Teach Children (and Adults) to Save and be Savvy

Research has shown that lifelong money patterns and habits are largely established by the second grade. That's age 7 for most children in the U.S., but children can begin basic concepts of saving and spending as early as age 3.

The problem is that most adults don't know where or how to begin teaching these concepts. In fact, a great number of adults struggle with these concepts themselves.

In this article, you will find a number or age-appropriate resources for learning and teaching healthy money habits at any age (from age 2 to 92).

Teach Children (and Adults) to Save and be Savvy

Income tax day is behind us, which can only mean one thing: Teach Children to Save Day is now upon us (April 25th). It’s never too early to introduce your children (or grandchildren) to money and how it works. In fact, you will be doing so, whether you realize it or not.

From a very young age, children will be observing and imitating what they see around them. That includes money matters—good or bad. Many, if not most, adults feel they have a pretty good understanding of money and how it works. Far fewer are confident in their ability to pass good money habits on to their children. That can be a problem.

Research suggests that children can begin learning basic savings and spending concepts as early as age 3.  By age 7, they have established lifelong patterns and habits. As parents, guardians and citizens, we should all take this to heart.

FUN FACT: Lifelong Money Patterns and Habits are largely established by the second grade (by about age 7).1

Everyone should bear some responsibility for the financial acumen of younger generations because, like it or not, it does affect us all. The National debt of the U.S. is now $34 trillion; credit card debt in the U.S. is over $1 trillion; the average American owes $6,501 of that credit card debt. If this is what our children are emulating, the effect will be very negative indeed.

Fortunately, the American Bankers Association (ABA) was prompted to begin its own financial education and outreach programs in 1997. Today, these programs include its flagship, Teach  Children to Save, Safe Banking for Seniors; Get Smart About Credit and Lights, Camera, Save (designed for teens).

Seven years later (2004), Congress jumped on board and declared April “Financial Literacy Month”. In the 20 years since, financial literacy programs have been popping up all over the country. That’s a good thing too, since most states don’t require it in their school curriculum.

Hundreds of banks now have literacy programs of one kind or another. On page 5, you will find 49 of them. These are all 5-Star community banks involved in the FDIC’s Money Smart program that have programs designed specifically for children. If you don’t find one near you, simply ask your local banker. There are many more than what we found in this program ...available for all ages.

One that we are particularly fond of is “Ms. MoneyCoins®”, created by a teacher, Julie Beckham for 5-Star Rockland Trust Co., Rockland, MA. As an educator, Ms. Beckham has a way of connecting with her audience using song and entertainment. All the while, she is teaching fundamentals and dispelling many of the myths about money.

One myth that Ms. MoneyCoins® does not address is that our children will learn “good” money habits from watching and mimicking adults. This is a myth. They will learn habits yes, but many will not be “good”.

In fact, a New York Post article (4/16/24) reports that almost half (43%) of Americans don’t know what a 401k is; over a third (35%) don’t understand the financial term “interest”; and 39% admit to “procrastinating” (which we will call neglecting) when it comes to starting healthy habits with their finances.

In this same study, it was revealed that the average American checks their banking app two times a day, and half are nervous about what they will find there. Bauer submits that this would not be the case if the checking account was balanced properly. (The study did not answer that question.) It did, however, conclude that 39% of personal relationships are negatively impacted by bad money habits.

We cannot possibly expect good habits to rub-off on our children when we lack those good habits ourselves.

Parents magazine may have the answer, and you don’t have to be a subscriber to read their advice. In this article they discuss how parents can teach their kids about money and finances while learning it themselves. Brilliant.

Not only does this article teach the parents some key concepts and terminology, it also provides links to resources that demonstrate how to teach money every day and at every age level—from 2 years of age and up.

Not to be outdone, federal regulators now have their own resources. Some of them are quite good, but we will leave it to you to determine which is best for you. They include:

The CFPB’s Money as you Grow is designed to help an adult take their child through age-appropriate conversations and activities.

FDIC Money Smart currently consists of 14 interactive games that can help you and your child learn, save, borrow and spend money wisely.

NCUA’s World of Cents is a matching game where players match coins to earn money they can then use to build and accessorize their own property.

The U.S. Mint has a wealth of information—from taking visitors through the life of a coin to free online games and coloring books . These activities are recommended for grades K through 6.

These are great resources  for children (and adults) to become better at managing money.

1 Money Advice Service, London (2013)

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