We visit local elementary schools every spring for a project called “Teach Children To Save.” This is one of our favorite annual events because it gives us a chance to talk with youngsters and to help mold responsible financial citizens of the future.
It’s funny because these third graders have a pretty firm grasp on the difference between a need and a want as well as the importance of saving money. Inevitably several kids will raise their hands to tell us they are saving money for a car or college. Once we had a little boy tell us he’s saving for a wife “because they’re expensive.” We giggled but love the spirit behind his hard work.
On the other hand, we also talk with high school students and are surprised to learn how few are saving for anything. It’s a tough age, one where the expensive shoes are a necessity rather than a want and where there’s never enough money for all the socializing, gadgetry and new clothes they desire. It’s hard to talk to older kids about saving money but it’s still something that parents need to do.
The best approach is to start when they’re young and to continue the dialogue as they grow. Even little kids have opportunity to earn money with chores or an allowance. Lots of times there are monetary gifts for holidays too. Begin by teaching them they can have fun with their money while saving a little too.
We once met a teen whose parents set her up with a savings system when she was a toddler:
10% Car, college, house (in that order)
70% Anything she wants
She’s an adult now who was able to buy her first car and contribute to her higher education. She continues with this savings system and has a better head start to retirement than a lot of older adults. She said her parents did not shelter her as a child but talked to her about some household expenses and why they save money.
One financial expert that we read suggested enlisting help from the grandparents. Instead of shopping for things, the grandparents send the kids each a check on their birthday. It’s for $100 plus their age. Everyone understands that it’s for saving, not spending and it has become a fun annual tradition that gives a big boost to the child’s savings account.
Another way to make savings fun for kids is to give them a short term goal for something like a coveted toy. Create a savings chart that helps them follow their progress. Achieving short term progress will encourage them to dig into long term goals as well.
Finally, remember they are still kids. Make them work for it to appreciate the value of a dollar through chores or an after school job. Consider incenting your kids by matching their savings. This will give them a boost while instilling an important life lesson.