What to Teach Your Teens About Money
by Gary Foreman
The way you live can affect your teen’s view of money for the rest of their lives. Here’s what to teach your teens about money now that can save them a lot of financial grief later.
There’s an old saying that ‘the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree’. For those of you too young to have heard that phrase before, it means that children will be a lot like their parents. I was reminded once when I found my twelve year old reading The Millionaire Next Door.
Lest you think that I’m some kind of fanatic, I never gave my children homework assignments on money management. The book was just sitting next to my easy chair. But, in fairness, my kids have heard me talk about the value of money on a regular basis throughout their childhood. And I do hope that some of the lessons stay with them as adults.
You have the same opportunity to help shape your teen’s money perspective. Lessons learned now could save them a lot of financial grief later. So let’s spend a little time talking about what to teach your teens about money.
Teach your teens to save: 3 strategies
A cornerstone of building a sound financial future for your teenager is to teach them how to save money. Sounds easy, but even many adults don’t know how to do it. And that might be because no one ever taught them.
You can use three strategies to teach a teen to save.
First, you can encourage them to reach a goal. Suppose that they want a $100 pair of shoes. Let them save $5 or $10 a week until they have the purchase price. Have them put a reminder of their goal in strategic places. They’ll learn patience and persistence. And by the time they save the money, they might also learn that they really don’t want the shoes any more. (See Successfully Setting and Achieving Financial Goals.)
Another way to encourage savings is to match any money they put into a savings account. Set a minimum length that the money must stay in the account before being withdrawn. You don’t want them to put it in with your match and withdraw it a few days later. This won’t work for everyone, but some teens will love to watch their savings grow.
The teen years are also a good time to teach your young adult to ‘pay themselves first’. That means that they set aside part of their income for savings before spending anything. (See How to Make ‘Pay Yourself First’ Work for You .)
It’s a perfect time to learn this lesson. Most teens don’t have any real financial responsibilities. They don’t have items that they’re forced to buy each month (like rent, electricity, food). They generally just spend what they have available.
Of course, many adults do the same thing. They spend until they’re out of money. Learning to set part of any income aside for savings is a great habit that will pay dividends for their entire lives.
Teach them to always know where they stand financially
Next a question for you. Do you remember who taught you to balance your checking account? Most of us don’t. And that’s a shame. You’d be surprised how many people reach adulthood without knowing how to perform this simple task. And it’s important that your teens learn it.
First, they need to know where they stand financially. Even a teenager should know how much money they have. The reason is simple. It’s essential to understand that you can run out of money. Balancing a checking account is a wonderful way of teaching them that there are penalties if you spend money that you don’t have.
The alternative is to let them learn to keep spending until they’ve reached their credit limit. And that lesson will create heartaches later in their life.
Software makes balancing a checking account easy. But make sure that they don’t just enter numbers and let the software do all the work. They need to understand the basics. You put money in. You write checks, use a debit card or online bill pay to take money out. What’s left is the balance.
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Teach them basic investment information
They also need to learn basic investment information. It’s really essential for modern life. Teach them that stocks represent ownership in a company. And bonds are like an IOU. Introduce them to CD’s, money market and mutual funds. Perhaps you’ll want to subscribe to Money magazine and discuss the articles with them.
Don’t forget to teach them how risks and rewards work. They need to know that a big return will include a big risk. It’s surprising how many people think that they can get huge returns without taking any risk. That’s a good way to lose money.
Teach them about compounding interest and debt
Also teach your teen about the beauty of compound interest. Let them know that money will double every 7 years if it earns 10%. That means that $1 that they don’t spend on a soda today would be worth $128 when they’re in their 60’s. Compound interest is the secret ingredient of building wealth. (See The 10 Things You Need to Know about Compound Interest.)
Conversely, they need to learn the risk of compounding debt. They’ll learn this lesson before they die. Help them to learn it without pain. Teach them that borrowing money obligates them to pay the loan back with interest. And that credit cards are set up so that they keep making payments each month without ever paying off the debt. In fact, if they pay the minimum due on a charge card each month, it’s just like doubling the price of everything they buy. That’s a lesson that’s less painful if you learn it before the bills come due. (See The Rule of 72 (or How to Easily Double Your Debt).)
Teach them what things cost
Some families share budget information with their teens. Others prefer to keep that private. If so, send your teen on a pretend ‘first apartment’ hunt. Have them walk through all the costs of setting up an apartment including rent, utilities and food. It will be a real eye opener for them.
Teach your teens the difference between creative thinking and creative financing
Finally, help them to learn the difference between creative thinking and creative financing. Creative thinking is the ability to have a need and find a way to fill it without spending money. People who don’t have money are forced to consider alternative answers. And some of those answers are quite creative.
The flip side is the person who only thinks of creative financing. He can’t think of a way to solve his problem without making a purchase. His creative energies are spent trying to figure out who will loan him the money to make the purchase. Not only will he spend a bunch of energy trying to figure that out, but he’ll make making payments for quite awhile, too.
Many of these lessons will pay dividends for the rest of their lives. Who knows, if your teen learns them well perhaps the apples will fall close to their tree, too.
Reviewed June 2021
About the Author
Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who founded The Dollar Stretcher.com website and newsletters in 1996. He's the author of How to Conquer Debt No Matter How Much You Have and he's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money, Credit.com and CreditCards.com.
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