What do your children learn about money from watching you? I recently saw the movie Confessions of a Shopaholic. It starts off with a young girl in a shoe store, unhappy with her new, practical, sale-priced, boring, brown shoes. She remembers looking into other stores and seeing “A world where grown-up girls got what they wanted…They didn’t even need any money, they had magic cards.” The magic cards are credit cards, and when she grows up, she fulfills her dream by getting 12 of them. She soon finds out the cards aren’t so magical when she maxes them out and has to deal with the consequences.
Do your children think credit cards are the magic solution to their wants? If this is the message that is received, then they are on the path to being a slave to financial debt. There are three things that I believe children need to learn about money and credit at an early age.
1. Children need to learn how to spend less than they earn. In simple terms, a person making $100 a week needs to spend less than $100 per week. You can teach your children with their allowance or chore money and by using age-appropriate money lessons. Discuss the cost of an item in relation to their income, not yours. Talk about all the purchase options: buying full-price, waiting for a sale, buying used, borrowing, or renting from the library.
2. Children need to learn how to save for their wants. They need to learn how to plan and wait for the items they want. A great habit to get them into is taking a percentage of their money and saving it.
a. Talk about where to store their saved money. When they are small, use separate containers for saving and spending so they can see their money grow or disappear as they save and spend. When they are older, have them open a bank account to earn interest.
b. Use age-related items to start the savings conversations. Think about all the things they ask you for: iPods, game systems, their first car, or their career dreams (i.e. college). Don’t forget to discuss all the extras that go with their purchases. iPods need songs. Game systems need games. Cars need insurance, gas and maintenance. College expenses involve more than tuition. Instilling the habit of saving and planning will benefit them for a lifetime.
3. Children need to understand credit. Not just what credit is, but how it affects all their finances. You know that credit plays a major part in everyone’s lives, from employment to buying a car, from the credit terms you are offered to whether or not you will need a security deposit for your utilities. But, how do you explain that to a child?
a. Show him something he wants and ask, “Would you rather have it right now and pay $20 for it? Or would you rather wait 2 months, pay only $5 for it, and have more money to spend on other things you want.” Tell him that is what it’s like when you use credit. Credit always costs more. You get what you want right now, but you end up spending more and having less money.
b.You can also explain that when someone buys too many things with a credit card (and doesn’t have the money to pay it back), other people think less of that person and won’t give him a job or a place to live. Those are the consequences of bad credit in the simplest terms possible.
Don’t let your children learn the hard way. Being in tremendous debt is a terrible inheritance to pass on. Teach your children now so they can make proactive, informed choices throughout their lives. If you don’t know where to begin, get your copy of Cash, Credit and Your Finances: The Teen Years and read it along with your child.