I recently bought my kids digital piggy banks that tally their coins as they deposit them. The idea was to get them thinking about saving, and to stop them from constantly asking me to count their money.
Although I consider myself financially literate, I sometimes question whether I'm doing enough to teach my kids about money management. A recent moment of doubt came during a trip to the toy store, where my 4-year-old daughter decided to blow all her spending money on dolls, rather than diversifying with some books and puzzles, or saving a bit for another day.
It turns out I'm not alone when it comes to questioning my ability to raise financially responsible children. A recent survey by the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants shows 78 per cent of Canadian parents have attempted to teach their children financial management skills, but 60 per cent believe they have not been very successful.
Part of the problem is that not all parents feel financially savvy themselves, and financial literacy is not yet a standard part of the public school curriculum. So what's a parent to do, and where's a student to learn these crucial skills?
At a speaking event last week, Don Stewart, chairman of the Task Force on Financial Literacy, talked about using the "teachable moments" in our children's lives as an ice breaker for talking to them about money. For example, when our kids get their first jobs, we should talk about saving some of that money for the future. When they get their first credit cards, we need to teach them about borrowing and debt. And when they go away to school, that's a good time to talk about student loans and budgeting.
We also need to lead by example, says Perry Quinton, vice-president of marketing for the Investor Education Fund. "It has to be emphasized in all aspects of their life," Ms. Quinton says. "At home, parents are a big model for financial behaviour. And kids really look at that as an example. So the parents need to be acting responsibly with their money as well and getting informed and getting educated and looking at those tools and resources, doing some financial planning."
If finances just aren't your strength, why not sit down with your kids at the computer and check out some of the free educational tools available at the federal government sites CanLearn.ca and The Money Belt. The Investor Education Fund's Funny Money site has some humorous videos and interactive tools to get high school students thinking about how they spend. And for younger children, FunBrain, Planet Orange and Rich Kid Smart Kid offer games that teach basic money concepts in a fun way.
This past weekend, I recognized a teachable moment when my six-year-old son realized that after several weeks of saving, he finally had enough money to buy the Lego set he had been wanting. We talked about how rewarding it was for him to set and achieve his financial goal. Now I just need to persuade him that it's equally rewarding to tidy up, so that his hard-earned Lego investment won't get sucked up the vacuum.