You don’t want your teen to learn the hard way that racking up credit card debt at 18 will be an albatross around their neck for decades. But as anyone who has teenagers in their home can attest, corralling them into the “perfect moment” may be a challenge.
So when is the best time to approach a teenager about financial literacy? The best time to talk to your teenager about money is anytime you’re together.
That’s why I recommend starting the conversation about money the first time Grandma hands your child a dollar bill. Early talks should be simple. If your child has a sweet tooth, they’re probably ready to take that money to the nearest store to exchange it for the biggest piece of chocolate it will buy. Explain to them though, that the candy only lasts a few minutes. If they save the dollar, they’ll have the money for a long time. They may even be able to save up enough to buy more chocolate later.
Another example could involve your child landing their first job and being introduced to the time-honoured tradition of experiencing shock at taxes being subtracted from their wages; also an excellent springboard for a conversation about income taxes. While you’re at it, show them how to set up a direct deposit system that automatically puts money into a savings account. If they start the habit of saving now, they are more likely to continue the habit throughout their life.
I believe a first job is an opportune moment to talk about financial goals. For a younger teen, talk about more immediate goals that reverberate personally with them. Do they enjoy going to summer camp every year? This year, consider offering to pay half the camp fees if they can save up the other half. For an older teen, it’s time to talk about the cost of educational goals beyond high school, including tuition fees, and living expenses on campus or with roommates.
If you miss one of those natural opportunities, don’t despair. Instead, ask your teen to join you while calculating the household bills. Explain to them the reality of late fees and fines for missed payments. Talk about your household budget and how you save money from each paycheck for long-term goals and to keep a roof over their heads.
A conversation about household goals can organically transition into discussing your teen’s goals paired with the value of a dollar. In their world, that may translate into a basic understanding that a night of babysitting buys them a new make-up kit, but it can also encourage a great work ethic and the knowledge that hard work pays off.
No matter how you start the conversation, remember that money is a complex topic even for adults. Aside from the practical concerns, money conjures up powerful emotions. Don’t expect to teach your teen everything they need to know in one or two conversations. Instead, think of each conversation as building on the last one.
Some key points you’ll want to be sure you cover include:
- Teach your kids the importance of consciously deciding how to save and spend their money. A budget can help them be sure they are working toward specific goals and saving for the future. Remember the classic 50-30-20 rule. As soon as your teen gets paid, she should put 20% into savings. After that, she can spend about 50% on her needs and 30% on the things she wants. Work together to decide what’s a need and what’s a want.
- Credit Cards
- I promise the credit card companies have made sure your teen knows that credit cards are an easy way to quickly buy the things he wants. The ads are effective at blurring the lines between wants and needs. If you decide it’s time for your teen to wield a credit card, then it’s also your job to explain how dangerous it is to pay only the minimum balance each month. Teach your kids to pay the balance off each month now to avoid trouble later.
Remember, your kids will one day be adults. When they were toddlers, they eventually learned to walk and go to the potty with your encouragement. Now as teenagers, your job as a responsible parent is to prepare them to fly. No one flies very far, weighed down by debt from poor financial decisions. Follow these steps to help your kids make the leap to adulthood with a clear runway and a world full of possibilities.