How to teach your child financial literacy

By Judith Bickel
11/19/2015
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While being a good financial role model for your child is important, it’s not enough for providing true financial literacy. Most people know to have the “birds and the bees” talk, but just as important is the “dollars and cents” talk. Here are some ways to provide financial advice to your child and raise a financially responsible adult.

Emotions and finances don't click

For some parents because of their own emotions surrounding money talking about finances is more difficult than discussing intimacy. But in life, there’s no avoiding finances, and this is especially true during the college application process. The best financial advice I can give is to tackle this conversation before your child leaves for college.

Find out (don't assume) what your child doesn't know

Interestingly, what I discovered is that as bright as my son is, there were many financial things he didn’t know. I also learned that he was a tad intimidated about opening a bank account. So we went together. This proved invaluable to improving his financial literacy.

At the bank, we met with a representative. We reviewed the different types of accounts, fees, and online banking features. He was able to not only receive financial advice from me, but a professional as well. By the end, our son had a checking and savings account, an ATM/debit card, and an understanding of banking.

Get your financial documents in order ... [and] teach your child financial literacy by bringing them in to help with college financial applications. In doing so you’ll help them understand what each document is, where they’re stored in case of an emergency, and what it all means.

Get your financial house in order with your child’s help

Get your financial documents in order — specifically your tax returns, legal documents, pay stubs, expenses, and income/investment papers. Do it as early as possible, because you’ll need all of this for the FAFSA and College Board CSS Profile.

But don’t do this alone. Teach your child financial literacy by bringing them in to help with college financial applications. In doing so you’ll help them understand what each document is, where they’re stored in case of an emergency, and what it all means. When I worked on my son’s FAFSA, he was right by my side. He received a financial education and a reinforcement of our family’s financial philosophy. And, in turn, I got help organizing everything electronically.

My husband and I decided that when our sons entered high school, they’d get a credit card, which allowed them the freedom to use their judgment, while allowing us to review the account with them.

Student credit card spending start while you’re still in control

Thanks to the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act, our son isn't confronted by credit card representatives on campus. But while the reps are gone, college student credit card debt is not. According to CNN Money, the class of 2013 had an average of $3,000 in credit card debt. Because of statistics like this, coupled with our own debt experience, my husband and I decided that when our sons entered high school, they’d get a credit card, which allowed them the freedom to use their judgment, while allowing us to review the account with them each month, checking the charges for fraud and discussing the amounts spent.

Since going through this process, we’ve noticed that each son is more conscious about their charging, realizing firsthand how individual charges quickly add up. In addition, having a credit card while they were still living with us reduced the allure of free spending once they were on their own, which might otherwise have gone unchecked.

Watch your financial advice take hold

Giving financial advice and instilling financial literacy in your child is like every aspect of parenting. All you can do is lay the foundation, consistently reinforce it, and then hope for the best.

Speaking of financial advice for your child, save yourself some college money with our Scholarship Match.

About the author

JudithJudith, and her high school sweetheart husband David, are parents to two sons. She has survived barely — the college application process and is resting for about 43 minutes before having to do it all again. In the meantime, she can be found blogging at judithgarvinbickel.com.

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