Teach Your Children Well

Sharing the following article originally posted in Financial Advisor. The financial balancing act and sacrifices parents are willing to make for their children are great, but often they do not realize the trickle down impact this has on their own retirement security. As the author points out, the best way to ensure that your children won’t become a burden to your future retirement plans are to raise them to be financially independent. Here the author shares some excellent tips on how to teach children fiscal responsibility…


By Greg Powell

When it comes to retirement planning, most parents fail to realize that their children have a significant role to play on their “retirement team.” While addressing their kids’ needs is a core element of most parents’ financial plans, they tend to focus only on education costs and helping their kids achieve independence.

The reality is that kids can be a significant asset in helping parents achieve a secure retirement—but only if they invest early on in teaching their children about critical financial concepts and values.

This challenge can be daunting—after all, one reason they talk to an advisor is to get help deciphering financial concepts! Once parents understand that one of the most effective ways to keep their retirement plans on track is by empowering their kids to live financially fulfilling and independent lives, though, they frequently begin to prioritize financial education.

For parents who want to begin teaching their kids about money, here are some important tips:

1. Identify opportunities to begin a rapport with kids about financial topics. Just as married couples can run into problems if they don’t cultivate communication skills around financial issues, parents can run into problems later in life if they don’t involve their children in financial conversations early on.

This does not mean parents should discuss their salaries with their kids or how much they paid for their house. It means they should look for ways to help their children understand the concept of costs in everyday ways, such as letting them hand money to the cashier when they make a cash transaction; taking them to the bank to open their own savings account; or sitting with them when they pay bills online.

2. Help kids build their own savings—and learn how to use them. Nothing is more empowering for kids than learning that they have the ability to save their own money and make their own spending decisions. In my view, a child’s progress toward building their own savings is an excellent barometer of their overall progress toward financial literacy.

Getting kids to this point, however, involves a number of (sometimes tricky) intermediate steps. These include communicating clearly that children are expected to earn their own money, first through chores and later through outside jobs; establishing that parents will only buy certain items—such as, for example, a new phone or tablet—if the child contributes a certain percentage; and helping them understand that buying one thing may mean sacrificing something else.

This process can be just as tough on parents as it is on kids.

3. Understand that kids need teachers, not Santa Claus. Many successful parents pride themselves on their ability to give their kids the world; in fact, the desire to be seen as a great provider is often a central—and commendable—driver of their success. Parents need to know, however, that this impulse can actually be harmful to their children if it leads them to shield their kids from important financial concepts and realities.

Remember that expecting your children to take responsibility for their own financial lives does not mean parents are not providing for their kids. Moreover, it does not reflect poorly on them if they do not step in to resolve financial challenges their kids may encounter as they get older, such as excessive credit card debt or a failure to save. Rather, it simply means that parents are preparing their kids to solve their own financial problems, so you don’t have to potentially sacrifice your retirement later to play “Santa Claus.”

4. For entrepreneurial kids, stress the importance of profits—not just revenue. Once kids understand their role in controlling their own finances, some may want to start side businesses, whether it’s mowing lawns, selling lemonade or something else. Obviously, parents should celebrate this type of entrepreneurial spirit—but they shouldn’t think their job is done just because their kids are doing yard work to pay for college.

Here again, parents can teach their children valuable lessons by resisting the urge to play Santa Claus. If your child is mowing lawns, make sure the child pays for gas (both for the mower and for travel to the job site). While it may be tempting for parents to absorb these costs, doing so can create unrealistic expectations of easy success for their kids and deny them the opportunity to learn valuable lessons about how businesses function (hence stress profit, not just revenue).

Parents looking ahead to retirement should understand that their children can be a major asset in helping them achieve their retirement goals. If they consciously train their kids to be financially independent from an early age, there’s a greater chance that they won’t turn into an unanticipated financial burden later in life.