Set stage for kids to have healthy financial habits as adults
hen we think of all that we want for our children, for them to be successful, to do well in school or to just be happy, it can feel lofty and even daunting. But there are plenty of practical, everyday things we can do to help them thrive in simple, but powerful ways.
Teaching them how to be good with money is just one. Instilling in them solid financial habits is a gift that keeps on giving. It’s often not prioritized and sometimes it’s even overlooked by parents, but it’s vital and I’ve found some ways to make it an easy add-on.
We try to teach our kids to be polite, kind and respectful. We want them to exhibit good manners and develop habits of punctuality and hard work.
Their mindset toward money is a habit too, one that can lead to always having enough money on hand to face minor or major emergencies and to have a comfortable retirement down the road. The problem with developing bad habits with money is that they are quieter and more insidious than your average, daily bad habit.
Investment superstar Warren Buffett is a fan of a quote that he’s adapted and used in speeches: Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken. You can have any habits, any patterns of behavior that you wish. It’s a matter of what you decide.
So step one is to view money management as a habit that needs to be built, early. I know it’s hard to prioritize when you’re still trying to teach the importance of not waiting until the last possible minute for every homework assignment to be done. But remember, this is a gift that keeps on giving.
Start small. First, teach the basics and secure little victories. Our 16year-old daughter had her own savings account and credit card pretty
early on and is set up to talk to our financial adviser when she is ready. She recently got her first paycheck for a part-time job and is learning about taxes.
Money lessons start with basic choices. If you buy this now, you won’t have enough to buy that later.
Buffett, who clearly has a lot to teach adults and children, believes the key is to start with a small habit, a series of consistent choices, and keep at it until the impact becomes noticeable and it becomes a part of your life.
How is it that child A was able to save up enough to buy her own car in high school while child B can’t swing that? It can start with simple things, such as choosing not to buy a toy or video game or earrings and saving the money instead.
It also means saying no when your kid wants you to buy something for him or her. Explain the difference between needs and wants.
Teach them how money can be earned. They will learn about the value of money and how earning it leads to self-sufficiency, independence and resourcefulness.
“Don’t save what’s left after spending; spend what’s left after saving.”
This is a quote from Buffett, one that speaks to the need to save from the top, or to set aside a percentage that comes out of your paycheck and goes into savings (before you buy a single thing).
Show your kids how to be smart by talking about having a small goal of saving, say, 2 percent of every paycheck, develop a budget that tracks every cent spent, make little choices and keep adding to them to get to 5 percent saved a month, or more.
Of course, this requires living within your means, at a level that’s comfortable but that challenges the definition of what’s really needed to be comfortable.
Let your kids see you role-modeling this, calling it out when you’re choosing a cheaper alternative or are choosing to not buy something. Let them know you’re setting aside money each month for an emergency fund or to add to your retirement nest egg.
From day one, teach the difference between bad debt and good debt.
You can never start too early here because you can quickly get too far behind. Your child might soon be taking out student loans or maybe a business loan to get his or her budding business idea off the ground.
While Buffett says no debt is always preferred, at least loans like this are investments in the future, as opposed to maxed-out credit cards or cash advances.
Sit down with your child to make sure he or she understands the difference to help prevent making a bad first move that soon becomes an albatross.
So while you’re working on helping to form all those other good habits in your kids, don’t forget the one that will pay dividends someday.
Scott Mautz is the CEO of Profound Performance and an adjunct professor at Indiana University.