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Plan Well, Retire Well

Three money strategies to practice with your children

family fixing dinner

Talking about money can be tough. We tend to have all kinds of values, mixed messages, emotions and more tied to our money conversations. For some people, the last kind of talk they want to have with family is "the money talk." Unfortunately, this means our children may not be as prepared to handle their finances when they're adults.

Youth manage money better when they are adults if the following happens while they are young.

  1. Conversations about money happen regularly.
  2. A savings account is opened in their name.
  3. They are given opportunities to practice using money and to talk about these experiences.

Talking about money

Adults share the responsibility of helping youth and young adults learn how to manage their finances well. Conversations with adults help young people understand the importance and power of money management.

When Millennials were asked what they wish they had been taught about finances, one of the top themes was more open communication with their parents.

In LeBaron and associates' study (2018), Millennials expressed that they wished their parents had facilitated sit-down lessons or family councils to discuss their family finances. As a parent with Millennial adult children, I remember how hard it was to create an opportunity for "sit-down lessons." Yet, the importance of these conversations encourages us to all try – whether they're sitting down, in the car, or while you do a household chore together.

Research indicates that typically parents are the most important influence on a child's socialization, including financial socialization. A big part of this socialization is what our children see us do. However, many of our financial tasks are done electronically so there's less to see; another reason for more talking and explaining!

Financial socialization

The other two main components of socialization are making rules about children's financial behaviors and engaging in direct conversations about money. The research clearly supports the need for youth to practice financial behaviors like earning, saving, and spending while under an adult's guidance.

Youth need the chance to make mistakes, and learn from these experiences. Youth also need to have a chance to talk with an adult about their decisions – both the good and not-so-good decisions. It's easier to learn from small mistakes while a child rather than make large financial mistakes as an adult.

Researchers Kim and Chatterjee (2013) looked closely at childhood financial socialization and the impact it had on how young adults managed their money. Their research suggested that if a young adult did not have an allowance as a child (or the opportunity to practice with finances), then they were more likely to worry about money. In addition, a young adult who had a savings account as a child was more likely to have assets as a young adult.

Along with more communication, the Millennial young adults in LeBaron's study wished they had been given more financial responsibility. For example, they wished they had a chance to get a job and save for their own purchases. In other words, an opportunity to practice financial behaviors when the risks are small.

Millennial young adults also wished their parents had taught them more practical knowledge such as how to budget, how to file taxes, and how to wisely save and invest money. Clearly, some of these topics are more suitable for young adults than for children. Financial education is a lifelong process, and parents, grandparents and other older friends/family may want to look for opportunities to have conversations about these topics at timely moments.

Money Conversation Starters for Parents and Children, from University of Minnesota, provides some easy ways to start conversations. Try them out. You may find that these questions lead to more in-depth conversations, and make it easier for youth to ask you questions about money too.

Revised and reposted; originally posted February 2019.

Photo by Vanessa Loring

two young girls
Listen to Family Financial Feuds

You can learn more about helping children become money savvy. The Family Financial Feuds podcast has a playlist, Raising Money Savvy Kids. Listen to Illinois Extension educators (and parents) share their viewpoints from research-based practices.

Picture Kathy Sweedler
Meet the Author

Kathy Sweedler provides personal finance online education with Illinois Extension. Kathy’s emphasis is to encourage people to be confident in their financial decisions, and to help them explore new ways of thinking about and managing money. When Kathy is not engaged in Extension work, she is often traveling and piecing together family genealogy. Genealogy is a puzzle, not that different from managing money!

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