How to teach your kids about money

Your child’s financial education should start at home, advises Gail Vaz-Oxlade.

Gail Vaz-Oxlade has six words for parents who give their kids coins to throw in shopping mall fountains: “Freakin’ give your head a shake.”

The ‘Til Debt Do Us Part host and bestselling author of Debt-Free Forever and Never Too Late notes that children learn by example, and if we tell them throwing money away is okay today, why is it not okay tomorrow?

“No amount of money is worth throwing away,” she says. “We do all these aberrant things and then we want to know why our kids are weird about their money.”

Vaz-Oxlade’s new book, Money-Smart Kids, is meant to serve as a guidebook for parents on how to teach children about money management. And just to be clear, this is a job for parents, she argues, not teachers or banks.

“Parents don’t want to think about their own money, never mind thinking about how they’re going to end up teaching their children about money. Some parents feel totally incompetent so they’d rather ignore it or offload it onto someone else,” Vaz-Oxlade observes.

One of the most common mistakes the Chatelaine and finance columnist sees is the idea of handing out an allowance in exchange for daily around-the-house chores. Allowance, she opines, should be no-strings-attached.

“The point of an allowance is to help children learn about money. The point is not to teach about work ethic, that’s a different discussion,” she says. “The day your daughter says to you, ‘I don’t want to make my bed anymore, keep the two bucks,’ what do you do? Do you stop her financial education?”

Money-Smart Kids, released as a digital-only book, is filled with easy-to-follow tips for parents on how to instill financial know-how in their children. Vaz-Oxlade started her two kids with an allowance when they were six years old, and from that early age she had them put aside 10 per cent for savings.

The book also breaks down lessons by age, from a basic early allowance all the way up to learning about credit in the mid-to-late teenage years, and guides parents to set expectations of their kids when it comes to how they manage the funds they’ve been given.

As she does on ‘Til Debt Do Us Part, Vaz-Oxlade recommends employing ‘money jars’ to help kids visualize how much of their allowance is fun money to spend on whatever they like, how much must go toward regular expenses, and how much must be saved.

The idea of doling out money to your kids whenever they need it is a practice Vaz-Oxlade frowns upon, because it doesn’t teach them about prioritizing where their dollars go. It also fosters a misconception that Mom and Dad are bottomless money pits. Not true.

“Name the 2,036 reasons why you go into your wallet every year to give your kids money,” she says. “It’s this money that you’re putting in their hands on a regular basis so they can learn to do things like make decisions about what they want to spend their money on. Prioritize, because if you spend it today you don’t have it tomorrow.”

Money-Smart Kids is on sale now for $2.99CDN.

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