by Jean Chatzky
And here’s the rub. It’s not that we parents don’t understand that it’s our responsibility to teach our children to save — 81% of Doughmain’s survey respondents said as much. We’re just not doing it.
“It’s kind of like the plumber having the leaky pipe. Sometimes we don’t do what we say we’re going to do,” says Doughmain founder Ken Damato.
Why? I have one hypothesis. I’m not one to be crabby about technology, but all this swiping, online banking, and mobile depositing is hiding some important nuts and bolts from our kids. How do you teach your kids the value of a dollar — with compound interest — in the new (and low-interest) world we’re living in? I have a few tips:
• Set a good example. It’s hard in this economy to save money. I know that. But even those few dollars you put away each month can serve as a lesson to your children. Talk to them about how you find money to save. Next time you pass up a splurge while you’re with them — whether it’s a latte or a new throw pillow for the couch — explain that you did it because you can’t have everything you want and money in the bank too.
• Follow through. If you tell them you’re not buying anything extra at the grocery store because you need to save money, then fold in front of the ice cream freezer, you’re not doing them any favors. Rather, you’re teaching them that goals can be abandoned on a whim. The same goes for weekly allowance. If you forget, or don’t have the appropriate cash on hand, the underlying message is that bills don’t have to be paid on time. Instead, get them involved in money management. Show them how coupons help you save, and consider offering a bounty on each one that they find for something on your shopping list. Explain to them how 401(k) accounts use automatic paycheck withdrawals to facilitate saving, then show them how they can do the same by automatically earmarking some of their allowance for saving rather than spending. (And give them small bills to make this even easier.)
• Speak their language. This is the tablet and smartphone generation. They may never see a paper statement in their lifetime if they don’t want to. So show them how you bank online, and how the little bits of money you’ve put away have added up. (My kids like to see how their 529 accounts, also trackable online, are growing.) Then set them up with a savings account that they can monitor on their own, and other online tools like Mint.com or Doughmain that can help them track their spending and learn about money in a tech-savvy way. Finally, make the lessons fun. One idea, from Damato: a contest to see who can guess closest to the cost of family activities. Include the whole shebang — gas, tolls, lunch, entrance fees to the museum.
• Offer incentives. Only 38% of the Doughmain respondents are matching their children’s savings efforts. But it’s an easy way to give them a little push in the right direction, and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. You don’t even need to match dollar for dollar — 50 or 25 percent is plenty.