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Three Must-Have Money Talks for Kids – and How to Start Them

This article was written by in Financial Literacy, Money Management. 4 comments.

This is a guest article by personal finance expert, Beth Kobliner. Beth is a member of the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability and the author of Get a Financial Life: Personal Finance in Your Twenties and Thirties.

Drinking, smoking, bullying… talking about them with your kids is hard enough. But a new survey shows parents would rather tackle any of those sticky subjects than say the F word: “finances.”

Keep thinking you’ll talk dollars and sense when the kids get older? It may be too late. Research shows that parents are the number one influence on young people’s financial behavior, and that kids barely out of diapers can learn basic concepts about money. Even if you think you’re saying nothing about your finances, your kids are still picking up lessons from the way you shop, save, and behave.

Now there’s a brand new online interactive tool to help parents talk the talk. It’s Money as You Grow, which I helped to develop as a member of the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability. Parents can use these 20 age-appropriate lessons and corresponding activities to change kids’ financial behavior for the better. Great for kids age three to 23!

I encourage you to take a few minutes to explore the entire site, which is full of tips for kids of all ages. But for now, here are a few ways to get started:

Preschoolers: You may have to wait before you can buy that toy!

Delayed gratification is the most important lesson you can teach your tykes. The approach for a three- to five-year-old can be super simple. Here’s one idea: As the school year comes to a close, explain to your child that just like she waits for summer vacation, sometimes she has to wait to buy something she wants. Research shows that kids with good self-control are likelier to be financially secure adults, but this lesson is fundamental to overall success in life. A famous 1960s study showed that kids who were able to delay gratification by waiting to eat a marshmallow in front of them had fewer behavioral problems, lower stress, stronger friendships, and even higher SAT scores!

Middle-schoolers: Credit cards can be risky!

To a kid, a credit card can seem like free money. Mom hands over a piece of plastic in the checkout line and, like magic, she gets to take home bags of groceries. But by ages 11 to 13, a kid should know that if you don’t pay off your credit card bill in full every month, you’ll be charged interest and owe more in the long run. Try this: Say the family needs a new computer or is planning a vacation. After you buy the computer or plane tickets, shock your son with the numbers. Head to the Credit Card Repayment Calculator at to show him how long it would take — and how much extra you’d owe in interest — if you paid off a $1,000 debt by making only the minimum monthly payments. You’d pay more than $800 in interest over eight years! Explain that if you used cash, paid your bill in full, or made more than the monthly payment (even $20 more a month), you’d be able to avoid such a high fee.

Editor’s note: CardRatings, Consumerism Commentary’s sister website, also offers a credit card payoff calculator.

High-schoolers: You better shop around—for college!

The nation’s collective student loan debt recently passed the $1 trillion mark. Ouch! College is a terrific investment — grads earn almost twice as much as people who didn’t go to college — but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t shop around. You don’t want your new college grad to have to survive on peanut butter! Money as You Grow points the way to several excellent resources for comparing and cost-cutting, but start the conversation by telling your son or daughter how much you can afford to contribute to tuition and expenses each year. Then, use the CFPB’s Paying for College Cost Comparison Worksheet to compare the costs of a few schools, and determine which one represents the best investment.

If you use Money as You Grow with your kids, I’d love to hear how it goes! Please share your feedback with me in the comments section below or send me a tweet at @BethKobliner.

Updated April 13, 2016 and originally published June 21, 2012.

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About the author

Beth Kobliner is a personal finance commentator and journalist, the author of the New York Times bestseller Get a Financial Life: Personal Finance in Your Twenties and Thirties, and a member of the President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability. Visit her at, follow her on Twitter, and like her on Facebook. View all articles by .

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar 1 Anonymous

What a great break down of conversations by age. Thanks for sharing.

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avatar 2 Anonymous

Agreed, thanks for a great post, Beth! My parents never had any of those talks with me, but luckily I was able to learn through example and pick up my dad’s frugal habits. These are great and easy ways to talk with kids- hopefully I’ll remember them when I become a parent!

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avatar 3 Anonymous

I never would have thought to start talking to kids about finances as early as preschool, but this makes sense! And how interesting that teaching them delayed gratification can have a positive impact on so many other areas of their lives!

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avatar 4 qixx

In shopping around for college there is a new to me option i just ran across. It is called the DIY Degree. Basically you take self-paced learning, audit courses, get yourself a tutor, etc. Then you test out of every class there is. Throw in a fast start program while in high school and you can graduate in 1-2 years with a BS degree. It is also a lot less expensive. One course costs $500+ on average. Taking an exam to “waive” the course is usually under $250. Faster and less expensive.

(Flexo might be worth looking at to do a post on). I don’t know much so Google is likely your best friend.

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