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How to Teach Kids about Money: 6 Key Lessons

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

In celebration of Financial Literacy Month, we’re featuring #FinLit-focused stories and tips to inspire readers. A version of this op-ed appeared April 15, 2019, in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Teaching financial literacy to kids: Mom explaining purchasing decisions to young boy in a store

By Mary Suiter, Assistant Vice President and Economic Education Officer

At an age when children are busy playing with their new Legos or asking for Happy Meals, they’re also forming early and foundational ideas about earning, saving and spending that they may carry with them throughout their lives.

Children often develop their financial behaviors as early as 7 years of age, according to research by David Whitebread and Sue Bingham (PDF) of the University of Cambridge in England.

So, waiting until students are in high school to teach personal finance and economics can mean missing valuable opportunities to help them learn and shape their habits. And it leaves children, during very impressionable years, more apt to construct their understanding of the economy and personal finance from what they observe around them.

This frequently results in misunderstandings. For example, children who see their parents get money from an ATM may not have the context to understand that a bank account is directly connected to the use of the ATM. Without that context, a child hearing, “We can’t afford that this month,” is likely to think, “Just go get money out of the machine!”

Similarly, children may witness an adult paying for most items with a credit card or a mobile phone payment service without recognizing this as money being spent. Often, children don’t connect your work with income; they may not realize that adults work and are paid for that work.

What to Teach Children about Financial Responsibility

In the spirit of Financial Literacy Month, here are six pertinent things we must teach children about money, personal finance and economics:

  1. People work to earn income. Be explicit when explaining to children that you work to earn income to support your family. Give them opportunities to earn, as well.
  2. People spend some income, save some income, and donate some income. Give the children in your life opportunities to do this—spend, save, donate.
  3. Saving is a good habit. Provide incentives for your children to save, such as offering to match a percentage of what they put in their piggy banks. Encourage them to save a set amount before considering purchasing a new toy.
  4. Adults can’t have everything they want; children can’t, either. Teach them to prioritize and make careful choices.
  5. Spending and saving decisions have consequences. Allow your children to live with—and talk to them about—those consequences.
  6. Banks and credit unions are safe places to save your money. Tell children about them, including that those institutions pay interest on savings.

I shared these tips with my children when they were young, and now I share them with my grandchildren.

I’m also lucky to lead the team of educators, researchers and specialists at the St. Louis Fed who are making economic education more accessible and creating fun, memorable lessons and resources for teachers, parents and consumers around the country. We believe, based on research, that children who are taught valuable lessons about spending, saving and other personal finance topics at a young age are more likely to become adults who are more financially responsible.

Share the personal finance tips in this article with your children, grandchildren, students and the other young people in your life. Research shows it may help them grow into teenagers and adults with a better grasp on their personal finances.

Additional Resources

Econ Lowdown click.teach.engage logo | St. Louis Fed

The St. Louis Fed’s Econ Lowdown offers more than 400 lesson plans, podcasts, videos, readings, PowerPoint slides and SMARTboard activities that can be used in pre-K through college classrooms to teach economics and personal finance. Earlier this year, the St. Louis Fed’s Economic Education team received the Central Banking Award for financial inclusion for engaging and supporting teachers around the world.

Mary Suiter 

Mary Suiter is an assistant vice president and economic education officer at the St. Louis Fed.

Tagged mary suitereconomic educationinvestmentfinancial literacyconsumerinterestsavingincomelessons for children