“A very rich person should leave his kids enough to do anything, but not enough to do nothing.” – Warren Buffett
Here lately, I have been thinking more and more about the need for financial education curriculum in public schools. I am constantly amazed by the number of young people (and young adults) I interact with that have no basic understanding of how finances work. I mean a very elementary understanding – like how to balance a checkbook, how to compute interest, or what a mutual fund is.
After watching story after story from this latest recession, it is clear to me that our national personal finance IQ is too low. Perhaps if we raised more financially savvy generations we could avoid many of the same mistakes.
What Age to Start Teaching Basic Finance?
I like the idea of teaching kids about money when they are fairly young – like eight years old or so. By this time, many kids are receiving allowances, or receiving money for birthday presents. This makes money lessons a little less abstract – they can actually touch, and spend, their own money.
If we start at seven or eight years-old, that means plenty of very basic financial concepts could be well-covered over the next ten years. We could teach kids the value of saving money. We could teach kids the dangers of taking on too much debt. We could teach kids the power of compounding interest to foster and early interest in investing their money.
Will every child “get it” and become a future Warren Buffett? Of course not. Just like every kids doesn’t fully grasp chemistry and become a research scientist. But for the general student population, a general course each year in personal finance could go a long way towards creating a more financially-savvy young adult population.
Isn’t It Up To Parents to Teach Kids About Money?
Yes, it is. I believe it is up to parents to teach their kids most of life’s lessons. However, teachers can supplement that learning, and in cases where parents are unable or unwilling to participate, teachers may provide the only education source for children. It is a sad reality that the latter scenario plays out far more often than the former. Lack of parental involvement makes teachers jobs much more difficult. This is especially true in “real world” subjects such as personal finance.
How Can Parents Teach Kids About Money?
Besides modeling responsible spending habits for your children, there are a few things we can do to help kids learn financial concepts outside of a classroom setting.
Take your kids grocery shopping. Rather than having kids passively follow along while you do all the shopping, encourage them to help with your math tasks. Teach them how to calculate the unit price and compare two items for the best value. Weigh your produce and let them estimate the total cost by multiplying the weight by the cost per ounce/pound. Let them keep a running total of your bill on the back of your grocery list (for bonus points, older kids can even calculate the sales tax for a total bill).
Take your kids to the bank. My grandfather was in his 70s before he first used an ATM, and I don’t think he has ever used a drive-thru window at the bank. He believes in “eye balling” people when doing banking business. So growing up, I knew my way around the bank after tagging along with him. I watched him cash a check for cash (he called this “walking around money”). We rolled coins and deposited them into my grandparent’s account. Of course I loved it, because I always got a lollipop from the teller. Little did I know I was actually learning about how banking works, something I now hope to pass along to my own kids.
Give kids a four-quarter budget lesson. It’s a simple exercise, but helps kids understand that money is finite. If only Congress understood this! I digress.
The link above explains the exercise in detail, but basically you give your child four quarters representing major categories of your budget (taxes, mortgage, transportation, everything else). Ask for a quarter back to pay taxes on your income, another to pay for your home, and another for your car, auto insurance, gas and maintenance. Then explain with that last quarter you have to put some in savings, some towards food, lights, water and most of the rest towards bills. With that last little fraction of a quarter of your budget you can spend on toys and fun stuff.
Let kids pay the power bill. No, not out of their allowance! Let your child sit down a couple months and write out the check for the power bill. Show them the bill and explain the various lines. This is how much electricity we used every day. This is how much it costs us to run the television, lights, air conditioner, etc. This should also help them understand why you constantly go through the house behind them turning off lights and the television (I’m not the only one doing this, right?).
Buy kids a share of stock, and let them pick the company. If they like Disney movies, buy a share of Disney. If they like chewing gum, give Wrigley’s a look. And who doesn’t like McDonalds (which is actually a pretty good dividend play, too!). Show them how to look up the stock quote in the newspaper, or online. Consider adding a second share in a completely different industry – a great introduction to diversification.
What are you doing to teach your kids about money? I always enjoy learning new teaching methods, games, etc, so please share.
*This article appeared as an Editor’s Pick in the Carnival of Personal Finance: Famous People With Tax Troubles Edition