It is never too early to teach your children about the value of money and how to manage it. Kids are constantly learning - both inside and outside the classroom - and parents can play a key role in developing their kids' financial habits. In large part, this is because financial management is not included in most school curriculums, and so there are very few other places that children can learn important money management skills.
It is not surprising that young adults find it difficult to deal with new financial responsibilities being thrust upon them, and many run into difficulty paying their bills and managing their debts. A good number of this group also have a hard time talking about financial hardships and seeking help for financial troubles, either because they lack familiarity with financial concepts or because they just aren't used to discussing these topics openly.
Unfortunately, becoming comfortable and confident with money isn't something that happens overnight. Parents must introduce money concepts to children when they are young and progressively give them greater financial responsibility as they get older. By the time they are of college age, they should be equipped to manage their income, live within a budget, and most importantly defer the instant gratification of consumption in order to save for future financial needs.
Earlier this summer, Minister of State for Finance, Kevin Sorenson and Financial Literacy Leader, Jane Rooney launched the National Strategy for Financial Literacy -- Count me in, Canada. The strategy is a call to action for all Canadians to gain the requisite financial knowledge and money management skills that will provide them the self-reliance to make good financial decisions, especially around saving for the future, debt and debt management, and protecting themselves from fraud and other financial abuse.
Canadian parents should also take this opportunity to introduce their children to these same financial concepts and create a plan for their financial education. With school out for the summer, this is an ideal time to get a heads start on tackling an important subject that doesn't get much attention in the classroom. With an approach similar to home schooling, parents should look for creative ways to introduce financial education to their kids that includes age appropriate conversations and activities. The end goal would be promoting good money management, the importance of saving, and developing full financial self-reliance before children become adults and leave home. A good well-rounded curriculum should try to encourage, but not be limited to, the following:
- An understanding of the value of money and what is required to earn it
- Purchase control through a sense of accomplishment from saving
- The ability to build and track a budget
- The ability to read a credit card statement, calculate interest, and manage debt
- Financial confidence as children become familiar with financial concepts and watch saved money grow
The best way for parents to ensure their kids truly grasp these (sometimes complex) concepts is by creating opportunities for their children to participate in their financial lives. Children learn by shadowing and imitating those around them; language is learned this way, as are social skills and even chores! One way to let children participate is by allowing them to work on financial tasks like budgeting and expense tracking with you. It is also important to empower your kids to make financial decisions from an early age. For younger children, this could mean setting up a piggy bank or a lemonade stand, or opening up a bank account in their name and helping them understand and keep track of deposits and withdrawals.
As children get older it is important to give them greater responsibility over their own finances. Chores and allowances are useful ways to begin teaching children the value of money and why money sometimes needs to be saved in the present in order to buy larger ticket items later. By the time they are teens, children should be working part time and in the summer in order to earn their own money for vacations, to help finance the purchase of a car, or meet other financial needs. There is a chance that they will make some mistakes along the way, but learning to be accountable will serve them well in the long run, and likely lead to smarter money decisions in the future. Additionally, this will instill the emotional maturity that comes with making tough financial choices, and hopefully by the time your children are ready to go off to college, they are equipped with the skills to live within a budget and manage their finances fairly independently.
Although learning how to manage your money is an important life skill to have, it is not a focus of many school systems, since most people don't require these skills until they begin their working lives. Until schools update their curriculums to include financial education, it will be up to parents to fill in the gap to ensure that their children have the knowledge and confidence to be financially successful.