Teach your children a healthy hatred of debt


What your children don't know about money will cost them – dearly.

My husband and I have made it a priority to raise money-smart kids. I, of course, took my lessons to another level, one that often frustrated my children.

Once there was a craft fair at my kids' school. As our eldest, Olivia, was counting how much money she was planning to spend, I pulled her aside to give her tips on bargain shopping.

"Look, you've got to negotiate to get a good price on what you want," I counseled her.

Olivia just rolled her eyes. She was incredulous that I was telling her to haggle with her classmates over craft items they had made.

"Mom, why are you talking to me about this money stuff all the time?" she complained.

I bent down to look her directly in the face. (I know. That was a bit aggressive.) I needed her to take me seriously. I was hoping to impress upon her that in every purchase situation you have to consider the cost – even if the seller is a friend – and try to avoid spending more money than necessary.

So, I said to my 10-year-old daughter, "It is my full-time job to make sure you're a good steward over your money."

"Well," Olivia started, looking me directly in the eye with her hands on her hips, "can you make it your part-time job?"

I couldn't help but laugh.

I'm pretty sure she had no idea what the word "steward" meant, but it was a teachable moment.

Fast forward 14 years, and Olivia is fiercely frugal. She and our other two young-adult children are all super savers and savvy shoppers. My youngest likes to joke about finding a discount nursing home for me. (Just in case she's serious, it's one of the top reasons I'm aggressively saving for my retirement.)

We've also taught our children – all of them are in college right now – to have a healthy hatred of debt. None of them has credit cards or student loans.

Many of their peers are not as fortunate. Recently released data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York show that in the fourth quarter of last year, 18- to 29-year-olds had $1.01 trillion in total debt, the highest the study has recorded since 2007 in this age bracket.

Since 2013, debt in this age range has increased at a faster clip than in most other generations. It's up 26 percent from 2013, compared with 24 percent among those ages 30-39 and 11 percent for those 40-59. For the young adults, student loans accounted for 38 percent of their debt.

Children need to be exposed to financial literacy, and their money-management skills must be nurtured like you would coach a young soccer or basketball player.

But what if you don't feel equipped to be so relentless about teaching your children about money? What if you've made a wreck of your financial life and don't have the confidence or ability to teach your children how to be money smart?

I believe financial literacy starts in the home, where financial lessons can be reinforced. But when that's not happening, we have to turn to the next best place to teach them the skills they will need. To that end, the nonprofit Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy is leading a new nationwide campaign designed to increase financial education in schools across America.

The group's "Project Groundswell" initiative seeks to increase by 25 percent by the year 2025 the number of U.S. elementary, middle- and high-school students who are receiving effective classroom-based financial education. And by "effective," the group means more than a one-event affair or a field trip, said Laura Levine, president and chief executive of the Jump$tart Coalition. For example, an effective program in a high school would entail 70 hours of instruction.

At the heart of this campaign is CheckYourSchool.org, an online platform designed to empower parents to find out if their kid's school is teaching financial literacy and, if not, advocate for adding it to the curriculum. On the site, click on your state, and then search to see what your local school offers in the way of financial literacy.

"As important as parents are in guiding their own kids to learn good financial habits, we know that doesn't always happen," Levine said in an interview. "So financial education in the classroom can help level that playing field. It can help us reach kids who just aren't getting enough guidance at home."

This is such an important project. Your child might stop playing soccer or basketball, but they will forever need to know how to handle their money.


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