I’ve been on a planned vacation for a little while. It’s the unplanned time before and after that made it so long since I’ve written. I hope to be back more consistently like I was last year.
Just before I left, my 4th-grade son was invited to a bowling play date with classmates. A great time was had by all. He even scored higher than I usually do (with guardrails) and got the confidence to try without guardrails. At least, this is what he told me. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make the play date.
He told me he bought his friends cards to play video games and a little candy (with the kids’ parents’ permission). He went over with his Famzoo card put it in the reader and typed in his pin. He’s bought about a dozen things with me, so it’s easy for him now.
He said the parents of the other two 10-year-old kids couldn’t believe it! I’m starting to think that I’m in the minority in wanting to teach kids money skills. Maybe other parents are busy with other things. In any case, that’s why I have this blog, and they don’t.
I was hoping that the other kids would ask their parents to be able to do it, and the parents would ask me about it. Unfortunately, I have yet to receive a call.
The whole event made me very proud. I always say that kids should be allowed to make money mistakes. It’s even better when they don’t make mistakes and spend their money to generously give to friends.
While we were on vacation, the kids bought souvenirs, carefully budgeting their money. My nine-year-old hasn’t gotten as much practice using his FamZoo card. I had forgotten the pin, but his older brother helped out. He has the benefit that I tend to do similar things for both of them at the same time because they are close in age.
In the future, I’ll look to share more of these real-life money stories whether they are good, bad, or ugly.
I love whenever anyone’s best tips for raising money-smart kids. However, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine holds a special place in my heart. I’ve been reading Kiplinger’s since I was a kid. My mother subscribed to it, and I was interested. She had explained compound interest to me a long time ago. In ancient times (around 1988), banks paid a real interest rate – about 7-8%, if my memory serves. I had some money saved from my paper route and first job at Papa Gino’s Pizzeria, so it seemed like a good idea to learn more about investing worked.
A lot of personal finance is now online (such as this site), but I’ve been a Kiplinger’s subscriber since college. You can get a couple of years of it for around $40, which is a great deal compared to the cover price of a whopping $6.99. I’m all for recognizing the value of financial advice, but that’s a lot of money for 72 ad-filled pages of often out-of-date information. It shows how challenging the print world is nowadays.
Today, I’d like to cover Kiplinger’s tips for raising money-smart kids, spread out over two issues last year. Specifically, I’m talking about Janet Bodnar, who runs the Money Smart Women column. Fortunately, the column covers some fathers with tips about raising money-smart kids. Personal finance should be something for the whole family. My family is a real-life example of it. It’s just that I have a crazy obsession.
Part 1: Kiplinger’s Tips for Raising Money Smart Kids
The article points out that high-net-worth women have jumped into estate planning due to COVID. These families with a lot of money want their kids to know how to handle it. We fit that profile too. However, I’m far from the stage of worrying about how my nine and 10-year-old boys will manage money years from now. I want to help them to build a foundation now rather than be disappointed later. Personal finance is what I know and what I’m passionate about, so I might pass that knowledge on.
The article continues that spending and saving are the two most important things to teach. I agree, especially for young kids. Older kids have more opportunities to focus on earning more and investing. However, schoolwork comes first, so making more has to be about “working smarter” rather than “working longer/harder.” At least investing can be very quick. An automatic investing plan can be set up in just a few minutes.
The next tip was to have younger kids use cash and let older kids use an ATM account attached to a bank – avoid credit cards. This tip is reasonable. Although, my kids have been authorized users on my Amazon card for a few years. They have yet to learn about it and wouldn’t know where or how to use it, but it will help them earn credit whenever needed.
The final tip was that young kids don’t need to know about family income. That’s obvious. Young children are still learning place value, and numbers like hundreds of thousands don’t make much sense.
Part 2: Kiplinger’s Tips for Raising Money Smart Kids
One reader shared a “parent matching” strategy. That’s where a parent will reward a child for saving with more money, similar to how a 401k match works at many companies. Another reader made it simple, “Live below your means.” Finally, one reader stressed the value of saving over earning because you pay taxes on money earned.
Some readers disagreed with the above tip about not giving kids credit cards. Like me, one reader wanted their children to establish excellent credit at a young age. Another reader required kids to pay it off in full every month. I love that last tip, as it builds a habit and establishes the importance of it before the kids are on their own in college.
I found all these reader tips (along with Bodnar’s book recommendation) better than the original article. Over both articles, there are plenty of good tips – definitely worth a few minutes of your time.
We got back from a Disney cruise a couple of weeks ago. My kids thought it was the best time of their lives. They couldn’t wait to do it again next year.
The only problem is… Disney cruises are very, very expensive. Going every year isn’t in the budget. I explained to them that it costs us nearly $1,000 each day when you count the cost of flying, excursions, ground transportation, and other incidentals. They were able to understand that it is a big number. However, they don’t have a reference to compare it to.
That’s when I realized I had to give them a comparison they’d understand. I explained that Great Wolf Lodge, a long weekend they loved before the pandemic, was closer to $250 a day. I said that we could spend nearly two months at Great Wolf Lodge for what we spent on the Disney Cruise. My oldest responded that he’d prefer that longer vacation at Great Wolf. My youngest disagreed – he liked visiting Norway and the other countries.
I often like to ask them about alternative ways to spend money. In this case, I said we decided on the Disney cruise because mom and I haven’t traveled to Europe for more than a decade. We get more value from visiting Westminster Abbey than the cute upselling wolf. We also can’t take two months off from work. I also explained that we chose Disney because we knew it would be a good vacation for them too. Everyone gets a little of what they want.
I’ve been looking into next year, and it seems that Royal Caribbean has a cruise that costs only about one-third of the Disney one. We found some videos online, and they looked like they had fun stuff for kids to do too. They said that they’d be interested in that cruise too. We’d be able to go on that cruise, a road trip to Hershey, PA, and have some money left over for a weekend or two at Great Wolf Lodge.
As we ended the conversation, I explained that one of my jobs is to write about making money choices. Spending money wisely is as important as earning it.
It’s hard for young kids to know about all these options. They don’t have the life experience and access to the tools to evaluate costs. These “buy this… or that?” conversations are critical for helping them grow their money skills.
“What should my kids about money?” That’s one of the first questions I get when I tell them that I run this Kid Wealth website. It’s a fair question, but I had never set down and tried to make a comprehensive list… until now. Here’s the obligatory “Top Ten” list of what your kids should know about money.
Create a Budget Tracking where you spend money is crucial at a young age. Budgeting is more challenging to teach than I initially thought it would be. Kids generally don’t have to be responsible for many needs (clothing, food, transportation) that adults do. It’s easier to “budget” when allocating your allowance to wants like Pokemon cards.
Being Frugal for Frugal Sake Developing a frugal mindset at a young age will pay off for a lifetime. Kids that learn this are less to spend more than they can afford on their house and car. Those two purchases alone can be significant setbacks to the goal of financial freedom.
Make More Money It can be either through entrepreneurism or focusing on a career that has a high average salary.
Compound Interest I’ve covered this a lot recently. It’s important to teach kids compound interest. Making your money work for you is when personal finance becomes fun.
Get Your Head in the Money Game Grit, motivation, having a positive attitude – it’s all important.
Avoid Bad Debt Usually, I like to teach compound interest as a positive – how to make it work for you. However, bad debt like credit card and payday loan interest work powerfully against you.
There’s a gray area of debt, like mortgages and student loans. Generally, they are good debt, but sometimes they can spiral out of control.
College Planning It’s easy to get caught up in the big business of college. That can leave you with a lot of debt and a degree that doesn’t make enough to pay it off quickly. To learn about the inner workings of the college business check out The Price You Pay for College. The subtitle is appropriate: “An Entirely New Road Map for the Biggest Financial Decision Your Family Will Ever Make.”
Insurance It’s easy to forget about insurance until a disaster happens. We teach kids about preventing dangerous situations, from avoiding strangers to using crosswalks. Most kids don’t need insurance, but they hear parents talk about it. Protecting their hard-earned money may be the most important thing on this list.
Tracking your Net Worth There’s an old saying, “What gets measured gets improved.” I started tracking my net worth in 2006, and it was motivating to see that good money decisions like saving and investing were paying off. Tracking your net worth can take a little time to set up, but once you have a system, it’s quick. I have a dozen accounts, and I can update my monthly net worth spreadsheet in half an hour.
Spend Less Than You Make I saved the most important one for last. It’s a combination of the first three items on the list. If there’s one golden rule of personal finance, it’s this. This topic easily flows into discussing savings rates and investing/compound interest.
Here are a couple of bonus topics that I felt fit just outside the top ten.
Automate the Process This is a top candidate to move into the top 10 in a future update. Everyone is busy and managing various aspects of their lives. Few people want to add more to their to-do list. A surprising amount of money management can be automated. I never think about writing a check to a credit card company or paying a cable bill. The kids’ college 529 plan gets new money invested every month. Our mortgage and rental properties get paid automatically, and we build equity without action. Saving money in a retirement account is a “set it and forget it” event.
I wish I could automate the dishes, laundry, and cooking as much as I can money management.
Adulting While on the topic of dishes, laundry, and cooking, there are a lot of general “adulting tasks” that kids should be aware of. They can help with all those, but we can add anything that requires running a home, such as fixing stuff, getting health care (not as easy as it seems in cases), and anything in between.
Kids don’t need to know much about this; they’ll pick it with their life experience.
How Taxes Work Kids should know that adults pay taxes and what they are used for. Older kids should know how tax brackets work. Too many adults wrongly believe that it’s financially disastrous to land in a high tax bracket. Growing up, I had a friend whose father had a saying, “I don’t mind paying a lot of taxes – it means I made a lot of money.”
Investing 101 You can get kids started with investing by explaining how one fund, a total market index fund is all you need. In most cases, it will have low expenses and beat all the professional stock pickers.
This list is useful for more than kids. That may make sense since kids become adults and have to work with adult money situations. Preparing kids for those situations earlier is usually fine as long as the explanations aren’t too complicated.
A recent article in the NY Times details research on how children can rise out of poverty by making friends with rich people (not paywall – available with a free NYT account).
In particular, they cite three things:
Education is always important. That includes all the way back in pre-K and continued through college. While the article didn’t call it out specifically, I thought it was worth noting that education counts, even at the Pre-K level.
It seems like money is a great way to get out of poverty. Wait, that’s a sentence that is so common sense that it doesn’t make any sense. The article says, “Longer, deeper bouts of poverty can affect children for decades.” Now that makes sense. It also pointed out that avoiding adverse life events like eviction and having good health care is important. As you might imagine, two parents raising a child is much better than one. I don’t truly know what it’s like to be a single parent, but sometimes my wife is deployed for 4-6 weeks, and I get a glimpse of what it is like. It is not good.
3. Friendships and Social Capital
A study in published in Nature (a very respected journal) found that friendships with wealthy people tends to lift lower-income people up the income ladder. This makes sense because I’ve read for years that you are likely to have an income around the average of your five closest friends (generally credited to Jim Rohn).
Here’s how friendships are generally grouped:
The NY Times article suggests three ways that friendships can help boost someone out of poverty. The first is motivation or ambition. You see a friend with money and think, “Hey, I can do that.” The second way is simply basic information, such as sharing money tips (buying a house, applying for college). Lastly, there’s general networking which can lead to increased job opportunities. When I was a kid, I was able to get a high-paying job* as a pharmacy technician at a local hospital because my mother was a nurse there. When we needed more people, I asked a friend, who came on board.
The article ends with a path forward. If we can increase the amount of cross-class interactions, we can lift more people out of poverty. That’s certainly a big part of the puzzle.
If you low-income and are here and reading this, you are also more likely to move up a class. You’ve shown an interest in education and specifically the kinds of basic information that you might get from rich friends. You know how compound interest works and how kids can make money.
* The pharmacy technician job paid $8.41/hr, which was tremendous for a 16-year-old in 1993.
Customize Your Money Lessons – All kids are different. I have two very boys who are only 15 months apart. They learn in very different ways. This has made me realize that there is little one-size-fits-all advice for teaching kids about money. When I write an article at Kid Wealth, I hope that you process it and keep the parts that are useful to you and your family. You know your family better than anyone else. If it’s anything like mine, there is a lot of trial, error, revise, and try again cycles. That’s how learning works.
Actions Speak Louder than Words – Your kids are watching and learning from you. When you set a good example, you get a tremendous head start in getting kids to think positively about money.
Those Actions Can Cut both ways – If you have bad spending habits and it leads to money (and other) problems, kids can see the bad situation and may be motivated to avoid it. I know several adults who specifically told me, “My parents struggled with money. I didn’t want to be like that.”
Alternatively, my kids see me being frugal and are quick to say, “Dad, you are being cheap.” They may be right. I tell them that Aruba timeshares and Disney cruises cost a lot of money, so we have to save money sometimes to be able to afford those tremendous life experiences.
Teach Compound Interest – Kids have two awesome advantages over adults. Their brains are awesome sponges that are perfect for learning new things. They have more time for compound interest to make a huge impact in their lives. For example, a Teach Kids Investing At Any Age – The concept of compound interest goes hand-in-hand with investing. It might sound strange to teach a preschooler about investing, but it’s very possible.
A Smart Girl’s Guide to Money – This is a great book geared towards teen girls. However, I paid my 9-year-old son a couple of dollars to read it and give me his thoughts and he said it was fine for boys too.
Grandpa’s Fortunate Fables – This is my favorite book for kids in elementary school and tweens. It covers about a dozen money lessons, making it a perfect foundational book. Add it to your summer reading list and have the kids read a chapter a night.
You can also look for ways to teach kids money by age:
I realize that this article points you in a lot of different directions. I hope it’s not overwhelming. The most important thing is to pick one thing and get started. I’ll check back in another six months an update this with a lot more resources. I hope you can keep up 😉.
The title of this article is inspired by this Oprah Book. I haven’t read it, but the title stands out to me.
A few weeks ago, I took the kids shopping for Mother’s Day. Since they are 8 and 9 years old, it’s one of the rare times that they brought their spending money and had a chauffeur to take them around town. They did the appropriate shopping for mom, but I encouraged them to spend some of their savings on themselves. My 8-year-old bought this shark pen on the right. It was at a boutique store and it cost $7. When you “chomp” the shark’s mouth the pen tip comes out. My 9-year-old could have bought one, but it would have used all the money he brought. He knew that we are going to Dollar Tree later to buy cards for Mom, so he saved his money.
I was delighted by both of their money decisions. I certainly wouldn’t have bought a $7 pen. I personally think it was a money mistake, but I wasn’t going to talk him out it. I’m not sure what he thinks of the pen now. He brought it to school and I haven’t seen or heard of it since. It could be the “it” toy of the class. I suspect it was cool for about five minutes and then got old. When he comes home from school today, I’ll ask whether he got more enjoyment out of the $7 shark pen or the $6 Sushi Go! game that we played every night for weeks. I think I know the answer.
My 9-year-old bought a couple of items at the Dollar Tree. He got a little toy car. Unfortunately, we’re getting to the age where the dollar store toys aren’t the thrill they once were. Then he did something unexpected that surprised me. He got a box of Jell-o and said, “I want to make this with Mom for Mother’s Day.” He loves to cook and my wife loves to cook with him. It was the perfect experience gift! Plus who doesn’t love Jell-o?
He may regret the little toy car purchase a little, but his downside is minimal. In the worst case scenario he’s lost $1.25. That’s not too bad.
This was also a good time to bring up that Dollar Tree raised all its prices recently. My kids remembered when everything was just a dollar. I was able to explain that it was simply inflation just like the money conversation from a couple of weeks before.
I can read money books and they can read kid money books, but we both need hands-on experience too. We try to never underestimate the power of experience. There’s a show on Netflix called “Old Enough!” It’s been running in Japan for several decades. The show follows really young toddlers as they run errands around town for their parents. Some of these children are 2 and 3 years old. That’s not something we’ll see in the United States any time soon. The reason the kids are able to run these errands is that they’ve done them before with their parents – not just once, but many times.
That’s one of the reasons why I believe you should give your child an allowance. Everyone needs to have money before they can use it. It’s good to learn from losing a few dollars at this age. The lesson is lot more difficult later when more dollars are on the line.
* Mother’s Day cards are usually 50 cents – a much better deal than the $2.99 or $3.99 that you might pay elsewhere.
On the way to school last week, my 9-year-old started an interesting conversation.
“Dad, if you had a time machine and bought a house for $1000 in 1860, it would be worth so much money today.”
Usually, it’s the parents who bring up the low cost of things. Especially nowadays with the price of gas and food going up. I responded with:
“That’s called inflation. We bought our house the year before you were born and now it’s worth double what we paid for it.”
That quote isn’t 100% accurate. I went into the real dollars we spent and the real dollars it is worth today. They are big numbers and it may be hard for him to grasp them, but there’s value in using real numbers whenever you can. That’s how kids can start to understand the cost of adult stuff.
We timed our purchase well with housing prices low after the crash in 2009 and mortgage rates to match. It’s the opposite of today’s market with high prices and rising mortgage rates. I saved that story for another day.
When I laid out the real dollars he said:
“Wow, I can’t believe our house cost that much money. It’s not a mansion!”
It’s important to note that several of his friends do live in mansions that are worth $3 million or more. I think it’s a leftover from the gilded age in Newport.
“Mansions aren’t always so great. They look good, but they cost a lot of money to maintain. There’s a lot of space to heat, furniture to buy, and often big lawns that need a lot of mowing. If you had a mansion you may find that you spend all your time working for the house.”
Here’s how the rest of the conversation progressed:
Kid: The President must pay a lot of money to maintain the White House then.
Me: Actually, the President doesn’t pay anything to maintain it. Some of the tax money we pay goes to maintain that, along with libraries and roads.
Kid: So it’s like that Teen Titans Go episode when they got rid of the IRS but found out that the roads were terrible and the food was spoiled at restaurants.
By that time we had arrived at school. I left my 8-year-old out of the story, but he had added some parts to the conversation as well. He played a supporting role, but it didn’t add to the story. The important part is that they both participated and there was a general back and forth.
I highlight a lot of kid money books, television, and courses here, but this is a reminder to follow those up with real conversations. That’s where the magic happens.
I know what you are thinking – isn’t starting a kid down a financial independence path a little too early? Perhaps. However, have you ever heard anyone say that they took their finances seriously too early and should have waited? No, we always wish that we started the journey earlier. That’s more time for compound interest to help us get to our financial independence destination.
That doesn’t mean that you have to start teaching your five-year-old about P/E ratios. It simply means that you can guide them down a path of financial literacy early and let nature take its course.
I’ve been interested in personal finance since I was a teenager. I would read my mother’s Kiplinger magazine. I bought my first mutual fund when I was 14. That was almost unheard of in 1990. Investing early has worked well for me.
My other great interest is parenting. It surprised me because I’m not particularly known for my patience. However, I think I got lucky with my two boys – they don’t test my patience too much. That’s how Kid Wealth was born.
Getting them started on a path of financial independence was inevitable. One of the things they started earlier was saving up for a Nintendo Switch. (In hindsight, a video game system may not have been a perfect idea.) We had a great goal sheet on the fridge and they could see the steady progress. I saved a lot of their money when they were little and invested it. They didn’t need it because they had more toys than they could use. The investments have done well though. They’ve more than doubled. If we leave it there until they are 16 it may be a car. Maybe they’ll want it earlier.
Aside from those early financial moves, we’re doing something at home to help them financially:
Teaching Core Life Skills
This is a no-brainer. Some skills never grow old and can help you reach financial independence much earlier. Two skills that came to mind when I was thinking of what I could teach them now.
Food is often a top-three expense after housing and transportation. Food doesn’t have to be expensive. Eating out at restaurants all the time can destroy a budget. If you know the basics of cooking, going out to eat is less appealing.
My 9-year-old loves to cook and he learned a lot during COVID. He went to a cooking camp last year and for a couple of weeks, he made amazing things. My 8-year-old is enrolled this year – hopefully, it goes as well.
In conjunction with learning cooking, I’ve been teaching the boys how to shop to save money. So far they aren’t very interested in hearing their dad talk about unit pricing on the shelves. There’s the occasional breakthrough, like when I point out that we could get more food for less money by making a different choice.
Being able to manage and limit one of their largest expenses can only help their financial bottom line in the future.
2. Fixing Stuff
I’m not handy at all. I can’t fix anything. I can barely work a screwdriver (maybe I’m exaggerating). If something breaks, I have to write a check.
That’s not good, especially because when you are a landlord like we are. If you are good at fixing things and home improvement in general, you can create a lot of real estate opportunities using sweat equity. You can do fix and flips of homes making hundreds of thousands of dollars tax-free.
I would love my kids to be better than I am at fixing stuff. Before COVID, Home Depot had “kid workshops” once a month. We only got to one before they shut them down. They do have kits that you can get and make small things like bookends. They’ve done that a bit for Cub Scouts. My 8-year-old loves building and figures stuff out quickly. I was able to give him the simplest Ikea shelves to put together at four and he got it.
I’m still thinking about what skills they’ll need to succeed in life. We focus on education and schoolwork. We also work on financial literacy (but not too much). Add in these life skills and some internal traits (grit for example) and hopefully, they’ll be ready for the real world.
If you are a parent of a 10-year-old, you may be shaking your fists in rage right now. The window of opportunity has closed, and your child is doomed to a life of large debts and credit card interest payments. If only you had read about this a couple of years before!
This was my initial reaction when I read these articles. Call me naive, but I’m more optimistic. I believe that learning can be a life-long journey. I know I learned financial concepts after the age of 7. How many 7-year-olds do you know who can explain the value of index fund diversification?
Many articles declaring “money habits are set by age 7” don’t explain where they got that information. It’s presented as if it is just as reliable as our understanding of how gravity works. However, some articles do cite where they get that information. That’s good because it allowed me to track down the source.
The Money Habits Age 7 Study
That source is one research paper published by Dr. David Whitebread and Dr. Sue Bingham from the University of Cambridge in 2013. You can read the Habit Formation and Learning in Young Children here. It’s 34 pages, but I warn you that it is fairly dull (and I’m a nerd who typically LOVES this stuff).
As you can tell, I’m skeptical about the research. I read it with an initial bias of “this can’t be true.” So it may not surprise you that when I finished, I came away with the conclusion, “This is complete hogwash!”
It’s not that the study is wrong or lying. It’s that I don’t believe the media is interpreting it accurately. Throughout the study, I find quotes that merely show that financial learning takes place before seven. For example, take these two quotes:
“However, typically by the age of 7, the child is able to cognitively ‘represent’ value.” “By the age of seven years, several basic concepts relating broadly to later ‘finance’ behaviours will typically have developed.”
These statements make sense. However, there’s a HUGE difference between learning taking place at one age and a lifetime of financial habits being cemented at the same age. My kids at seven understood the math concept of addition at age 7, but division and fractions came later. Just because a child understands the idea of adding, we don’t stop there and say, “the math habits are learned now.” No, we build on that math foundation. How else would children understand algebra, trigonometry, and calculus?
Perhaps the study’s best finding can be found in the opening statement of the conclusion:
“In summary, the evidence indicates that teaching young children explicit forms of ‘financial’ knowledge per se is likely to be ineffectual in shaping or changing their behaviours.”
My understanding of that conclusion is that young children likely can’t be taught money habits that are different than what they experience through their personal experience. That also makes sense. However, young children grow, and it would make sense that older children, tweens, teens, and adults of all ages can benefit from being taught personal finance.
What was interesting to me is that the press release highlights the business case behind the research. Specifically, it mentions Money Advice Service’s 2013/14 Business Plan. It also says it will help them create “products and services.” That initially concerned me because I could see the research being used to sell these products and services.
This is where I stress that the Money Advice Service is a non-profit that seems to be a government agency in England. It isn’t a company with a nefarious plan to profit off consumers (or at least I don’t think it is).
The press release also had a notable quote from Whitebread, one of the authors:
The ‘habits of mind’ which influence the ways children approach complex problems and decisions, including financial ones, are largely determined in the first few years of life. Simply imparting information is now recognised as being ineffective in this area. By contrast, early experiences provided by parents, caregivers and teachers which support children in learning how to plan ahead, in being reflective in their thinking and in being able to regulate their emotions can make a huge difference in promoting beneficial financial behaviour”.
That’s a lot of words, but it seems to boil down to what I pointed about above in the conclusion. Parents’ and teachers’ experiences with money and children aged seven and younger are essential. It may not help to explicitly teach preschoolers about money other than to explain what you are doing as you do it just like you would when you teach a young child anything.
Also, the good news is that humans older than seven can control their financial future. Personal finance education still matters. Your 10-year-old is not doomed to a lifetime of debt.
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I am not a financial adviser. Kid Wealth content is for educational purposes only and the information should not be construed as professional financial advice.