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How to raise financially literate children

Financial Literacy

Are you looking for the Make it Count Instructors' guide? Find it here!

Teaching your children money basics is as important as helping them develop reading, writing and math skills. Financial literacy is an essential life skill. Kids don’t automatically pick up good money habits—we have to teach them, and it’s never too early to start.

If you’ve tried to teach your kids about the value of a dollar and felt like you were over your head, don’t worry. You aren’t alone. In fact, we have heard from many New Brunswickers that they don’t know where to start when they try to talk to their kids about money.

Talking about money doesn't have to be intimidating or complicated. Teaching children about money can easily be integrated into daily family activities. In fact, teachable moments are a parent’s best friend. Shopping, planning a trip or going to the bank are opportunities to introduce financial concepts, to explain the difference between needs and wants, and to talk about saving, spending, and budgeting decisions. A simple question or comment about something they see every day can open the door to a much bigger conversation.

And remember to always lead by example. Kids are very observant, and pick up cues from your behaviour! To make sure you are financially fit, check out I’m Worth It! This program provides excellent information and strategies you can use when planning for your financial future and encourages you to spend based on your values, or what is most important in your life.

Here are some tips and ideas for how to introduce your children to financial literacy now so they grow up to be financially confident teens and adults.

Talk about financial goals and saving

Help your children make smart spending decisions by teaching them how to set financial goals. The next time your child asks for something new, whether it’s an iPad, the latest toy, brand name clothing, or sports equipment, turn it into a teachable moment by encouraging them to set a goal and save their money to buy the item, or pay for a portion of it themselves.

Make it Count - Parents

Use the goal setting template on page 63 of Make it Count to create a savings plan to achieve their goal and keep track of their progress. But remember, all work and no play makes budgeting a dull chore! If they don’t get to enjoy the money they worked hard for, they won’t stick to any savings plan. Reward them for sticking to their plan and show them that being smart with their money doesn’t have to mean going without any fun! Download the Goal Setting Activity

Teach them to keep track of money

Your children may start receiving or earning money from a young age through allowances, gifts, and odd jobs like babysitting. As soon as your children start receiving money, help them keep track of it by teaching them how to use a budget. Download the Budgeting Activity

Help your child track their earnings and spending. Use the monthly budget sheet on page 65 of Make it Count. At the end of the month, look at their budget together and talk about what they enjoyed or regretted spending their money on and why. Tracking spending can be an eye-opening experience. Seeing where their money has gone can help them spend more mindfully in the future.

Once they have gotten used to tracking their spending, take it to the next level by having them set aside money for savings and making a plan for how they would like to spend their money next month.

Also, taking your child with you to the grocery store can be a great opportunity to talk about avoiding impulse purchases and sticking to a budget. Shop with a list and show them how you stick to purchasing just the items on your list. When they reach for the colourful box of candy next to the checkout, talk about the importance of using the list so you don’t spend more money than you have.  

Describe healthy use of plastic

Children are less and less likely to interact with physical cash, and transactions made with plastic (debit or credit cards) make it harder to feel the “pain” of parting with money. For older children, a prepaid debit or credit card can be a lower-risk way of introducing them to making purchases by swiping a card. It can help reinforce that a debit or credit card is not a magic, bottomless supply of money.

5 things your child should know about credit:

  • You need to have a clear plan for paying debt back. Taking on debt is convenient in the short term, but you shouldn’t borrow more than you can afford. And you should consider other options, such as saving up for a purchase, before impulsively swiping your card.
  • Credit is not the same thing as free money. It’s the opposite – borrowing money costs you more, as you have to pay back what you borrowed plus interest.
  • Using credit to buy things should only be done in certain circumstances. Credit cards are useful for online shopping that fits within your budget. Using it to pay other expenses may not be a good idea unless you’ve budgeted properly to pay it off in full.
  • You should think about the lifespan of a product before buying it on credit. For instance, if you want to buy a video game that you think you’ll be done playing within three months, but it will take five months to repay the debt, it might not be wise to borrow money for that purchase.
  • You should think about the value of the product to you. For parents, this is a great opportunity to talk about needs and wants and get your child thinking about the idea of value for money.

Teach them that money can be fun.

Being responsible with our money is important, but it’s also important to do enjoyable things with it so that we don’t feel like saving is a chore. That being said, overspending on entertainment is easy to do. A night at the movies for a family of four can easily add up to $80 or more! Show your children they can have fun and be smart with their money at the same time! Download the Recreational Spending Activity

Special advice for older students

Tuition, books, housing, groceries, bills…paying for post-secondary education and avoiding a heavy debt load is a big challenge– but not impossible. You can find lots of ways to save and manage your money while you’re studying. There are several ways to set money aside to help take away some of your stress. Here are a few tips you can use to save money:

  • Apply for as many scholarships, bursaries and grants as you can. Millions of dollars go unclaimed every year in Canada.  Here are some places you can start looking:
  • Start budget planning using our handy student budgeting tool. Keep in mind how much money you have, how much you need to spend and how much you can spend.  
  • Buy used books or borrow them from the library. Many universities have dedicated Facebook pages where students can sell their used books or even post requests for specific books.
  • Never do a grocery run when you’re already hungry. You’re more likely to spend more money and make impulse purchases that will dip into your budget.
  • Don’t buy brand name items. Most of the no-name brand items contain the same ingredients, but at a much cheaper price.
  • Try to limit how often you eat in restaurants. Most universities and colleges offer meal plans, so check with yours to find a meal plan that meets your needs.
  • If you shop often at a particular store, consider getting a membership card or points card for that store. Some retailers offer points cards that help you save money through discounts or other benefits.

Remember, it’s never too early to help your children start forming good financial habits! Hopefully these tips and ideas give you some ideas for how you can start talking about money with  your children. Tomorrow’s smart spenders are today’s kids! Let’s all make sure they have the tools they need.