CLEVELAND, Ohio — I’m often asked about advice for parents who are trying to teach their children about money, especially as they become older teenagers and are perhaps working part-time or paying for their auto insurance or thinking about that next chapter.
In honor of the start of another school year, I’m giving you my top 11 things I think parents (and schools) should teach children about money.
These are suggestions that even adults should follow. And some of these lessons can start as soon as kids are old enough to earn an allowance or ask to buy toys or candy at the grocery store.
1. Save first, pay yourself first. Maybe you’re saving for a car or for a new iPhone. Maybe you’re saving to build an emergency fund. Maybe you’re putting money in a 401(k). Whatever it is, you gotta learn the discipline of saving early. It’ll become a habit that will serve you well the rest of your life.
2. Learn how to budget and distinguish needs vs. wants. Be realistic. Again, budget required expenses first, then discretionary spending. Don’t forget expenses like car repairs, special occasions, etc. It might be a good idea to track your expenses for a month or two to realize where and for what you spend money. Many banks also offer cool tools to track expenses.
3. Learn how bank accounts work, as well as checks, debit cards and credit cards.
4. Understand debt. Learn about loans and credit cards, and understand compounding interest and how to manage repayment of loans or credit cards, preferably by paying the balance in-full each month.
5. Learn the importance of paying bills on time and building a solid credit history. Understand how a credit score affects not just your ability to qualify for loans or credit cards, but also to rent an apartment and qualify for lower auto insurance rates.
6. Understand the importance of protecting your personal information. This is huge. It means everything from not spraying your information all over social media to not using a credit card or debit card at sleazy places to not providing your Social Security number on every job application or to every dentist’s office. It also means recognizing attempts to trick you or steal your information through phishing emails and imposter phone calls and texts.
7. Know how to make doctor’s appointments, fill a prescription and make appointments for oil changes and other car maintenance.
8. Read what you sign and don’t sign anything you don’t read or understand. This is particularly important for people 18 and older. At 18, you’re playing for keeps. If a company or someone poo-poos your desire to read an entire document before signing it, don’t cave. If you agree to something bad, no one is going to care you were too big of a wuss to stand up for your right to read and understand something you were being asked to sign.
9. Know when to ask for help. If you have a document or get a piece of mail or get a phone call you don’t quite understand, ask a trusted adult for help. If you have a fraudulent or erroneous charge on your bank account or credit card, ask someone to help you understand your right to dispute it. If you’ve never bought a car before, take an older person with you. If you’ve never rented an apartment before, ask an older person to look over the lease agreement. If you get an overdraft fee and you don’t understand why, ask someone to help you.
10. Learn about income taxes and how to file tax returns (maybe with some help the first couple of years).
11. Keep your receipts, car maintenance records, leases, bank statements, etc., through whatever system works for you. It could be screen shots on your phone. It could be in a shoe box. It could be color-coded file folders. Whatever works for you. Just keep your stuff. You will need some of it later.