Before they might know what a 401(k) or mortgage even are, their financial future is already starting to take shape. It’s never too early to teach your kids the wisdom of budgeting, limiting their spending, and paying themselves first. So the sooner you can instill those lessons, the deeper they’ll sink in!
Fortunately, teaching your kids about saving is quite simple. Here are two common-sense strategies that can help you instill financial wisdom in your children from the moment they can tell a dollar from a dime!
Give your child an allowance
The easiest way for your child to learn how money works is actually for them to have money. If it’s within your budget, set up a system for your child to earn an allowance. The more closely it relates to their work, the better. Set up a list of family chores that are mandatory, and then come up with some jobs and projects around the house that pay different amounts.
What does this have to do with saving? The simple fact is that spending money you receive as a gift can feel totally different than spending money that you earn. Teaching your children the connection between work and money instills a sense of the value of their time and that spending isn’t something to be taken lightly!
Teach your child how to budget
Budgeting is one of the most essential life skills your child will ever learn. And there’s no better time for them to start learning the difference between saving and spending than now! The same study that revealed children solidify their spending habits at age 7 also suggested they can grasp basic financial concepts by age 3!
So when your kid earns that first 5 dollar bill for working in the yard, help them figure out what to do with it! Encourage them to set aside a portion of what they earn in a place where it will grow via compound interest. Explain that the longer their money compounds, the more potential it has to grow! If they’re natural spenders, help them determine how long it will take them to save up enough to buy the new toy or game they want and that it’s worth the wait.
Start saving for yourself
Remember this–the most important lessons you teach your children are unconscious. Your kids are smart. They watch everything you do. Relentlessly enforce spending limits on your kids but splurge on a vacation or new car? They’ll notice. That’s why one of the most critical means of teaching your kids how to save is to establish a savings strategy yourself. When you make and review your monthly budget, invite the kids to join! When they ask why you haven’t gone on vacation abroad for a while, calmly inform them that it’s not in the family budget right now. Model wise financial decision making, and your children will be far more receptive to learning how money works for themselves!
The time to start teaching your kids how to save is today. Whether they’re 2, 8, or 18, offer them opportunities to work so they can earn some money and give them the knowledge and resources they need to use it wisely. And the sooner your kids discover concepts like the power of compound interest and the time value of money, the more potential they have to transform what they earn into a foundation for future wealth.
“The 5 Most Important Money Lessons To Teach Your Kids,” Laura Shin, Forbes, Oct 15, 2013, https://www.forbes.com/sites/laurashin/2013/10/15/the-5-most-important-money-lessons-to-teach-your-kids/?sh=2c01a4956826
But not all goals are created equal. Planning to win the lottery is a foolish objective that won’t help you fulfill your dreams. Spending hours clipping coupons worth a few dollars is probably a waste of time.
Fortunately, establishing proper goals is actually incredibly straightforward. You want to pursue objectives that are SMART—specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely. Formulating these types of goals can radically focus your energy and increase your ability to get things done. Let’s start with the first criteria!
The more specific your goal, the more clearly you’ll understand exactly what you need to do to achieve it. It’s the difference between a vague daydream and a solid plan.
When writing out your financial goals, be crystal clear on exactly what you want to accomplish and why. Outline the steps and people needed to bring about your vision. Something like “I want to make more money” becomes “I want to earn a raise at work by taking on more responsibility.”
How will you know if you’ve accomplished, exceeded, or failed your goal? Including a clear metric gives you insight into how close or far you are from completing your objective.
Decide on a clear numeric goal you can shoot for. Take a vague notion like “I want to save more money” and transform it into “I want to save 15% of my income this year for retirement.” You’ll have a clearer idea of what steps you need to take to meet that benchmark and feel a deep sense of reward once you hit the target.
Trying to attain an ill-defined, pie-in-the-sky goal will only lead to crazy behavior, incredible discouragement, or both. If you’re aiming for something huge (which is admirable), break it down into mini goals and focus on one at a time. Achieving a goal like “I want to start a multi-million dollar business” takes careful planning, a lot of research, and loads of help, but there are many, many people in the world who have done just that. How do you eat an elephant? (One bite at a time!)
Are your goals appropriate? That seems like an obvious question, but it’s a critical one to ask when establishing objectives. For instance, saving up $1,000 so you can buy your new niece a Swarovski crystal, gold-plated baby rattle (yes, that’s a real thing) might be really memorable, but do you have an emergency fund in place? Make sure you’re meeting those practical, basic financial goals before you start aiming for the non-essential ones.
Knowing that the clock is ticking is one of the most powerful motivators on the planet. You’ll want to establish a realistic time-frame, but deciding that you want to buy a house in two years or be debt free in six months can increase your intensity, narrow your focus, and inspire you to start working on your goals as soon as possible!
Do your financial goals meet these criteria? If not, don’t sweat it! Spend 15 minutes reviewing your objectives and work in specific details or break down some of your more ambitious targets. Remember, I’m here to help if you hit a financial goal roadblock and need some professional insight and clarity!
Allow me to explain.
Your labor actually is helping make your boss rich. He gives you a portion of earnings in exchange for your time and effort. No harm, no foul. But what becomes of that paycheck?
It goes right back to people just like your boss.
The owner of your favorite coffee shop gets a piece.
Whoever dreamed up your favorite streaming service gets a piece.
Your landlord gets a huge piece.
And your credit card provider? They gobble up whatever’s left.
Everyone gets rich while you’re left scrambling to make ends meet. You get another paycheck and the cycle repeats.
So how do you escape this endless cycle and begin building wealth?
Before you do anything else, you’ve got to pay yourself first.
Start treating your personal savings as the most important bill to pay. Here’s the simplest way:
Remember, the most important person you owe money to is you. Prioritize your own savings and use your income to build wealth for yourself.
It makes up nearly a quarter of the global economy and has a GDP of roughly $21.44 trillion.¹ But that statistic doesn’t tell the whole story. The truth is that only a few Americans have truly mastered how money works and the rest are lagging behind. Despite having the largest economy, the U.S. ranks 13th in GDP per capita.²
And it all begins with the state of financial literacy.
Knowing how money works has never been more important. But it’s becoming an increasingly rare skill among Americans. Here’s a quick look at the significance of financial literacy in the modern world and how ignorance is hampering our ability to build wealth.
The importance of financial literacy is increasing.
Americans are faced with a complex world. We have access to unlimited information on everything under the sun, endless opinions on every issue, and infinite options for entertainment. Money is no exception. The two tried and true safety nets of the past—social security and pension plans—can fall short, so we need to figure out how to provide for our own futures. The options for how to save and grow our money are myriad. Now it’s on us to figure out how to build wealth, save for retirement, and leave money behind for our kids.
Understanding how money works isn’t just helpful for achieving those goals. It’s absolutely mandatory. Saving, budgeting, and the power of compound interest are just a few of the concepts that you’ll need to master before you can start building your financial future.
Financial literacy is decreasing.
Americans are less able to plan and provide for their futures than ever. Financial literacy slid from 42% to 34% between 2009 and 2018.³ And that number is significantly lower for Millennials than for the rest of the population, with only 17% able to answer 4 out of 5 basic questions about finances.⁴ That ignorance shows in our decision making and our inability to build wealth. A stunning 33% of Americans have nothing set aside for retirement.⁵ 44% don’t have enough saved to cover a $1,000 emergency.⁶ We’re surrounded by money and opportunity but don’t have the knowledge to convert them into personal wealth.
There are several reasons why financial literacy could be decreasing. Financial education is not widely taught in public schools, with less than half of states requiring a personal finance course for a highschool diploma.⁷ Perhaps we’ve just been slow to keep up with the rapid changes in the global economy. Or maybe some people benefit from having a large chunk of the population stay in financial ignorance. The lack of financial literacy is most likely a combination of all these reasons! The real question is, do you know how money works? And if not, where will you learn?
¹ Caleb Silver, “The Top 20 Economies in the World,” Investopdia, Updated Mar. 18, 2020,https://www.investopedia.com/insights/worlds-top-economies/
² “GDP per Capita,” Worldometers,https://www.worldometers.info/gdp/gdp-per-capita/
³ Andrew Keshner, “Financial literacy skills have taken a nose dive since the Great Recession,” MarketWatch, June 27, 2019,https://www.marketwatch.com/story/americans-financial-literacy-skills-have-plummeted-since-the-great-recession-2019-06-26
⁴ Keshner, “Financial literacy skills have taken a nose dive,” MarketWatch.
⁵ Dani Pascarella, “4 Stats That Reveal How Badly America Is Failing At Financial Literacy,” Forbes, Apr. 3, 2018,https://www.forbes.com/sites/danipascarella/2018/04/03/4-stats-that-reveal-how-badly-america-is-failing-at-financial-literacy/#69cecb072bb7
⁶ Pascarella, “4 Stats That Reveal How Badly America Is Failing At Financial Literacy,” Forbes.
⁷ Ann Carrns, “More States Require Students to Learn About Money Matters,” The New York Times, Feb. 8, 2020,https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/07/your-money/states-financial-education.html
Recent studies indicate that 76% of Millennials don’t have a basic understanding of financial literacy.¹ Combine that with having little in savings and mountains of debt, and you have the ingredients for a potential financial crisis.
It’s not only Millennials that lack a sound financial education. The majority of American and Canadian adults are unable to pass a basic financial literacy test.²³ But what is financial literacy? How do you know if you’re financially literate? It’s much more than simply knowing the contents of your bank account, setting a budget, and checking in a couple times a month. Here’s a simple definition: “Financial literacy is the education and understanding of various financial areas including topics related to managing personal finance, money and investing.”⁴
Making responsible financial decisions based on knowledge and research are the foundation of understanding your finances and how to manage them. When it comes to financial literacy, you can’t afford not to be knowledgeable.
So whether you’re a master of your money or your money masters you, anyone can benefit from becoming more financially literate. Here are a few ways you can do just that.
Consider How You Think About Money
Everyone has ideas about financial management. Though we may not realize it, we often learn and absorb financial habits and mentalities about money before we’re even aware of what money is. Our ideas about money are shaped by how we grow up, where we grow up, and how our parents or guardians manage their finances. Regardless of whether you grew up rich, poor, or somewhere in between, checking in with yourself about how you think about money is the first step to becoming financially literate.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
Pay Some Attention to Your Spending Habits
This part of the process can be painful if you’re not used to tracking where your money goes. There can be a certain level of shame associated with spending habits, especially if you’ve collected some debt. But it’s important to understand that money is an intensely personal subject, and that if you’re working to improve your financial literacy, there is no reason to feel ashamed!
Taking a long, hard look at your spending habits is a vital step toward controlling your finances. Becoming aware of how you spend, how much you spend, and what you spend your money on will help you understand your weaknesses, your strengths, and what you need to change. Categorizing your budget into things you need, things you want, and things you have to save up for is a great place to start.
Commit to a Lifestyle of Learning
Becoming financially literate doesn’t happen overnight, so don’t feel overwhelmed if you’re just starting to make some changes. There isn’t one book, one website, or one seminar you can attend that will give you all the keys to financial literacy. Instead, think of it as a lifestyle change. Similar to transforming unhealthy eating habits into healthy ones, becoming financially literate happens over time. As you learn more, tweak parts of your financial routine that aren’t working for you, and gain more experience managing your money, you’ll improve your financial literacy. Commit to learning how to handle your finances, and continuously look for ways you can educate yourself and grow. It’s a lifelong process!
¹ Golden, Paul. “Millennials Show Alarming Gap Between Financial Confidence and Knowledge.” National Endowment for Financial Education, 2.9.2017, https://bit.ly/2Hu9TRV.
² Pascarella, Dani. “4 Stats That Reveal How Badly America Is Failing At Financial Literacy.” Forbes, 4.3.2018, https://bit.ly/2ANtQU5.
³ Shmuel, John. “When it comes to financial literacy, Canadians really overestimate their knowledge.” text in italic, LowestRates.ca, 6.27.2017, https://bit.ly/2nhNUnU.
⁴ “Financial Literacy.” Investopedia, 2018,https://bit.ly/2JZJUkW.
Some of which are useful later in life, some of which are hurriedly memorized and then promptly forgotten, and some of which barely get a passing glance. In decades past, financial literacy wasn’t an emphasis in school curriculum – unless you include the odd math problem that involved interest rate calculations. For all our years of education, as a nation we were woefully unprepared for one of the largest challenges in adult life: financial survival.
Recently, however, schools have begun to introduce various topics regarding financial literacy to the K-12 curriculum. Some states have fared better than others in this effort, with graded results ranging from A to F, as measured in an analysis done by the Washington Post.[i] Read on for the breakdown.
How we’re doing so far
In its annual Survey of the States, the Council for Economic Education reported that not one state had added personal finance to their K-12 standard curriculum since 2016, and that only 22 states require high school students to take a course in economics. Only 17 of the 50 states require students to take a course in personal finance.[ii]
We can’t count on schools (at least not right now)
While it’s easy to pick on schools and state governments for not including financial literacy education in the past and for only making small strides in curriculums today, that’s not solving the problem that current generations don’t understand how money works. As with many things, the responsibility – at least in the short-term – is falling to parents to help educate younger people on financial matters.
Other financial literacy resources
Given the general lack of financial education provided in schools, unsurprisingly, most teens look to their parents to learn money management skills.[iii] Fortunately, there are some great online resources that can help begin the conversation and help educate both parents and children on topics such as budgeting, how (or if) to use credit cards, differences in types of bank accounts, how to save, managing credit scores, etc.
Pepperdine University offers a “Financial Literacy Guide for Kids, Teens and Students”[iv], which covers many of the basics but also provides a useful set of links to resources where kids and parents alike can learn more through interactive games, quizzes, and demonstrations.
Included highlights are mobile apps which can be useful for budgeting, saving, and so forth, and even listings of websites that can help kids find scholarships or grants.
So if you feel like you haven’t learned quite as much about money and finances that you wish you had in school, contact me so that we can explore how money works together, and I can help put a strategy in place for you and your family!
Right now at the beginning of a new year is a great time to share your financial knowledge and help your kids put it into practice. Imagine what can happen if your kids learn good savings habits when they’re still kids. When they hit their 20s and get their first “real” job, they can start setting aside a bit of their paycheck each month right away. Their money will have literally decades to grow.
The earlier they start saving, the better their chances of a well-funded retirement.
Waiting too long to save for retirement has a high cost. For example, if the goal is to retire at 65 with $1 million, when you start saving has a huge impact.
To retire at 65 with $1 million (using a 5% tax-deferred hypothetical account):*
And if you wait until 60 to start saving? You’ll need to put away $14,704.57!
So back to you and your kids. Chances are the majority of your children’s financial education will happen at home. Feel free to use the above illustration to explain the importance of early retirement saving to your 8-year-old, but be warned – you might get a blank stare or a full-on fidget fest. Luckily for everybody involved, there’s a simple exercise you can do with your kids today to give them a head’s up about what it might be like to set aside some of their paycheck when the time comes.
For the really young ones, each time they receive money (earned, received as a gift, etc.), help them save part of it. It really is that simple. No complicated formulas or examples. After all, the basis of saving for retirement is…saving money. If your kids are a little older and ready for the next step, help them save with a specific goal in mind, like 1 big toy or activity at the end of the month.
Working on exercises like this with your kids has the potential to make a huge difference for them when they start preparing for retirement. It may seem small, but you’re laying the groundwork for solid financial literacy, one saved dollar at a time.
*In this hypothetical example, a 5% compounded rate of return is assumed on hypothetical monthly investments over different time periods. The example is for illustrative purposes only and does not represent any specific investment. It is unlikely that any one rate of return will be sustained over time. This example does not reflect any taxes, or fees and charges associated with any investment. If they had been applied, the period of time to reach a $1 million retirement goal would be longer. Also, keep in mind, that income taxes are due on any gains when withdrawn.