It’s tricky enough to teach a child common life skills like brushing her teeth or making her bed. So how do you teach a child a skill that many adults haven’t even mastered—the skill of being frugal? It isn’t easy, and what works for one child might not work for another, even in the same family.
The bottom line is, kids learn more from what we do than what we say. The best way to teach your children financial responsibility is to be financially responsible yourself, and explain to them why you’re doing what you’re doing along the way. Here are three tips to help.
Turn good choices into habits.
You might decide that it’s a household rule for every family member to save 10% of his or her income. Yes, this includes allowance. If it’s a rule a child has grown up with her entire life, she’s more likely to carry it on when she leaves the house and begins earning her own money. In other words, she doesn’t even miss the 10%. Since it’s a longstanding habit, it just seems like what’s “normal.”
Explain the reasons behind your choices.
It’s one thing to require kids to save a certain percentage of their money. It’s another thing entirely to help them understand why they’re doing it. You might dangle a hypothetical carrot at the end of the savings line, like a special toy or an outing they’ll receive when they’ve accumulated a certain amount in savings. Then, explain that the same process goes for things like houses and cars. Who knows, if you have a naturally frugal-minded child, she might just have enough saved up to pay cash for a car when she turns 16! (a parent can dream…)
Allow them the freedom to make decisions.
It’s a great motivator when a kid is given a choice instead of an ultimatum. Think about the effectiveness of asking “do you want peas or carrots?” rather than “will you eat your veggies?” The same goes for money. Even from an early age, some children just aren’t savers, and that’s fine. Teach them that spending money is okay when done responsibly, and regularly offer choices between two smart financial options. For example, you might ask, “would you rather do Chore A (an easy task like taking out the garbage) for $5 per week, or Chore B (a more time consuming task like mowing the lawn) for $10 per week?” You can see the teaching opportunity here.