By Lazetta Rainey Braxton, Next Avenue
Sixteen years ago, when I became a new mom, my boomer dad wisely shared with this Gen Xer that parenting doesn’t come with a handbook. If it did, financial education would surely have one of its very own chapters.
Although we often focus on teaching our children values, life skills and how to develop lasting relationships, too often we leave out the critical concept of financial planning. Perhaps along with subjects like algebra and chemistry, we think it’s better left to teachers.
Yet, even schools are not a fail-safe way for children to learn about personal finance. According to the Next Gen Personal Finance site, just slightly over half of the 50 states have introduced legislation, await the Governor’s signature or ratified into law personal finance as a requirement in their state’s high school curriculum.
We can’t afford to wait for the academic rollout or trust that our own upbringing alone suffices as financial education training. So, how can Gen Xers raise financially astute children?
As a financial planner and Gen X parent, I have a few suggestions.
Know Your Child’s Money Inclinations
Regardless of your child’s age, you’ve probably got some sense if your kid is a saver or a spender. Think about it: Does your child carefully sock away money received from doing chores or collected from birthdays? Or is your child constantly eager to buy toys, video games or treats?
My 10-year niece has taught me a thing or two about savvy savers. She prides herself on how large her saving account can grow. She contemplates long and hard about every purchase and is diligent about putting money away for the future.
But how can Gen X parents teach smart financial habits to young spenders? Get them excited about goal setting and making their money work for them. (Young savers can appreciate these lessons too.)
For Teens and Tweens, Set the Stage for Money Management
Adding up dollars from birthday and holiday gifts for pre-teens and teenagers can be an exciting activity. For younger children, learning fundamental math skills, they can equate adding numbers with counting dollars and subtraction with spending dollars. And giving these kids responsibility as they grow older by assigning household chores, as well as rewarding them with allowances, gives added training as money managers.
Gen Xer Curtis Ransom, Sr. , a software developer in Lorton, Va., enjoys using BusyKid’s chore app with his three teenage sons. He finds it an easy way to assign, track and reward completed household chores for each child.
All of Ransom’s sons have the app on their phone and can follow along with Dad’s assignments and payments. Ransom also encourages his sons to make purchases using their BusyKid debit cards so they can track their income and spending.
“As an adult, I have realized how important money management is. It affects so many parts of your adult life,” said Ransom. “I wanted to start good practices with my sons at an early age so they can be better equipped to handle their own finances in the future.”
Allyson Kitchel, a personal injury attorney in Washington, D.C. and Gen X mom of three sons — 9-year-old twins and an 11-year-old — concedes that teaching children about the cost of everyday living expenses can be challenging in the e-commerce world.
“My mom would take me shopping and show me how much groceries and gas cost. As an urban family, we are more inclined to have groceries delivered, particularly since the pandemic,” she said.
So, Kitchel and her husband decided to “manufacture” scenarios to help her 11-year-old understand and balance the cost of living with spending on fun items. They’re adopting a wise practice from her husband’s parents: give their son money for his clothing budget for the school year and let him decide how to spend it.
“As a teenager, my husband bought a week’s worth of jeans, whereas his sister bought two pairs of designer jeans. Both were completely satisfied with their choices,” said Kitchel.
When teenagers manage their own share of the household budget, it reinforces lifestyle choices and financial priorities at a young age.
Train the Next Wave of Investors
Talking openly with your kids about goals, priorities and budgeting can be a nice introduction to the larger concepts of long-term investing and building a nest egg early in life.
Many financial apps for children, such as BusyKids and GoalSetter, have expanded into offering ways to invest.
A few years ago, I opened the Stockpile app’s custodial accounts for my daughter, nephew and niece. Each was given $25 to open their account and then chose a stock they wanted to purchase with the money (Stockpile lets kids buy fractional shares for stocks priced higher than the amount they have to invest). They chose companies they knew well based on their experiences: Netflix
After looking at the recent value of the oldest two children’s accounts, I think my daughter and nephew may have a chance at being investment pros. My younger niece’s investment, however, wasn’t as resilient during the pandemic.
The good news: they each have diversified their investment portfolio by buying new stocks each year with financial gifts to their accounts.
Another idea: Opening a Roth IRA for a working teenager. This can be a gift of a lifetime.
As an example, if your child set aside $50 a month for 30 years and earned an average annual return of 5%, the account would grow to approximately $42,000, more than doubling the $18,000 investment. One day, the child will be able to take retirement distributions from the Roth IRA tax-free.
Imagine if your child masters the retirement investing habit as an adult and increases monthly retirement contributions as they get older. That could be a huge boost to get on the road to financial security in retirement — maybe even early retirement.
Balancing life and work demands with child rearing is no easy feat. And, I know — translating what we as Gen Xers took from my our upbringing to move the next generation forward financially can seem overwhelming at times. Even as a financial planner, it is challenging for me to stay current on, and implement, good financial management habits, let alone train my daughter along the way.
Fortunately, we are seeing a growing number of financial education tools and resources to support Gen X parents’ efforts.
As we gather with family and friends this holiday season, I encourage you to fold discussions on wealth building into your conversations with your kids. Create a plan to introduce or advance good personal finance habits with your children. The benefits can be lifelong.
Editor’s note: This article is the second in a series about Gen X and money by Certified Financial Planner Lazetta Rainey Braxton. The first article was “The Financial FIRE Alarm Gen X Needs to Pull to Retire in Good Shape.”