them get excited about the dollar amount in their savings account growing and sometimes contributing a larger portion.”

With her sons still a bit too young to think about saving for college, Robyn has had the most success instilling the value of amassing  savings by focusing on short-term goals and rewards, like pooling their funds to buy a hoverboard. As the boys get older, Robyn says, she and her husband will increasingly stress the importance of taking the financial long view, though that message will come tempered by another, more personal one: Seeing to your long-term obligations needs to be balanced with immediate pleasures for a family’s sake.

The Gilsons learned this after Robyn faced a devastating illness.

“My fight with breast cancer definitely gave [us] our new perspective on money,” Robyn says, recalling the financial toll her battle for her health took on her family and its subsequent effect on their spending habits. “Today, I’m a survivor, and we make a point to celebrate moments and spend on experiences that build family memories. We follow through on investing in memories now versus putting wishes off far into the future.” Through pain and strength, the Gilson family has reached what they call a state of harmony: living for today but also saving for the future.

“The experience prompted us to formally discuss the horizon and formalize scenarios,” Robyn says, “ensuring our boys would have their home and get to college.” Buying a new home, undertaking a cross-country family relocation, or opening a new business are other major expenses that can benefit from a split between “now” and “then” planning.

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More than anything else, though, Robyn Gilson’s illness was what helped prompt the discussions about money and the lessons to her children. After being declared cancer-free, she took a more aggressive approach to financial planning, and that included making sure her children knew the value of earning money and saving for the future. “I wish I had been more formal about plans and conversations with my children on money before I was diagnosed,” Robyn acknowledges, but life moves at its own pace.

Today, the Gilsons’ children continue to absorb the all-important lesson of financial independence — namely, save money when it’s possible and spend money when it’s necessary. And even if an esoteric tip or a bit of subtlety gets lost in the process, one thing remains a constant. “They see the dollar amount in their savings account going up, and they’re excited,” says Robyn. “Heck, our oldest son asked for a lawnmower for his birthday so he could make more money mowing lawns around the neighborhood.

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This article was produced by Huffington Post and sponsored by Marcus by Goldman Sachs.

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