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Learning early to be money smart

Your Money

August 29, 2004|By Rhasheema A. Sweeting

Parents and educators agree that financial education starts at home, but for parents who never were taught money skills, the prospect of teaching kids can be overwhelming.

M-tPeople are wrestling with how to make it happen,M-v said Susan Beacham, founder of Illinois-based Money Savvy Generation, an organization that offers resources to parents and students. M-tWhatM-Fs that first line? What do I say? People still donM-Ft feel comfortable talking about money.M-v

And many agree that the sooner parents start, the better.

More than 70 percent of parents believe financial education should start no later than first grade, according to a survey conducted by Northwestern Mutual, a Milwaukee-based life insurance company.

M-tI would encourage starting earlier than you even thought you would,M-v said Beacham, adding that although there are no hard and fast rules, parents first should determine the maturity of their child.

Observers say teaching them at a young age means that as young adults they will make fewer financial blunders, such as piling up credit-card debt.

M-tIf you start young enough, you give them a chance to build the right foundation,M-v Beacham said. M-tThey will grab that and run with it and create a generation of children who will think in terms of choice.M-v

Young children: Basics on buying, earning

M-tWith the preschool group, itM-Fs important for parents to be good role models so they get the concept early on,M-v said Nan Mead, director of communications for the National Endowment for Financial Education. M-tItM-Fs a good idea to just start talking about money.M-v

For children ages 5 to 7, start with an allowance and how the kids will use it.

M-tItM-Fs important to talk to them about distinguishing between wants and needs,M-v Mead said.

The McMullins of Farmington, Utah, said they started teaching money concepts to their three children, Jill, 23; Jeff, 21; and Katie, 14, around age 4.

M-tAs they were growing up, we encouraged work,M-v said Karen McMullin. M-tThey were not given an allowance simply for existing.M-v

In addition to doing laundry, mowing lawns and delivering newspapers, every summer the kids looked forward to making extra money selling lemonade and snow cones from a stand in front of their home.

M-tIt made them cautious of asking us for money,M-v she said.

Preteens: Time to learn budgeting, spending

Nan Mead said grade school is a dangerous time for kids because they become vulnerable to peer pressure to have what other kids have.

M-tItM-Fs a good time to talk to them about making good spending decisions,M-v said Mead, who suggests preparing a budget.

Wendelyn Walberg of Denver has given her three children $1 in weekly allowance for each year of age and encouraged them to start savings accounts.

M-tEven though youM-Fre going to buy them things like school supplies and clothes, give them a budget to buy what they want,M-v said Walberg, adding that this method creates a system with potential for self-enforcement. All her children are in the habit of putting some money away in a savings account.

When Sue Larkin, a mother of three, first tried to locate resources to help her kids learn about money, she struck out.

M-tFinding the right tools seven years ago was hard,M-v said Larkin, who lives in Bainbridge Island, Wash. M-tThere was really literally nothing.M-v

But now, Larkin said, there are resources everywhere, including banks and credit unions as well as books and Web sites.

An accountant who also teaches a before-school supplemental class about money for second-and third-graders, Larkin gives each of her children a $30 allowance every month for clothing.

M-tThey have to work throughout the year to figure out what clothes theyM-Fre going to buy,M-v she said. While itM-Fs important to teach kids about earning money, Larkin said, they also must learn how to manage it.

M-tTheyM-Fre learning about delayed gratification.M-v

Teenagers: Big-ticket planning

M-tKids have money, but at the same time theyM-Fre being barraged with opportunities to spend it,M-v said Philip Heckman, director of youth programs at the Credit Union National Association. M-tIf weM-Fre not careful, children will develop lopsided attitudes about what money is for.M-v

High school is a good time to start teaching youngsters about investing and opening Roth IRA and savings accounts, said Nan Mead. ItM-Fs also a good time to start saving for bigger-ticket items, such as proms, a car, college and clothes.

Micah Till, 18, of Pasco, Wash., started learning about saving at an early age with a piggy bank, and said she notices that she is better at handling money than her peers. M-tIM-Fm a lot more frugal,M-v she said. M-tI like to put money away.M-v

Till, who has money saved to start college this fall, said most of her learning took place outside the classroom.

M-tIn high school we had this consumer tech class where the teacher was so boring that most students would just fall asleep.M-v

Till recommends that kids learn as much as they can as early as possible. M-tThe more you know, the more power you have at your fingertips.M-v

Rhasheema A. Sweeting is a staff writer for the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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