DOLLARS AND SENSE - Teach kids the financial ABCs

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It might be surprising to know that our children are not likely to develop basic financial literacy skills in school.

There just isn't enough time in the school day for teachers to tackle it.

According to the American Banker's Association, the average high school student lacks the basic skills to balance a checkbook or debit card register, and most Americans still are not saving for retirement.

Yet, we all agree we want better for our children.

Let's find teachable moments with our kids, nephews, nieces and grandchildren. Talking about money can be uncomfortable but it's worth it.

Just like learning to ride a bike, learning basic financial skills are easier to master when you're young than when you're an adult. By starting our kids along the path to good financial practices, we set them up for success because they're likely to maintain these good habits in adulthood.

Where to start?

If you're a parent, speak with your spouse or partner so you're both on the same page when it's time to talk to the kids about financial priorities. If you're not the parent, follow their lead.

Put yourself in the child's shoes. Try to remember what your top financial concerns and priorities were at that age. Buying that stuffed animal or video game just might be the perfect opening to talk about money.

Ask about their thoughts on money. The context of this conversation will depend on their age, but it'll show you're interested in their opinion and make financial conversations more productive.

Now that you've laid the groundwork, jump in. There's no expectation that you explain global economics or how the prime rate is established.

Instead, relay money-management in the context of what you know.

In fact, it's more meaningful to kids--and easier for you--to share examples from your own life and don't shy away from sharing your fiscal blunders too.

You know your kids best, so adjust your approach to suit them. Kids learn by doing so bring it up during everyday activities.

While shopping, talk about price comparisons or how much you saved by buying an item on sale.

If you're planning a major purchase (i.e. a car, home or vacation), talk about how even grown-ups get to save up for the items they want.

In addition to talking about it, introduce hands-on opportunities such as the tried-and-true piggy bank. Take it to the next level with an older child by changing that piggy bank into four jars for saving, spending, donating and investing.

The amount of money in the container isn't important; it's the process.

One of the most impactful things you can do may seem trivial: take your child to the bank to open her first savings account and encourage her to keep making deposits. It's not the amount; it's about creating a habit.

And when she wants something she can't quite afford, discuss the value of saving versus borrowing.

Remember there are lots of great online financial resources to assist you with free advice on age-appropriate topics, including www.fdic.org/moneysmart and www.jumpstart.org.

There's plenty of time to explain the concepts as she masters the basics.

However you approach the subject, remember to stay focused on the goal: to raise a financially savvy young adult who can go into the world with a basic knowledge about saving and spending so he/she avoids the temptations of excessive spending.

Bob Branscum is a vice president at American West Bank.

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