In a perfect world, parents and educators (not to mention society itself) would work hard to make sure that our children are financially literate.
In that utopian ideal, money skills would be considered just as important as reading, writing, and arithmetic, infants would cut their teeth on money books, and not knowing how to budget would have the same stigma as being illiterate.
Unfortunately, the real world simply doesn’t work like that.
Society encourages debt rather than budgeting, and who wants to have to work on paying off debt with high interest when you don’t have to, schools barely touch on financial skills, if they cover them at all, and parents who never learned money skills themselves don’t even know that they need to teach their children this stuff.
I know that I wasn’t taught this stuff in school. Were you?
It’s up to individuals to recognize that their skills are lacking before they can even start to fill the gaps.
Parents ought to start helping their young children to learn basic money skills, even if they themselves never learned them.
Table of Contents
Here are four of the most basic practical money skills that everyone should have and how to teach them to your children (you can also check out some great tips on how to make a lot of money fast to help start saving for all the expenses that come along with this little army you have created!)
1. How to Make Change
Several years ago, I was buying lunch at a fast food restaurant when the bill came to $12.65. I handed the cashier a twenty and then realized I probably had some change in my pocket. She had already entered the bill tendered amount in her cash register when I handed her the change. She looked from the twenty to the change and then handed me back my 65¢ as she started putting together my $7.35 in change. “I just can’t do the math,” she said.
Unfortunately, these sorts of moments are all too common. Calculators and cash registers that do the math for you, along with our society becoming more cashless, have brought about a generation who can’t make change.
The problem with an inability to make change is that it represents an issue of innumeracy (the mathematical equivalent of illiteracy). Individuals who cannot easily subtract 12 from 20 in their heads are vulnerable to scams, unscrupulous people, and their own mathematical mistakes. Feeling comfortable adding and subtracting money is the very first skill necessary for financial literacy.
How to teach this skill: There are plenty of children’s toys and games created for the purpose of learning how to make change. You can practice these with your children in order to introduce the concept of denominations of money as well as methods for making change and double-checking your mental math.
2. How to Balance a Checkbook
I once worked with a woman who did not keep a check register.
Every day, she would call her bank to check her balance. (This was in the bad old days before every bank was online).
If she found out she had money in her account, she’d feel free to spend it, even though she knew she had checks and other charges that had not yet cleared.
In short, she spent all of her money at least twice because she didn’t keep track of her account.
This was a particularly irresponsible example of not keeping tabs on a checking account, but I’ve met more than my share of individuals whose idea of balancing a checkbook was to subtract $100 from the balance the bank stated they had—just to cover for uncleared charges—and assume that they were good.
But not staying on top of your checking account is an excellent way to overdraw it, as my co-worker seemed to do on a bi-weekly basis. In addition, it’s impossible to track and plan for spending if you never write down your credits and expenses, much less balance your checkbook.
Finally, even though the bank is generally going to make fewer mistakes than you will, it doesn’t mean a bank error is impossible. If you never balance your checkbook, you won’t ever pick up on their mistakes.
How to teach this skill:
When your children have learned how to do multi-digit addition and subtraction (around 3rd or 4th grade), ask them to help you with both recording your deposits and purchases and adding and subtracting them. As they get older, include them in your checkbook balancing, showing them what bank statements (either paper or digital) look like and how to use them in order to balance your checkbook.
3. How to Pay Bills
For most people, the problem with this particular skill is that you know nothing about it until you are out on your own and have to pay bills for the first time. The skill of bill paying is really all about the organization: you need to be able to keep track of the bills as they come in, know exactly when you have to pay them in order to avoid late fees or delinquencies, and keep records of what you’ve paid. That kind of organization can be a struggle even for an otherwise financially savvy new billpayer.
Of course, the biggest aspect of bill paying has to do with making sure you have enough money to pay them each month. For those who are just thrown into the adult world of paying bills, avoiding spending temptations to make sure that the bills get paid can be tough. Young adults often learn the hard way that they need to hold onto their paychecks rather than blow them every weekend.
How to teach this skill:
By including your children in the bill-paying habit, they’ll get a chance to learn this skill and practice it before it can actually impact their finances and credit.
4. How to Create a Budget
Knowing how to budget your income is clearly an important skill that many of us are lacking. However, it is not exactly like the other three skills in this list in that it is much harder to teach and master. Budgeting requires tracking your expenditures, setting goals, planning your finances, and disciplining yourself to stay on target. This is in no way a simple process and even veteran budgeters may find that they have to revisit their budgeting strategy over and over again to find what will work for them.
How to teach this skill:
The real skill in budgeting is learning how to adapt to changing finances, whereas the rest of these skills are fairly static. So if you show your children how you keep track of your expenses, make plans for future expenses, keep needs clear from wants, and roll with the unexpected financial punches, they’ll have a good sense of what they will need to do in their own homes one day.
In addition, having them practice budgeting on a small scale with allowance money will give them great opportunities to prepare for bigger budget challenges.
Final Thoughts – Practical Money Skills are a Must
Managing money is just as important a life skill as learning table manners or being able to read.
But often, parents are uncomfortable with money themselves, and so they don’t teach their children these skills.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
Help prepare your children for their future by making money skills something you teach at home. You’d hate for them to learn about money on the street or on television, right? Allowance money will give them great opportunities to prepare for bigger budget challenges.