Kids and money: How young is too young?

Save 10 per cent of everything you make: that was a key message in The Wealthy Barber, a seminal book on money published in 1989. So if adults should do it, why not kids?

In fact, it's never too early to start teaching kids about money, financial experts say.

Melissa Cassar is pictured in a handout photo."Financial literacy is an important life skill," says , Visa Canada's head of corporate and public affairs. "If we start teaching kids the value of budgeting and spending wisely from an early age, we are helping equip them to make smarter decisions as they grow up.

"In Canada, financial literacy is not a compulsory school subject," she adds, "so parents need to make sure that they are helping their children learn the basics of financial management."

The worst thing is for kids to assume that money comes from one place: the bank machine. And it's better to start planting the seeds of healthy financial habits while they're young, because once they're teenagers, they might not be as receptive to parents' sound advice.

The trick to getting kids interested in learning about money, of course, is to make it fun. "To catch the attention of a younger audience, activities that are interactive, educational, and entertaining are the way to go," Cassar says.

There are lots of resources out there to help. Consider a few:

Money Mama and the Three Little Pigs

The book's author, mompreneur Lori Mackey, who's also the founder of Prosperity4Kids.com, uses a 10-10-10-70 system for teaching kids to budget.

She suggests parents teach children to save 10 per cent, invest 10 per cent, donate 10 per cent, and live off 70 per cent. To make this tangible for kids, when you give them a dollar, give them two quarters and five dimes. Sit with them and allocate coins. You can use something as simple as Tupperware containers.

Peter Pig's Money Counter

A new game launched by Visa Canada for Financial Literacy Month (November), it's geared to kids aged four to seven. It encourages players to boost their bank balance by counting and sorting coins, teaching them about saving and banking. Available at Practicalmoneyskills.ca, it's one of several activities on the site for children of all ages. There are cost calculators, budget templates, quizzes, and other games.

Avengers: Saving the Day

This comic book, created by Visa and Marvel Comics, features a fast-moving plot revolving around the popular Avengers characters like Spider-Man and Hulk. Kids learn about personal finance while battling the evil Mole Man during an attempted heist. It introduces children to basic financial concepts such as budgeting, saving, and banking and is available in several languages at Practialmoneyskills.ca.

The Bill-Paying Game

Neale S. Godfrey and Carolina Edwards, co-authors of Money Doesn't Grow on Trees: A Parent's Guide to Raising Financially Responsible Children came up with this one.

It works like this: count out a "salary" in play money. Then, take some old bills and write the amount due on a piece of paper, along with entries for  payment due date, minimum payment due, and "balance due," then let them decide how much to pay.

Everyone wins if the bills get paid on time. Use leftover money to introduce the concepts of savings and donating.

Other tips to help kids become moneywise?

  • Get a piggy bank, as it's a tangible way for little kids to understand money and saving, as opposed to an offsite, virtual account.
  • Praise little ones for their progress when it comes to saving.
  • Speak openly, honestly and regularly to your kids about budgeting, goals and financial limitations.

"Helping your kids learn about money can be as simple as finding teachable moments that start conversations," Cassar says. "With the upcoming holidays, parents can involve older kids in planning and budgeting holiday gift purchases. Keeping money management in the conversation can help kids feel comfortable with the topic."


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