Littlejohn: How to raise financially wise kids

Brian Littlejohn
For The Aspen Times
Guest Commentary
The Aspen Times

Every parent wants the best for their children and strives to prepare them to lead a happy, healthy, and successful life. But despite understanding the importance of financial responsibility, only 28 percent of parents speak to their children about money.

It’s no secret that money can be a taboo subject for many adults, but it’s important to remember that our kids are watching and learning from us. While many parents believe talking about money can be stressful for children or that they are too young to understand financial concepts, these are meaningful conversations to have.  

It’s easy to underestimate how much kids can absorb and understand. But the truth is kids are never too young to start learning about money. In fact, a study from researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that fourth- and fifth-grade children could understand financial education and then retain it after initial coursework. By starting the conversation early, we can help set them up for financial success in the future.

Therefore, to help you prepare for financial conversations (and in honor of Financial Literacy Month), here are some tips you may want to consider using to teach your kids about money:

1. Make It Fun

Learning about money doesn’t have to be boring. Try incorporating games or activities that teach financial concepts in a fun and engaging way. For example, you could create a mock budget for a pretend vacation or have your child help you compare prices at the grocery store. By making it interactive and enjoyable, you can help your child understand the importance of financial responsibility in a positive light.

2. Get Them Involved

Involving your child in lighter financial decisions might help them see the value of the lessons you’re teaching and better understand the why behind them. For example, everyday tasks like grocery runs can become the perfect learning experience and an opportunity to practice what they have learned. Look for opportunities like these in your weekly routine by finding ways to help your child apply what you’re teaching them.

3. Share Lessons from Your Financial Journey

We all make mistakes when it comes to money, and it’s important to remember that these mistakes can be valuable learning opportunities. Instead of avoiding the subject, use your financial journey to teach your children about the importance of financial responsibility.

Share your challenges and successes with them while encouraging open conversation about money. This will not only help your child develop a positive mindset around finances, but it will also encourage them to be open and honest about their own financial experiences.

4. Teach the Power of Saving and Debt Management

Although debt is a reality for many, it’s important to teach your children about the power of saving and how to manage debt responsibly. One way to do this is by giving them an allowance and allowing them to make a purchase beyond what they have saved but requiring them to pay it back with an extra allowance in the future. This helps them understand the concept of interest and importance of responsible debt management.

5. Provide an Incentive to Save

Saving is a key building block for financial success. But saving and the power of compounding can be a difficult concept for children to understand.

One way to help your child learn the advantages of saving is to offer incentives. For example, if they have $10, you could give them a small percentage of whatever they save for each week they hold on to their money. If you prefer to avoid money awards, consider other alternatives to reinforce the concept.

6. Use Household Chores to Teach the Value of Work

Helping children understand the relationship between work and pay can help them adjust better as they grow older and start working.

Household chores can be a great way to do this because they allow children to take on additional responsibilities in exchange for extra allowance. This helps children understand the relationship between work and pay, helping prepare them for the working world as they grow older. By assigning age-appropriate chores and offering the opportunity for extra allowance, you can teach your child the value of hard work and financial responsibility.

Demonstrating the Value of Financial Education

As one of your children’s sources of financial experience, I hope that these tips will help you discover new ways to guide your children toward financial literacy. I know that some of our local high schools offer courses on this subject, but taking the time to model your own approach to money matters can help impart the specific values that you would like to see take root and become second nature to your children.     

This article is dedicated to my daughter, Audrey Littlejohn, who was born on March 28 at Aspen Valley Hospital. Thank you to all of the wonderful doctors and nurses who helped make it happen!

Brian Littlejohn, MBA, CFP®, CFA is the founder of Sherwood Wealth Management, an independent registered investment advisor firm. He specializes in inherited wealth and works with clients in the Roaring Fork Valley and beyond.