When COVID-19 rapidly swept across the globe earlier this year, our lives were turned upside down in more ways than one. Some of the biggest challenges faced by millions of Americans include unexpected job loss and the financial struggles that go hand-in-hand with suddenly being laid off or furloughed.
Even if their own families are financially secure, children and teenagers are aware that the recession has left many in a crisis. Now is an excellent opportunity for parents to broach financial topics with their kids and teach them valuable money management skills, like the importance of having emergency funds and managing debt.
According to a recent survey, only 21 states require high school students to take a course in personal finance, while five states still do not include personal finances in their standards. When the credit offers start rolling in, this knowledge gap can potentially create serious problems.
Here are some ideas for getting kids of all ages engaged with learning about money management.
Sort coins: Start with the basics. For this activity, set out some coins on a piece of paper that has four labeled quadrants for pennies (one cent), nickels (five cents), dimes (10 cents) and quarters (25 cents). Give your child a pile of coins and ask them to put each coin in the correct section.
“What’s great about this activity is that while it’s simple, it starts introducing the name and value of coins and money to children at a young age,” explains BECU Financial Educator Stacey Black. “For kids in early elementary school, you can also use coins to solve simple math equations. For example, ask them to use coins to total 36 cents and so forth.”
Set up a three-jar system: Get your kids thinking about three crucial aspects of managing finances: saving, spending and even donating. Label three clear jars as “spend,” “save” and “donate.”
“When your child receives extra money from birthdays or even the tooth fairy, let them decide where it goes,” suggests Black. For example, they can decide to save it to buy something special down the road, or opt to donate the money to a nonprofit. “This activity allows them to feel invested in where their money is going,” explains Black.
Play money-themed games: Games are a time-tested way of engaging with kids and many games already incorporate money themes, so this is a natural fit when it comes to financial education. Look for junior versions of board games and online modules that focus on teaching children important financial skills like buying real estate or building up a savings account.
“It’s also a fun, interactive way to engage your kids in learning about the four financial health pillars: save, spend, borrow and plan,” says Black.
Watch money videos: There are a number of popular online videos that focus on teaching kids about money. “Not only are these interactive, but usually they are short and less than 10 minutes,” explains Black. “Put one on during a short car ride or conference call to help them stay entertained while learning at the same time.”
Post-it notes: This activity works by writing down chores on Post-it notes that you’d like your child to complete (and placing them in a well-visited spot in the house, like the fridge) and then assigning a dollar amount to each. For example, taking out the trash may earn $2 while washing the windows may receive $5. “By offering a variety of chores with different dollar amounts, your child is able to make choices based on the funds they need to reach their personal financial goals. This also teaches them the value of working hard for their money,” explains Black.
Older kids and teens
Shopping experience: Task your teenager with choosing a dinner recipe to feed the entire family. Provide them with a budget of $20 so they can purchase ingredients either at the grocery store or online. Black suggests encouraging your teen to look for coupons ahead of time — they can make a big difference!
As you guide them through the process, discuss the price of each item and add up the cost as you go. Black recommends reviewing the choices and trade-offs your teen makes along the way. Ask them to consider several things: Is there another brand that’s on sale or available for a lower price? Is there an option to swap out an expensive ingredient for one that’s less pricey? It’s a simple budgeting exercise, but it could help your teen get in the habit of planning ahead and looking for lower-priced items rather than grabbing the first product they spot.
Review credit card offers: It’s all too easy to find yourself in a mountain of credit card debt — especially if you get your first credit card and use it freely without taking into account possible interest fees.
Before your teenager gets their first credit card, make sure they’re educated about the risks that come along with using it too frequently. Collect all the credit card offers you receive in the mail and review them together, taking interest rates, annual fees and any perks into consideration. Have a discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of each offer as well.
Set goals: Ask your teen to write down their short- and long-term personal and financial goals. For example, what’s their dream job? Where do they hope to live? What type of lifestyle do they envision for themselves? Together, do some research about the average income for their dream job and compare it to the costs of the lifestyle they want. Some things to consider are necessities like groceries and average rent or home prices in their location of choice.
“If a family is part of the plan, research average child care costs, too. Support them in their goals and reinforce the important role that finances play,” suggests Black.
Understand loans: Before your teenager reaches the point of taking out loans, do a trial run at home to help them understand how loans work and the consequences of not paying them back on time.
“For example, let’s say your child asks to borrow $50 for gas and promises to pay you back. Set a deadline for when the money is due and if it’s not made on time, add interest each week that it’s late,” says Black. She notes that this is a great lesson for your teen to learn before they potentially take out student loans and car loans in the future.
Lead by example
Activities and conversations about money management are important, but it’s also necessary to lead by example and practice what you preach.
“Remember, your child watches every move you make — even with money!” says Black. “They’re likely to develop saving and spending habits based on your behavior, so try to demonstrate healthy financial habits from the beginning to ensure you’re setting them up for a life of financial security and freedom.”
Black recommends shopping with cash from time to time “so your child can see that money is a physical thing, not just a bottomless pit on your credit card.” This practice will also help them understand the importance of budgeting while shopping and only purchasing what you can afford.
Also, remember that your child will inevitably make money mistakes at some point — it’s part of life. Rather than jumping in to save the day, Black recommends using this as an opportunity to walk them through the situation, explain what went wrong, and discuss how they can do things differently in the future.
“Although this can be difficult as parents, letting your children make money mistakes will ultimately help them build financial responsibility along the way,” explains Black. “Making small mistakes while they’re still living at home, such as missing a cellphone payment, are easier lessons to learn in a safer environment.”
As a member-owned credit union, BECU is focused on helping increase the financial well-being of its members and communities by returning profits in the form of better rates, fewer fees, community partnerships and financial education. BECU is federally insured by NCUA.