Lay the foundation for financial education

04/16/2014 5:24 PM

04/16/2014 5:24 PM

This is the time of year when I’m on inbox overload.

You see, April is high season for promoting financial education around the country, and my email is full of of surveys, studies and checklists that measure how well children are learning their dollars and cents.

If there’s a general theme from the stack of reports, it’s that many children aren’t learning much about personal finance at home, and school isn’t much better. While I seriously doubt the situation is as dire as the surveys indicate, it’s clear parents and kids need to step it up.

To that end, here are some suggestions to help your children develop the vital money skills they’ll need to succeed once they’re on their own:

• Give them financial responsibility. Start with an allowance that covers toy and candy purchases when they are starting school and learning to count. Then once they’re teenagers, step up the allowance to cover entertainment, gasoline and even clothing.

The goal is to get your kids to make financial decisions and some tough choices.

• Get them in the habit of saving. Don’t worry so much about setting aside 5 or 10 percent or any fixed amount every time an allowance is handed out or a summer paycheck is cashed. Who knows, maybe your youngster will amass enough in her lifetime to retire a millionaire.

• Make sure they understand the importance of using credit wisely. Before being turned loose with a credit card, your teen needs at least a passing grade in checkbook management and debit cards.

• Preach identity protection. If the data hacks at Target and other companies have taught us anything, it’s that we shouldn’t assume our personal information is safe. Even computer-savvy kids need to be proactive by changing passwords and updating security software and later checking their credit report to make sure identity thieves haven’t been afoot.

• Explain the importance of health insurance. Sure, your college student may be the picture of health now, with perfect vision and great teeth. But as you get older, stuff happens, so a beginner’s level understanding of how the health care system and insurance products work is a great start.

• Let your children make financial blunders. I guarantee there will be mistakes. but it will be a lot better if they make those miscues while they are young and the amount of money lost is more modest. Resist the urge to bail them out — these are learning opportunities.

• Encourage older children to find a go-to person who can advise them on money matters. For example, more than 60 percent of kids surveyed by T. Rowe Price said they go to their moms first with financial questions. Yet that trusted guru could also be an uncle, a boyfriend’s father or a college roommate.

Whatever steps you take, lay a good foundation — and the earlier the better. That’s when your kids are really listening to what you have to say. If you wait too long, these money lessons may just fall on deaf ears.

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