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Financial Literacy for Everyone

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July 24, 2006

My parents never talked about money at home and like so many of us, I had to learn about it on my own, often making youthful mistakes along the way. Take this opportunity with the kids home from school this summer to instill in them your knowledge and values about money. It's a lesson that will last them a lifetime.

You don't need to make learning about money a boring form of home-based summer school. If you make it fun, do it together and integrate it in your daily life, your kids are bound to be more receptive.

Help them help you. Just because the kids are on summer break doesn't mean your regular errands disappear. Look for age-appropriate tasks they can do - for a price - in addition to any allowance-related responsibilities they may already have. If you've got yard work or grocery shopping to do, get your kids to help - it's a great way to spend more time together and provides an opportunity to teach them important money management skills.

Plant the savings bug early. Americans have a personal savings rate of minus 0.5 percent, the lowest since the Great Depression. If your kids don't learn the value of saving from you, possibly they never will. Teach them about "a rainy day" as early as possible by have them save a portion of their earnings. You can sweeten the deal by matching a portion of their savings yourself, much as your employer matches your 401(k) savings.

Teach kids what things really cost. When your parents said, "Money doesn't grow on trees," they weren't trying to interest you in horticulture. Try these ideas:

  • Take the kids shopping and let them help compare prices and value. Explain how discounts and coupons work, and ask for their ideas on how to reduce the total bill.

  • Teach younger children the basics of money, such as different denominations and how to count change after a purchase.

  • Involve older kids in planning vacations by researching travel costs online, calculating gas mileage, estimating hotel bills, etc.

  • When planning a major purchase like a house or car, have them help research and comparison shop, and explain how sales tax, loans and real estate broker commissions work.

Get rid of the junk. Most of us have closets bursting with things we no longer use or want. Hold a garage sale, sell it on eBay or donate your goods to charity and give the kids cash for their portion of the tax write-off. The Salvation Army has a helpful online tool for calculating the write-off value of donated items at www.salvationarmy.org under "Donate - receipts - valuation guide."

Don't forget the fun. Many family friendly websites have interactive financial education games you can play with your kids. Visa Inc.'s free personal finance site, Practical Money Skills for Life, www.practicalmoneyskills.com, includes interactive games like Financial Football and Ed's Bank that teach math and financial skills in a challenging, fun way. The site also features a parent's resource section that can arm you with facts and suggestions on how best to talk to your kids about money.

So help your kids - and yourself - have a more enjoyable summer by getting involved in their financial education.

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This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered health, legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.

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