Sunday, August 15, 2010

Atonement - How to Keep Your Kids from Making the Same Mistakes You Made

Can you atone for the financial mistakes you made and keep your kids from making the same errors? This week in national media, I'm talking about how to help your kids make right financial choices. Here's my main talking points.

Statistics indicate that the majority of high school graduates cannot pass a basic financial literacy test and end up accruing $3800 in consumer debt in college. In fact, a 2010 American Express survey of parents with children between the ages 6-16 revealed that:

• 71% of parents say their children understand we are in a recession.
• 91% of parents say they are committed to instilling lessons of financial responsibility upon their children, with 62% giving their children a weekly allowance.
• One in five children (20%) has indicated to a parent that "maybe we shouldn't buy that due to the recession."

Q. Ellie, in a day where foreclosures abound and consumer debt is at an all time high, there are many parents who are watching who want to help their kids avoid the mistakes they made. Have you ever made any financial mistakes?

ELLIE: Yes, I’ve “been there/done that” and have the t-shirt to prove it. Our family had 40K in credit card debt when we were first married even though my husband had a good job. There were a couple of weeks when we didn’t have money for groceries, things were so bad. We were able to change our ways and became financially healthy and we don’t want our kids to make the same errors we did.

Q. Why do parents need to take responsibility for teaching our kids good money management, aren’t there new financial literacy programs, such as Jumpstart, that are making a difference?

ELLIE: I’ve spoken at Jumpstart conventions and they are a fantastic organization, but these programs aren’t available in every school and it’s up to parents to take that responsibility. In fact, I think that one of the greatest things we can do for our kids is to teach them about money management, something they don’t learn in the classroom. Since the number one reason cited in divorce is “arguments over money” teaching our kids to be financially literate can even help them in their future relationships.

If they don’t have to worry about debt, they know how to manage a budget and they learn smart ways to save money, then we’ve given them the best gift possible. We all know that kids learn most about how to manage money from their parents. And parents have a huge opportunity to teach kids healthy money management habits at an early age so they don’t make the same mistakes we made.

Q. What are your favorite ways to give your kids financial responsibilities without losing control?

ELLIE: There are several options out there for parents looking to stay in control of family spending while still extending financial empowerment to their teens and young adults. One of the things we’ve done is to teach our kids from a young age that if they “borrow” money from us, they pay it back at their next allowance, thus developing the habit of not carrying a balance from month to month. This concept is most closely identified with the Charge Cards that we have with American Express. In my work with their consumer education area, I decided to add additional cards with custom limits to our own account that is in the children’s name so we can teach them about the smart use of plastic and they can never spend more than the limits we’ve placed on the card. One of the reasons I believe in a charge card is that you have to pay it off at the end of each month. These cards are on the parents' account, not the teens, but we can go online and see how they spend the money and we can also set limits for each additional card. Once they turn 18, these cards, while still under our account, can be also used to develop our child’s FICO score.

Q. What are some of your favorite money management tactics?

ELLIE: One of my favorite money management tactics is to teach kids the art of managing an allowance. By getting an allowance, kids learn to manage their own money while they are still in our house and have the freedom to fail under our safety net. We teach them to give, save and spend smart. We’ve also used the tactic of a “Fun Kid Budget” where we set aside a certain amount for trips to the movies, zoo or an amusement park. They manage the money we’ve given them for the fun outing and the key is: they get to keep what they don’t spend. As they get older and become teens, their budgets expand to include a school supply budget, clothing allowance and a gasoline budget. A great option is to put their designated amount on a American Express PASS , which is a prepaid, reloadable card that once again, we control. That way, we don’t have to worry about them taking cash to the mall or using our debit card and the funds can be replaced if the card is lost or stolen. It’s like driver’s ed for the teen’s wallet but parents are in the driver’s seat.

Q. You have a “Family 401(k)” how does that work and what age do you start this kind of savings program with your children?

ELLIE: A “Family 401(k)” is a program where our kids have to earn half of the money for a large ticket item that they want such as a bike, videogame, roller blades, skateboards, etc. It may take months for them to earn their half, but once they’ve earned it and purchased the item, they take far better care of it than if we just bought it for them outright. They worked hard to earn their half so they’re going to make sure that videogame doesn’t get scratched and that they don’t leave their bike out in the rain. They can start this program as young as 6 or 7, depending upon the maturity of the child and their math skills. I remember our daughter, Bethany, saving for 8 months to get an American Girl doll, she was only seven years old but she was so proud of it and took such good care of it that it’s still in good shape and she’s now 20 years old!

Q. How can activities like back to school shopping help parents teach kids about money management?

ELLIE: A recent survey that examines consumer back to school spending intentions, notes that 39 percent of Americans plan to spend more on back to school shopping this year than in 2009, yet the majority (63%) say they will have a set budget and virtually all parents (94%) say they will look for ways to be resourceful and stretch their dollars.

I come alongside my kids and teach them how to compare prices, recognize quality and shop the sales, even using a coupon on some of these items. For our teens, we let them use our smartphone while in the mall to local coupons and the best deals that are accessed on the phone and used at the register. For example, will list coupon codes and special deals. The fact that we’re using their “language” which is technology drives the financial lesson home in an upbeat and lasting way.

One of the other things we do is to teach them that “we pay for the item but you pay for the brand.” So if my son wants the latest Air Jordans, then we tell him we’ll pay $50 for the tennis shoes and he pays the additional $70 (for a total of $120) for the brand. It makes them realize what’s a need and what’s a splurge, then they can decide if it’s worth it to spend their own hard earned money on a brand.

If we can help our kids do better, then you can, too!

Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)

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