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How My Son Teaches Me About Money

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It never fails. My 6-year-old son, Darren, is always asking for my loose change. And I always hand it over, saying something along the lines of, "It's not like I can buy anything with it, anyway."

The last time I said that, he gave me the weirdest look. "But it's money, Mom," he said. "Did you know four quarters is the same as a paper dollar?"

My 6-year-old then went on to tell me all of the things he could buy with four quarters, and, after making a convincing argument, begged that I let him hold on to my change.

I didn't do a take-back, but his little lecture did made me think: As parents, we spend a lot of time trying to teach our kids the dos and don'ts of being financially savvy, yet we often overlook the lessons they can teach us.

Copying these kid-sized money habits can help improve your finances in a big way-here's what I've learned from my son... so far:

1. Keep the Change

As my son reminded me, four quarters equals a dollar, eight quarters equals two dollars, twelve quarters equals three dollars and .. you get the picture. To kids, all money is good money, whether it's 200 pennies or $200. Instead of snubbing bulky coins, follow your child's lead and put them to good use. "Save your loose change in a large jar and when it's full, add it to your [or your child's] savings account," says Ken Damato, founder and CEO of DoughMain, a family financial education website. Or, cash out the change every month or two and use it for a date with your partner or an outing with the kids. It's a quick and easy way to see that change really does add up.

2. Always Expect the Unexpected

You may have noticed your child will sometimes buy two similar toys for himself. This may seem like simple greed, but it's actually smart thinking. Kids know stuff happens. If your daughter has only one of her favorite doll, it may get lost, a leg may get broken or a younger sibling may vomit all over it (hey, it's happened!). As such, that "just in case" backup doll may come in handy. The same is true for adult possessions. While it's impossible to have carbon copies of all of your things, having "just in case" insurance-for your health, your car, home, life and other valuables --can make facing the unexpected less financially draining. (Don't know exactly what you need? Start here: Life Insurance Made Easy.)

3. Don't Spend What You Don't Have

Kids know they have to spend wisely, because once that money's gone, it's gone. Adults, however, get loans for everything from cars to furniture to jewelry. Damato suggests treating your finances like you're a kid. Outside of your mortgage and any school loans, try to buy only what you can afford with cold, hard cash (or debit). You'll save tons in finance charges and interest, and you'll be teaching your children a valuable lesson about using credit responsibly. (In fact, that's one of the 5 Financial Rules to Live By.)

4. Always Ask for More

A common habit for kids spending their own money (not your money; they usually have no problem spending yours carelessly!) is to try to get as much as possible with it. Even if that means trying to convince the store clerk that one dollar is enough to get gum, an ice cream cone and a piece of chocolate. Copy your kid's "more bang for the buck" attitude when making purchases ("Any way you can throw in free samples with my $50 purchase?") and when signing up for services like cable ("How about free Nickelodeon trial for one month?"). If you ask for more, you just might get it.

Need to sharpen your negotiating skills? Here are nine ways to bargain like a champ.

5. Saving Is Fun

Gone are the days of the old-school piggy bank. Kids' banks now come equipped with sound effects, lights and cool gadgets to make saving appealing (for example, my son has his eyes on this tricked out one). The point is, when saving is interesting, kids are more likely to do it. The same holds true for adults. To add some grown-up-sized fun to your saving, challenge your significant other to see who can save the most in a certain amount of time, purchase a cool bank for your rainy day or vacation fund or take your goals to your social networking profile so that friends and family can cheer you on. By making saving fun, you'll feel the same sense of excitement kids do when they see their money grow.

6. Go After What You Want

Have you ever forgotten to give your child his allowance? What happened: He reminded you, right? And when he wants a new video game? You're sure to hear about it at least four times a day. When it comes to financial issues, kids (especially teens) realize if they want something, they have to let it be known. Take your child's cue and stop being hush-hush about what you want. Think it's time for a raise at your job? Speak up (here's how!). Concerned about a late payment from a client? Say something. Want your bank to reverse a fee? Call them up. This is one way in which acting more like a kid can definitely benefit you.

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