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How I’m Teaching My 9-Year-Old Money Lessons (& She Doesn’t Even Know It)

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You might be too occupied with preparing your taxes to notice, but April is Financial Literacy Month. You might be financially literate, but are your kids? If you’re not doing so already, this is as good a time as any to start teaching them about money. After all, it’s your job to send financially responsible young adults out into the world, plus there’s a bonus —the more they understand about money, the less they’ll whine about wanting this toy and that pricey pair of sneakers.

Here’s the plan I’ve put into place with my daughter, Sadie, who is almost 10. I hope that it helps provide a framework for you to teach your own kids. And please comment below — I’d love to hear your successes, failures and suggestions.

Age 2-4: Coin Counting

Sadie could differentiate between different coins — and eventually bills — at this age. She also loved to count them (quantity, not value) and drop them into her piggy bank, which was a great excuse to reinforce her counting skills. Playing with money was just as fun as playing with toys, so why not?

Age 4-6: Savings Account, Shopping

We set up a savings account in Sadie’s name and brought her to the bank so she could participate in depositing her monetary gifts into her account. She loves to watch her balance grow!

There were (many) times when we wanted to leave her at home when we had shopping to do, but we found that shopping presented a learning opportunity, where she could watch us compare prices, use coupons and check out.

We often brought along money from her piggy bank so she could spend it on something she wanted. It was a real “aha” moment when she realized that money has value rather than thinking it comes from the clouds. These occasions allowed us to have an impactful wants-vs.-needs conversation.

Age 6-10: Chores, Allowance, More Shopping

For many kids, this is a good age for assigning chores and giving allowance. Sadie didn’t respond well to this approach so we’ve discarded the payment-for-services-rendered arrangement, and instead assigned some things she is responsible for, like cleaning up after her guinea pig and straightening up her room, and asking for her help with other tasks, like vacuuming and dusting. There is no allowance. She receives plenty of spending money from relatives for her birthday, Easter, etc., and she can spend that money as she sees fit. We buy her things occasionally, but more often than not, she spends her own money, and therefore, makes very thoughtful financial decisions.

Age 10-14: Checking Account, Debit Card, Saving vs. Spending

This is right around the corner for us, so I’ll tell you what we plan to do (which, given our child, could change). I assume Sadie will start earning her own money from babysitting or odd jobs soon enough, so when that time comes we’ll set up a checking account with a debit card so she can learn to balance a checkbook and get comfortable with the debit experience. She’s been begging for a phone and when we do finally break down and get one for her, we plan to have her contribute to the bill and pay by check or debit card.

Age 14 & Up: Independent Shopping, Credit Card

She will have more of her own money by now (I hope) and she’ll be without us more (eek!) so she’ll be spending more independently. We also plan to open a credit card account for her at this age so she can see how credit works.

For bigger ticket items that she wants, like a tablet or, eventually, a used car (double eek!), she can save for a portion and then charge a portion and pay it off.

This will also be the time we’ll talk about the importance of building good credit and why it’s important to track her credit score (you can get your free credit scores, updated for free each month on Credit.com), plus checking her annual credit reports.

Also, around 16 or 17, we’ll talk about college—how much it will cost, how much is in her 529 college savings plan, how student loans work, etc.

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