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Help Your Children Manage Their Own Money

Black Belt Shopper (featured column)
by Larry Wiener

If you are a parent, take some time and find those teachable moments to help your children learn about money management.

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She came home proudly from kindergarten one day announcing to her parents that she had won an academic achievement award. She didn’t exactly know what that was, but she did know that it meant a trip to the 99 Cent Store where she would find a toy or some other treat.

Her parents are determined as she grows up to teach her thrift and to manage her money sensibly.

Her son was planning a wedding that would blow anyone’s budget. Then, as her son and his bride were discussing setting up their home, they announce that they needed a particular kind of refrigerator that cost almost twice as much as the average refrigerator. Mom took on an extra duty assignment at work to help them pay for it.

These are both true stories. If you are like me, you applaud the first and cringe at the second. If you understand the benefit of thrift and sensible money management, you no doubt want to impart those values and skills to your own children. These days it is even more important that you do so since the media are so savvy about "teaching" your children to spend and spend and spend.

Here are a few tips:

Help Your Children Manage Their Own Money

If your child gets an allowance or frequently gets gift money, talking with your child about making the best use of it can be very helpful.

Let’s say that your child wants a scooter as so many do now and is going to use his/her own money to buy one. You can go help your child comparison shop by going through the ads, visiting different stores, and even looking through the classifieds to see if there is a good used scooter out there.

Don’t feel that you have to limit this involvement to major purchases. You can help your teenage child see that if (s)he goes to movies, (s)he can go to bargain matinees and arrive already fed so (s)he doesn’t so crave the overpriced snacks they have in the theater.

Let Your Child Participate in Your Own Budgeting

If, for example, you use grocery coupons, you can show your child how your system works. If you are about to make a larger purchase that involves comparison shopping, you can involve your child in the research and decision-making. Do this consistently and your child will begin to learn these skills.

Prepare Your Child for the Media Onslaught

They’re out there everywhere, those ads that say, "spend, spend, spend."

Who can forget those ever-present ads that end with "For everything else there’s MasterCard?" Many children and teenagers learn their financial habits by default from those commercials.

A little time watching and analyzing the commercials with your children can be time well-spent. Even though your child may not relate to the MasterCard commercial, you can find commercials out there that encourage children to spend (or ask you to spend) money frivolously. Certainly a number of cereal ads or toy store ads fit the bill there.

Spend time going over these ads with your child.

Give Your Child Wise Purchase Money

One budget-conscious friend of mine cringed when her teenage daughter wanted a $50 t-shirt from one particularly high-end national chain. She figured it was Christmas, so why not and sometimes that’s okay.

Sometimes when your teenage or adult children hit you up for money for pure extravagance as the couple wanting the refrigerator did, it may be wise to use the occasion as a teachable moment and give, instead, a wise purchase fund.

Take the couple with the refrigerator. Maybe instead of fronting the money for the overpriced refrigerator, offer to buy a more average-priced refrigerator and then offer several hundred dollars of wise purchase money.

The parents (who happen to be very thrifty themselves) could sit down with the couple and show them how to get good quality furnishings at reasonable prices and offer to give toward some wise purchases. They could search together, for example, through the classified ads to see if there is some good quality used furniture from a family moving across the country. They could search the online auctions for accessories.

The mother with the daughter wanting the $50 t-shirt could offer a gift certificate to an upscale closeout store such as Ross’ or Marshall’s.

Suggesting that your child do without all extravagances also is, of course, an imbalance to be avoided. But if your older child has become jaded, offering wise purchase money and combining that gift with gifts of time on how to make wise purchases can be very productive.

These tips represent only a few of the many tools you can use to help your children learn about wise purchasing. Whatever you do though, if you are a parent, take some time and find those teachable moments to help your children learn about money management before the cereal manufacturers, toy stores, and later credit card companies get to them.

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Copyright © 2001 by Larry Wiener. All rights reserved.

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