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When Lori Mackey used to pull into a gas station, her children would often ask her for money so they could buy candy. Mackey, being a financial literacy expert, turned it into a math problem and a chance to learn about money. She gave each child $1 and told them to come out with as much candy as they could.
So instead of buying a candy bar, her son and daughter would buy less expensive pieces of candy, all while doing math to see how much they could buy for a buck.
Her daughter (now 17) and son (now 15) learned some creative ways to spend a dollar and also learned how to save money for short-term and long-term goals, as well as the importance of investing and donating their money. Mackey, who founded Prosperity4Kids.com to help kids and parents learn about money, says being creative is the best way to get children to learn about finances.
“The most important thing for parents is that this is lifelong,” she says of financial literacy becoming a lifetime habit.
She recommends what she calls the “10-10-10-70 principal,” with 10 percent of any money a child earns being put into giving, investing, and saving for a long-term goal or for emergency needs, and 70 percent into saving for the short-term or spending wisely.
When you’re young, keeping 10 cents of every dollar for a long-term goal such as college is an easy habit to get into and should lead to saving money later in life, she says. “Most kids, you give them a dollar, and they’ll go out and spend a dollar,” says Mackey, who reminds parents that time with children goes by fast. “You really need to take these 18 years an teach them about money management and finances.”
Along with the candy-buying method of teaching them how to best allocate their money, here are six more creative ways to teach your children about money…
This may not be the most fun way for children to earn money, but doing chores can help teach the value of a dollar. It’s more difficult to spend the dollar you worked a few hours for than to simply get it from mom.
An allowance is the best way to teach kids about money, but only if tied to chores, Mackey said. The work could also teach them what type of work they want to do in the future. Her son discovered quickly that he prefers selling things to make money instead of doing physical labor.
For kids who have unwanted belongings to sell, eBay has a free classified area to sell things. What kid doesn’t have at least a closet full of old toys and clothes they no longer use? Craigslist is another option, and so is a family garage sale.
Donda Combs, a financial wellness speaker at a credit union whose seminar topics have included how to raise money-savvy kids, says she used to give her children the newspaper and told them to clip the coupons of anything they recognize that the family already purchases. If they go to the store with her and bring and use the coupon, she gives them the cash back for using the coupon.
Watch what you drink
Combs has another way to pay her children for being thrifty: Pay them the menu price of a beverage when they go out to dinner and order water to drink. Amazingly, she says, they chose to drink much more water.
Anytime her kids, who are now 16 and 19, wanted to buy something, Combs would require a 48-hour waiting period and asked them to research and find three other items they could purchase for the exact same price. It taught them to resist impulse buying, to enjoy “window shopping,” and to make better purchasing decisions.
For each new season of clothes shopping, Combs created a need list that included how many of each item was needed, and listed a reasonable price for each item before giving them control of the shopping. If they spent all of the money at the beginning of the season, they wouldn’t be able to “add” a new shirt or other item later for a special party. They found this difficult at first, but it helped them learn to anticipate upcoming events, she says.
Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area who writes about family finances. He has a daughter, 6, who has a weekly list of chores to do before getting her allowance.