High debt levels ... lack of savings ... the inability to budget – these problems all have several causes, but one of them is almost certainly financial illiteracy. Too many of us just never developed the money management skills necessary to cope with our complicated – and expensive – world.
But if you have young children, you can teach them some money-smart lessons – and who knows? You could use the opportunity to give yourself a few valuable reminders, too. Here are some suggestions for a financial "curriculum":
•Save for a goal. In our highly commercialized culture, it's almost inevitable that your children will eventually become somewhat acquisitive. Obviously, it's important to teach them that they can't have everything – and they certainly can't have everything right now. So, once they are old enough to receive an allowance or to earn money in some fashion, encourage them to set a goal for something they want, such as a toy or video game, and to put money aside every week for that goal. It's also an excellent idea to model this behavior yourself. So if you are considering making a major purchase in the not-too-distant future, such as a car, show your children how you are setting aside money regularly for this purpose, rather than borrowing as much as you can or putting the entire purchase on a credit card.
•Establish a budget. It can be challenging to create a household budget and just as difficult to stick to it – but for most people, it's worth the effort. You'll be doing your children a favor by showing them how you have a certain amount of income and where it goes – mortgage, utilities, groceries, retirement accounts, etc. – each month. Explain to your kids that by staying within your budget, you can help avoid problems such as debt and extra fees tacked onto bills for late payments. You might also want to point out that, as your income rises, you can gain greater flexibility in budgeting. Here's the key point: Living within your means pays off in the long run.
•Have fun with investing. It might surprise you, but even young children enjoy learning about the investment process, especially if you explain to them that they can be an owner of a company that makes a product or service they like.
You might want to pick such a company and, along with your child, chart its course over time. You could give your child a pretend $100 bill to "invest" in this company and then see how its value changes, explaining along the way that various factors – such as the popularity of the company's products, the skill of its managers, and so on – will affect the stock's price.
At some point, you may even wish to purchase real stocks for your child and place them in a custodial account. And you might also want to show your child how your own stocks and other investments are performing. The investment world can be fascinating, and by sharing your enthusiasm for it with your children, you can encourage them to invest throughout their lives.
Knowledge is power. And the more knowledge about finances and investing that you can impart to your children now, the more empowered they will be to make smart financial moves in the future.
Edward Jones wrote this article for use by your local Edward Jones Financial Advisor.