If you’re counting on the public school system to teach your children about money management, prepare to be disappointed. There is only one person with the power to turn your spoiled child into a fiscally responsible adult: you. Here are seven tips that might help.
1. Don’t tie allowance into every single chore—
Household chores should be done without expectation of payment. Tying your child’s allowance into the simple act of cleaning house is a sure-fire way to raise your child to become a messy adult with a home so disgusting that no one would ever want to visit. Instead, explain why a clean house is a nice thing to have. You could say something like:
“I know mopping floors and cleaning counters might not be exciting, but we need to clean up once a week, because it is easier to have fun and relax when there are less messes to worry about. Also, if we don’t take care of the kitchen, bugs could get to our food, and isn’t that gross? It would make me feel really good if you helped me take care of that.”
2. —but offer incentive for tackling challenging tasks.
While you shouldn’t bribe your kids to do chores (something they should do for no financial reward), you should offer incentive for tackling projects that require more time and initiative. You could set a flat-fee for more complicated tasks like mowing the yard, organizing the closet, and boxing up unneeded clothes and toys for a yard sale or charity drive. Feel free to take this a step farther by encouraging your child to open their own lemonade stand or yard-work business. You’d be smart to teach them how to market themselves at a young age, because a college degree doesn’t guarantee a good job in today’s economy.
3. Draw a diagram to illustrate your family’s priorities.
It’s difficult to explain fiscal responsibility to children in words that they will comprehend, so why not draw a diagram to illustrate fiscal responsibilities in a way they can understand? You don’t need to be a Michelangelo or Donatello; just draw an inverted triangle like this:
Then list your expenses in the order of their priority like so:
- Shelter (rent/mortgage)
- Food, clothes, and other groceries
- Utilities (heat/air conditioning, electricity, water, phone, Internet)
- Savings/Investments (emergency expenses like doctor visits, long-term investments like vacations to theme parks and beaches)
- Charity/Giving (helping those who are less fortunate)
- Wants (ice cream, toys, movie tickets, video games)
While it’s okay to spend money on things your child would like to have, you need to make sure they understand the key difference between “needs” and “wants.” Using the inverted triangle as an illustration, explain that your family has an awful lot of needs that must be met before you’re able to consider your child’s individual wants. Repeat this lesson as often as necessary, because it’s vital for your child’s long-term financial success.
4. Use three separate piggy banks: saving, giving, and spending.
This tip is repeated often enough to be obvious, but it’s obvious because it works. Get three piggy banks (or anything else childlike that money can be stored in), label them as listed above, and set a percentage for each category like so:
- Saving = 50%
- Giving = 20%
- Spending = 30%
I’m not suggesting you must use those percentage points listed above; see them as a general suggestion, not a strict guideline. Set them in your own way that fits your personal beliefs about how money should be spent, and/or what you feel would be most beneficial to your child.
5. When appropriate, turn those piggy banks into interest-earning savings accounts.
Children seem to learn better visually at a young age, so I’d recommend using the piggy bank approach until they are old enough to grasp the concept of “interest-earning savings accounts.” When you feel they’re ready, take them to the bank to open their first savings account. Make sure you explain why this is a good thing for them to do by saying something like:
“I’m so happy and proud of you for saving (Insert Dollar Amount Here)! But now we’re going to put that money in a credit union, because they will pay you a little bit extra just for being smart enough to save your money.”
Share a bank statement with them quarterly and make a big deal out of how well they are doing by pointing out how many dollars they made in dividend, and exclaim, “Wow! If you made that much with the x-dollars you put in there, I wonder how much you can make if you invested y-more-dollars every time you get paid your allowance?”
6. A thoughtful gift is better than an expensive one.
Have you ever really watched your child while they open presents during Christmas or their birthday? If they are ripping away wrapping so rapidly that they don’t even take a moment to react to each individual gift before moving on to the next one, you might have a spoiled child who doesn’t appreciate anything. If you don’t think thoughtful gifts are better than expensive ones, please recall a baby (yours or otherwise) who you’ve seen open an expensive toy, only to find the box it came in much more fun to play with than the toy itself. Materialistic stuff never made anybody happy, so stop buying your child every shiny, new thing under the sun, and start focusing on more frugal (but thoughtful) ways to express your love.
7. Use grocery shopping to illustrate buying for value.
Just in case you weren’t aware, there isn’t typically any difference between name-brand labels like Green Giant green beans and the generic variety offered by your grocery store. Use this opportunity to teach your children how to shop for value. Present them with two identical groceries—for example, an expensive name-brand jar of peanut butter and a more affordable generic variety—and ask them which one sounds like it would be a better deal. For bonus points, use this exercise while they are learning basic math, because they will find the subject more interesting (or at least less boring) when they understand how it applies to their life.