Give children an allowance and let them know what they have to pay for out of their own stash—whether it's the ice cream truck, the goodies in the $1 aisle at the discount store or that Scholastic book order form that comes home from school. This reduces nagging, allows them to develop math skills and learn from their mistakes. It's amazing to see how much more they value the things they paid for themselves.
Don't miss opportunities to discuss simple economics in every day settings. While grocery shopping, explain why it's smarter to choose the package that costs less per pound, or the more affordable generic brand; and why it makes sense to stock up when an item is on sale. Explain why savvy savings habits make sense: "By saving just $15 a week using the grocery store's loyalty cards and coupons, we'll have almost $800 at the end of the year to spend on something fun."
Solid money management comes down to two things, planning ahead and making choices. If you're planning a vacation, talk to the kids about the budget: airfare, lodging and entertainment. Take a coffee can and label it the "Vacation Fund" and throw in your loose change at the end of the day. Take the coins to the bank and show the kids how the money is adding up; and how the bank will pay you interest for storing the cash in a savings account. Give them a specific budget for souvenirs—say $15—and suggest they increase it by earning cash for the trip through lemonade stands, dog sitting or lawn mowing.
If your kids put money in the bank, match their contributions. I took my kids to our local bank branch when they were 8, 6 and 4 and opened savings accounts for all of them. I matched the money they deposited, using the opportunity to discuss how a 401(k) plan works and why someone should contribute up to the amount of the company match (free money!).
According to a study by Nellie Mae, the student loan firm, the average college freshman has $1,500 in credit card debt, and that figure doubles by the time they graduate. Some 56 percent of college seniors carry four or more credit cards. That's when the real trouble starts, because if teens lose the battle to understand and manage credit cards at 18, the damage can haunt them for years. An estimated 70 percent of employers check credit scores before they hire. Over time, a low credit score will suck tens of thousands of dollars out of your child's pocket when they seek financing for an auto or a home. Consider allowing a teen to practice with a pre-paid, reloadable debit card such as Visa Buxx. It has fewer fees than competing cards and features parental controls—such as setting a weekly cash limit. Parents can also get email alerts showing when and where a teen used the card, setting the stage for discussions about wise spending.