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rob carrick

A note to all the people out there with perpetual credit card debt, mega mortgage payments and a gimme-gimme attitude about spending: Your kids are watching you.

The same applies to parents with good financial habits. Even by shopping for bargains at the grocery store, you may be teaching useful lessons about managing money.

There's a push on today to make kids smarter about money. Governments, schools, industry groups and non-profit organizations have all had some input. Parents are also part of the equation, but how fit are they to be teaching financial literacy? Let's just say today's teens are wary.

I found this out by swapping e-mails recently with Grade 10 students at Holy Trinity Catholic Secondary School in Oakville, Ont. One of their teachers, Kathleen Moro, lined up the exchange after reading my account of a high school financial literacy workshop I attended in Ottawa.

The one-hour workshop was worthwhile, but insufficient on its own to teach kids all they need to know about budgeting, saving, borrowing and other money matters. I suggested parents have a role to play in teaching financial literacy, a point that some of Ms. Moro's students agreed with. Several even described the ways their parents are teaching them about money, some of which will be shared here.

But not all the students said they wanted parents to teach them about money. Yes, kids have noticed that high debt levels and heedless spending - the very issues that have led to us having a financial literacy issue in this country - are problems created by their parents.

Telling It Like It Is

"Kids should not have to rely on their parents for getting a financial education," a student named Tristan said in his e-mail. "Some parents are very bad with money so they can easily teach their children wrong information and ultimately put them into debt when they are older."

A classmate named Shireen added: "If your parent is spending money on non-necessary things and blowing it off on anything they like in the stores, then they're not a good example for their kids."

A few of the students said schools should have an important role in teaching financial literacy, and that's actually happening to some extent. Ontario will add financial literacy to the curriculum for Grades 4 through 12 in September, and various organizations are providing experts to deliver workshops for schools nationally.

Teaching financial literacy in schools won't be easy, though. A student named Christina got the impression I was bored by the financial literacy session I attended, and that prompted a suggestion about how to better deliver this content to students. "If you had a younger person or a group of kids teaching other kids about money it could be fun and interesting," she wrote.

Good luck with that. Making personal finance interesting, never mind fun, has been a continuing challenge in the 10 or so years I've been writing about it.

Pat on the Back

Some of the best teaching about money is clearly going on at home through parents who are setting good examples for their kids. A student named Haylee wrote about a mom who's a whiz at finding coupons and deals for saving on groceries.

"My mom has always taken me to grocery stores and I always see her buying items that are on sale," Haylee wrote. "She doesn't buy everything that she needs, but only those necessary things."

Hana, a classmate, said her mom talks a lot about spending money wisely. On one particular shopping trip, her mom "showed me what to buy and what not to buy because she said some things are not worth all the money."

A student who asked to be anonymous said his parents have helped him by teaching him to save half his money and spend the other half. "This will help me in my life because I will always have money saved up and it will stop me from going bankrupt," he wrote.

Nathan, a classmate, said his mom urged him to get a job if he wanted money, which he did in Grade 8 by taking on a paper route for a while (he's now looking for work, if anyone can help). His strategy when drawing a paycheque has also been to save half and spend half.

In a student named Lauryn's house, there's a book where she and her sisters write down all the things they spend money on. The point: "To make sure we know where all our money goes."

Finally, there's Daniel, whose parents are helping him save money for his education and a house after graduation. "I have my own money and I put more in savings than chequing," he wrote.

A final note to parents: If you're discussing money and your teenagers are acting like, well, teenagers, bear in mind what Shireen said of her own mom's advice. "Even if it's completely annoying, at some points it still helps."