So what can we do to teach young people about money?
First, we need to get to them at an early age when we can. When you go to the grocery store, or you shop for clothes, talk to your kids about what your are doing. Even very young children absorb large amounts of information, if you include them in the process! Also, it is helpful to use cash with young children, so that they can understand the give and take aspect of money. Credit and debit cards are challenging for kids because they are abstract. Finally, for young kids, ditch the old-fashioned piggy bank for a more realistic approach. There are new tools out there, like the Money Savvy Piggy bank, which lets kids break down their kitty by saving, spending, donating and investing. Introducing these larger concepts while they are tikes will get them in the right mindset early!
These are great tips for young ones. What about breaking through to teens?
Right. I think the key here is treating older kids like the semi-independent individuals they are, and playing on their turf. The same poll that I sited earlier found that fewer than half of teens (44 percent) have savings accounts, and only 18 percent have checking accounts. So the first thing to do is to get your kid a bank account, with both savings and checking, with a debit card. This way, whether it is birthday money or their allowance, they – and you – can track their spending. After you have done this, tap into the digital tools we have at our disposal. Sites like Mint.com or apps like Budgt (B-U-D-G-T) and Spendee (S-P-E-N-D-E-E) allow you to create financial plans and track your spending. When your teen is able to see that they cannot go to dinner or a movie with friends because they spend $20 on coffee the day before, the realities of money begin to sink in. Finally, be a good example. Talk to your kids about your budget, and work hard to meet your financial goals.
We just have to remember that making the point – early and often – that financial responsibility is an important part of life will benefit young people immensely once they are adults themselves. Far too many individuals get into trouble because they didn’t know any better, so anything we can do to teach our kids to avoid these things is a step in the right direction.
Mellody is President of Ariel Investments, a Chicago-based money management firm that serves individual investors and retirement plans through its no-load mutual funds and separate accounts. Additionally, she is a regular financial contributor and analyst for CBS News.