Kids get some funny ideas about money. David Frisch, president of Frisch Financial Group in Melville, New York, co-founded an investing club at his kids’ middle school in 2014. One fifth-grade club member told his classmates that his family doesn’t worry about money because his dad has a “special thing you just buy stuff with, and you don’t have to pay for it — it’s called a credit card,” he says. “It was priceless.”
Cute or not, misconceptions about money can sprout when parents avoid the topic, as many do — 71% of parents are reluctant to discuss money with their youngsters, according to a T. Rowe Price Kids and Money survey. The good news is that kids who get opportunities to talk about finances can quickly advance from oblivious to sophisticated.
“You can start teaching your children about money from a young age, as early as 5 or 6 years old,” says Stacy Francis, president and CEO of Francis Financial in New York City. “Children are a lot more perceptive than we often think. They listen to how we speak about money, notice our attitudes towards it and what we do with it.”
She and other experts shared some ways they’ve taught their kids about money.
1. Invest pretend money
The investing club Frisch and a teacher founded, called Fantasy Stocks, had a group of about 20 kids who would meet after school every two weeks in the school’s computer lab. Each student set up a mock brokerage account with $10,000, using a free online stock simulator. They got to pit their stock portfolios against each other’s and learned to search financial sites for good and bad news on their stock picks.
Frisch’s own triplets, then 12, were enthusiastic investors in the club. “Conversations at the dinner table changed to, ‘I’m thinking about buying Apple because there’s a new phone coming out,’” he says. His daughter showed interest in the clothing company Michael Kors as a business rather than just for fashion trends.
One important investing experience in particular will likely stay with the kids for life. That first fall, the stock market performed well and many of the young investors watched their portfolios increase in value. “But in January, the market fell hard, and they quickly learned that it can go down, and it can go down big,” Frisch says. That’s a fundamental lesson that would serve any investor well.
2. Play games with money lessons
If you think about it, some of the most beloved board games revolve around financial decisions. The classic game Monopoly, for example, models real estate investing, while The Game of Life has players driving spouses and kids around the board in pastel-colored cars through a variety of financial ups and downs.
Francis, the New York City financial planner, uses her favorite board game to explain complex financial concepts to teenagers and younger kids. “One thing we like about [the game] Cash Flow for Kids is it allows kids to learn about the difference between assets and liabilities,” she says. Kids easily understand that assets are things you own, like a bike or a toy, while things you have to pay each month are liabilities — like a cable bill, she explains.
Players aim to get assets that generate income, so they can earn money without working for it. “The goal of the game is to have enough ‘passive income’ to pay for all of your expenses, so that you don’t need your salary to pay for them,” Francis says.
3. Fill out FAFSA together
When the time came to fill out her college-bound daughter’s financial aid application, Marguerita Cheng, chief executive of Blue Ocean Global Wealth in Rockville, Maryland, saw it as an opportunity to start a conversation. She suggested that the two fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, together. Her daughter agreed to help.
“I made her get the tax return and read off the line items,” Cheng says. Being exposed to the specifics of family finances for the first time was a learning experience. “It was eye-opening because she learned why you have to keep good records,” she says.
The first time filling out the FAFSA was a bit difficult, but doing it together has become an annual ritual and the basis for meaningful conversations about student loans, interest payments and future career plans, Cheng says. “I think she’s more aware of how much it’s costing. There’s an appreciation of what it costs for her to go to school.”
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When parents find ways to talk with kids about real-life finances, it’s doing them a favor. “By teaching them about money, you are empowering them by giving them knowledge and tools they will use for the rest of their lives,” Francis says. In fact, the most important thing you can do is to start having those money conversations with your family sooner rather than later.