Talking to kids about money can be awkward, but it's important. That's the takeaway from a recent T. Rowe Price survey, which showed that parents consider topics like death and politics easier to discuss with kids than saving for a goal. A full 85% wanted to avoid the issue by signing their kid up for a personal finance course.
Though a class might help - and your financial advisor can be a valuable teacher's aide - your kids are still taking cues from you.
"Parents are the number one influence on their children's financial behaviors," Beth Kobliner, author of "Make Your Kid a Money Genius," told Forbes. "It's up to us to raise a generation of mindful consumers, investors, savers, and givers."
Here we offer essential financial lessons to reach your kids at each age and stage.
Don't underestimate them - at three, your kids can grasp basic financial concepts, and by age seven, they have already formed money habits, according to a Cambridge University study. Start with the basics, including the idea that you work to earn money in order to pay for what you want and need - and help your kids understand the difference.
One tip is to create a wants vs. needs college by dividing a sheet of paper in half and having your child cut and paste photos from magazines into the two categories.
Other money milestones mapped out by the experts at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau include the ability to focus and persist through tasks. Saving for retirement takes large amounts of patience and self-control, so we might as well start teaching them early.
Recognizing tradeoffs is another important early milestone. Try thinking aloud when you're grocery shopping about the amount of money you're exchanging for a product, or have them help you compare the unit price of similar goods. Whether a trade involves money, treats, or time, discuss with your child how every decisions has consequences.
Around age five, it's important to give kids some cash to manage. A regular allowance allows them to start thinking in terms of financial tradeoffs, and you can offer them a three-part piggy bank (save, spend, and share) so they begin to understand the different functions of money.
By age six, your child should be able to focus on completing small chores to earn money and understand the value of different coins and bills well enough to sort and count them.
As your child grows, help them develop values such as empathy and gratitude. Knowing some families live in poverty and need assistance is part of financial literacy.
It's also a good idea to pass down family stories to the next generation - how your parents pitched in to help you build your business, your first big purchase, or how spending habits helped you whether the ups and downs of life. These tales can help them understand their place in the world and develop perspective on what has value in life.
These years are also a good time to have your child open a bank account, which can help them claim the identity as a "saver" and associate positive emotions with it. You should also help them track what they are earning in interest. "There's nothing like receiving an interest payment (eve if it's a few cents) in your name for the first time," Asheesh Advani, CEO of Junior Achievement Worldwide, told Inc. magazine.
Credit cards, investing, taxes: As your child becomes a young adult, it's time to step up your game to help them with these complex topics and more. Before your teen racks up any credit card debt of their own, consider adding them as an unauthorized user on your card. Show them that interest accrues unless the balance is paid off - and that any late payment hurts your credit score.
Also talk about which data sources are trusted. Share how you vet financial decisions, and urge your teen to keep digging if what they're being told doesn't add up. For example, if your child is researching colleges, encourage them to do research beyond reading a school's brochure.
Many successful people trace their money skills back to a formative moment: getting a job as a teen. There's no better way to experience firsthand the effect of taxes, having a boss, being part of a team, and managing your time to fit in schoolwork. A seasonal job during school holidays or a part-time gig could help your teen better grasp the working world - and how they picture themselves in it.
Finally, come up with a savings plan for long-term goals, like a car or college tuition.
Start the conversation
Whether your kid is seven or 17, they are ready to hear money talk from their parents and grandparents. After all, financial literacy is not just about dollars and cents. You're really showing them how to think for themselves, develop values, and make sound decisions. In the space of a few teachable moments, you can empower them to take control of their future - a worthy investment.
This article originally appeared on RaymondJames.com.