Raising Financially Savvy Kids
by rebecca stewart
Children of the ‘80s and ‘90s, when we were growing up, we never could have imagined all the incredible advances awaiting us in the 21st century. Who would have thought that one day mom and dad’s check register would be all but obsolete? Never mind making a (non-direct) deposit without ever having to visit a bank or splitting the check at dinner without telling your friend that you’d hit them up later when you had cash.
The technological advances we Gen-X/Millennials have seen in our lifetime have been incredible (the mind boggles at what our parents and grandparents have experienced). It’s fair to say that from one generation to the next, the younger counterparts tend to roll more easily with the latest technology. It’s almost a rite of passage, this transitioning from ease of understanding to semi-cluelessness as young whippersnappers step in to help you work your phone/remote/TV/app du jour, yet as young(ish) parents, it’s essential to grow with our kids, at least for a while, especially when it comes to money management.
In comparing banking and money management from the ‘90s to now, Billings Federal Credit Union Financial Service Representative, Rhett Binford notes that though banking, in general, is largely the same – deposits, withdrawals, loans, credit cards… - technology has made things easier and more convenient. Having gone from checkbooks and registers to online banking, mobile banking apps, and even “bankless” money apps like Venmo and Cash App, it’s “leaps and bounds different,” he says, and “I believe managing money has changed in a great way and has never been easier.” Where there was once a semblance of mystery surrounding budgeting and money management, there is now, quite literally, an app for that.
But first, when should the conversation begin? Binford suggests that conversations about money should start as early as 5 or 6 years old, noting that kids deserve to understand the value of money. Not to mention where money comes from – especially now that we have the seemingly magical person-to-person transactions of Venmo and the like. Although what kid hasn’t thought that mom or dad’s debit card/checkbook/ATM equals endless supplies of money?
Here are some actionable suggestions from Binford on getting started:
- Start early with a savings account – He says this is an excellent way to get kids excited about short- and long-term savings and setting goals. (Long-term = things like a car or trade school/college. Short-term = Christmas, birthdays, that must-have thing they’ve had their eye on like an Apple watch or the coolest LEGO set ever).
- Explain budgeting, value, worth, cost, and what it takes to earn that dollar that’s being spent – For this, Binford points to back-to-school shopping as a prime teachable opportunity. First, set the budget. Next, talk value. Binford suggests going to secondhand stores where you can show your kids that they can get more clothing for less. He elaborates, “Take a dollar amount you were already planning on using for them and show them how it works. ‘You can get 3 pairs of jeans here at XYZ Thrift store versus 1 pair of jeans at XYZ Big Box store.’ And really, the only difference in the quality of the clothing is that it’s gently used and pre-worn. Once kids understand that they can get more for their money, they typically are all on board from there.” Especially, he says, “if you structure it in a way that’s a save-reward style.” If they shop thriftily and have money left over, they can put those funds toward a toy or game the child has been eyeing.
Next, let’s talk about the value of earning their money. Once upon a time, when kids were negotiating allowances, it was all about putting pencil to paper (at least it was for me). Now, there are apps – like Greenlight (“a kids’ and teens’ banking app – with investing,” https://greenlight.com/) where parents can set their child up with a secured debit card with an option for tying allowance to chores, among other things. Additionally, parents can set flexible controls and receive real-time notifications of their kids’ money activities. All of this and more set the stage for families to have an open dialogue about finances while teaching smart spending habits.
Binford tells us that a major draw for mobile banking – “a huge tool that kids should be using today” – is that it gives kids something tangible to see (and almost feel) when they have regular access to their accounts. He also encourages parents to educate themselves on the various controls available on the online banking/mobile app features so their children don’t get to “squander their entire savings account.” Having a debit card says Binford, can help with money management and security and teach responsibility as your teen cultivates their natural independence. As your child/teen starts earning money, it’s important to teach budgeting (meaning, says doughroller.net, they know where they stand financially, what they can afford to spend, plan for big expenses in advance, and learn how to say no).
Not only is it easier than ever to keep track of our money, but avenues for spending are no longer a car ride away – they are literally at our fingertips and a day away, thanks to express shipping practices. This can be a slippery slope for young people not exactly known for impulse control. Binford emphasizes that “a foundation of financial responsibility will enable people to use their finances better, but also not put them into positions where they’re overextending themselves and getting into a hole, or worse, a debt spiral.”
Finally, we’re not truly acknowledging parenting in this digital age of finances if we don’t discuss the person-to-person transactions offered by mobile apps like Venmo, Cash App, Zell, etc. Odds are, you’ve heard of, if not personally used, one or more of these apps, but in case you haven’t: you download the app, connect a bank account, and you can send, request, or receive money from other users. While Binford notes that Venmo can be used irresponsibly, it can be a great tool if properly explained. Young and old alike have discovered the benefits of " moving money around” without the need to visit a financial institution, wire money, mail checks, or lend a debit card away for the day. That said, Binford cautions, “All of these modern conveniences do need to be explained – never send money you’re not willing to lose, particularly when dealing with perfect strangers.”
In parenting, we are our children’s first teacher; growing with them and the technology surrounding us, taking an active role in educating them about the importance of finances is imperative. Binford says, “It’s important to start a generational wave of financial education and financial responsibility,” let’s take advantage of the tools right at our fingertips. And may we remember what we tell our kids: if you don’t know…Ask.
Rhett Binford recommends GreenPath Financial Wellness for their free finance and credit building classes.
“This could be a cornerstone to fiscal responsibility for the teen and their future.”
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