Tips to raise financially healthy kids at every age

Stage-by-stage strategies to build your kids’ financial literacy.

Tags: Banking basics, Budgeting, Planning, Savings
Published: February 20, 2019

When is the best time to start teaching your child to be sensible with money? Right now. Whether they’re in the process of ditching diapers or touring colleges, it’s never too early to learn these important, age-appropriate lessons about spending, saving and investing.



Worth the wait: This can be a tricky – but important – age to start teaching the virtue of patience. Kids who can learn to deal with immediate dissatisfaction can learn to keep an eye on longer-term payoffs in the future, including those pertaining to money. At this young age, though, that might just mean getting your child used to the idea that not everything happens “right now.” Give these tactics a try: Gently curb interrupting, teaching your child to wait his or her turn to speak; and don’t reward whines of, “I’m hungry!” with snacks if dinner’s underway.


Because I said so: It’s important for kids to learn the truth behind that Rolling Stones song: You can’t always get what you want. Explain that things cost money, of course, but realize that words won’t demonstrate your point nearly as well as the reality of a firm, well-placed “No.” Explain that the toy-aisle trinket or pack of gum at checkout just wasn’t in today’s grocery budget. Combat any guilt with the knowledge that you’re teaching an essential skill. And trust us: The more often they hear that dreaded two-letter word, the easier it will get for them to roll with it.


Elementary students

Allowance rules: There are two primary schools of thought when it comes to allowance: One ties the money directly to weekly duties completed, and the other considers chores a household requirement and an allowance simply a privilege of maturity. Either way, with an allowance, your child suddenly has a small, reliable income. Of course, it comes directly from you, so think of it as a familial shift in financial responsibility. Let your child pay for select items that you would have before — treats, or friends’ birthday presents, perhaps — for a low-stakes way to empower spending confidence. 


Eyes on the prize: Allowance is the perfect way to build on those early lessons in delayed gratification by walking your child through a savings goal. Help him or her pick something to save for, such as a favorite athlete’s jersey. Then talk about how much needs to be put away weekly to meet that goal. Brainstorm additional income ideas, such as special jobs or a book sale. Talk through impulse purchases or other setbacks. Let your child fully experience the ups, downs and, eventually, the sweet payoff.


Middle school students

Smart shopping skills: Open your child’s eyes to some of the nuances of being an informed consumer. Take them shopping with you, and talk out your decisions, such as calculating price per unit, paying more for quality, buying in bulk and resisting impulse purchases. Ask for help in reasoning out which item to buy. Make a game of it—10 correct smart-shopping choices earns a grocery reward, like one unrestricted cereal-aisle selection. 


Play the market: By now your child probably has the math skills to understand the concept of investing. Talk over the idea of risk versus reward, using his or her savings account and playing the stock market as examples. To hit the point home, pretend-invest in the stock of a brand your child likes, and track would-be gains and losses. Or, take it one step further: Apps such as Stockpile and BusyKid allow kids to invest in small portions of real stocks.



High school students

The better budget: Have your teen figure out his or her current monthly income and then decide how to use it. Next, ask them to track actual expenses as the month goes on, making sure every tank of gas and smoothie is accounted for. Did their spending choices match up with the original budget? If not, why? Discuss options, including increasing income and cutting expenses, as well as building an emergency or “fun money” fund. Adjust and continue each month until it’s become a habit. This is great practice for learning how to budget as an adult. 


Charge it: Explain why good credit is important – it shows lenders that you are trustworthy enough to borrow money to finance things such as a car or an education. Talk about the importance of paying the bill on time and in full each month, as well as the fees you’ll incur if you don’t. Consider making your teen an authorized card user on your account for valuable (and closely supervised) experimentation before they’re old enough to get a card of their own.


By teaching your child important money lessons at each phase of their development, you will set them up for greater financial success throughout their lifetime.


Continue these valuable lessons, and open a U.S. Bank savings account for your child today.