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Teaching kids about money is difficult for parents.

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It’s hard to teach financial literacy to your kids when you don’t know much yourself.

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Parents dread teaching their kids about money so much that most wait 15 years to start doing it.

That’s coming from a T. Rowe Price study [1]. But when they do talk about it, it’s not very effective. When they try, parents stick to surface-level topics like budgeting and saving — which could be hurting their kids’ knowledge in the long run.

On an exam that measures students around the world in mathematics, science, and financial literacy, almost 22 percent of 15-year-olds from the U.S. scored below a passing grade, says the National Center for Educational Statistics [2].

Here’s what parents are getting wrong, and how they can fix it…

Parents can teach the basics but not much else

Many parents are fine with teaching their kids about saving money, but the buck literally stops there.

When it comes to specific personal finance lessons, like saving for retirement, investing, and credit history, parents aren’t as helpful to their children, according to a survey from U.S. Bank [3]. It turns out parents may be misinformed about some finance topics and can’t accurately teach their children about them.

“Talking to teens about money should be as routine as brushing your teeth or grocery shopping,” says Robyn Gilson, U.S. Bank Coach for Student Financial Education. “They need to be confident about credit and planning for the future, otherwise the impact is costly.”

According to the survey, 77 percent of parents talk to their kids about saving money in general, and more than half talk about budgeting and building/maintaining credit. But only 30 percent of parents talk about investing money, while 32 percent educate kids about saving money for retirement.

That could be because parents themselves don’t understand personal finance well. Fifty-one percent of parents think the amount of money you have in the bank affects your credit score, while 52 percent believe checks and debit cards help build credit. Neither is true.

Parents wait too long to start teaching kids about money

It’s easy to judge the stubbornness of a person by how long they avoid having hard conversations with their family. Twenty-five percent of parents are just fine waiting out having important financial conversations until “their age or health becomes an issue,” according to a study from TIAA, an insurance service company [4]. Further, 20 percent are cool with not having the conversation at all.

Most parents (67 percent) think that their 5- to 8-year olds should be learning about money, says a Junior Achievement USA survey [5]. But their habits say otherwise — again most don’t teach them about finances until they’re at least 15, says T. Rowe Price [6].

It’s not much of a surprise that parents are just barely more interested in talking to their kids about finances than sex. To parents, it’s a question of “what’s worse?” more than “what’s necessary?” What’s necessary, though, is for parents to teach their kids about money.

However, due to their own financial ignorance, parents often can’t do this. Sure, budgeting and saving are easy for some, but investing and saving is tough for many parents. This leaves kids — grown or not — with the belief that when it comes to money, everything is fine! Nothing to see here! In reality, parents are just hiding their ignorance.


Playing the blame game

An overwhelming 92 percent of all parents think it’s crucial to include their kids in financial discussions on their loans, says a Discover survey [7]. But parents run into problems when they try to “fake it until they make it” with money knowledge.

The U.S. Bank study found 77 percent of parents talk about saving money in general and more than half talk about building and maintaining credit. At the same time, 51 percent of parents think the money in your savings affects your credit score, and 52 percent think debit cards and checks help your credit score — both of which are false. A lack of knowledge leads to parents teaching their bad habits to kids.

But it’s not all bad. Ninety percent of kids and parents want some type of high school graduation requirement tied to financial literacy, a study from Next Gen Personal Finance says [8]. If you can’t teach, get someone else to do it for you.

The sandwich generation is financing their adult children

Many young adults don’t have a clue of what goes into budgeting, and that could be because their parents never let them in on household finances. The U.S. Bank survey says 56 percent of parents of 18-24-year-olds had little to no involvement in family finances. It’s no wonder they don’t understand what to do with money once they leave the nest.

“It seems when parents simply talk with their children about money, valuable lessons are imparted,” says Debt.com Chairman Howard Dvorkin. “When parents give money to their children, excellent habits ensue.”

The number one problem parents have with how young people think of money is that there is too much reliance on mom and dad. Parents are also concerned that their adult children don’t care about long-term goals or understand how important saving for retirement is.

Parents who are supporting their adult children also face the challenges of supporting their aging parents. Pew says almost half of adults in their 40s and 50s are financially supporting a parent 65 or older while also financially supporting a grown child [9].

How to teach kids about money at any age

Educating children about money should start early — even as young as two years old. Good financial habits will help them throughout their lifetime if you do a good job.

There are budgeting games, apps, and fun money lessons all over the internet. Let them watch you and ask any question they have about how things work. It may seem tedious or annoying but they’re actually happy to learn.

For young ones, make it fun. Kids 2-5 years old can learn addition and subtraction while counting money. For bigger kids, 6-10 years old, show them how to set up a savings account and budget an allowance. Expose them to what you do when you get paid and where your money goes.

For pre-teens, introduce how to get an income, like earning money for chores or babysitting for neighbors. For teens, it’s important to talk about the cost of college and how student loans work. You may not want to think about getting them a credit card yet, but show them how credit scores work and what goes into a good credit history.

No matter what age your child is at, don’t hide financial information from them. Show them how a dollar is earned and what it means when it is spent or saved.

To find out more about properly teaching your kids financial literacy, visit Debt.com’s How to Teach Kids About Money Guide.

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Meet the Author

Dori Zinn

Dori Zinn

Writer

Zinn is a freelance journalist based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

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