As a parent and as a teacher, I grapple daily with the question of how to seed the experience and knowledge for kids to become financially responsible adults. Instinctively, and for several years now, I have been experimenting on my kids by empowering them to make purchases, research buying decisions, invest their money in family projects, give to charity and save for things they don't know they want today.
My firm belief is that if my kids are to become financially savvy young adults, they must have diverse and varied experience with handling money as soon as they can understand what it represents. If this education is absent, there are some clear dangers in navigating life's money minefield.
From my vantage point as I work to shape the financial literacy programs offered by JA Canada, I see four risks for young adults if they don't have a solid portfolio of financial experience as children.
To me, dependency is the opposite of freedom. To have a fulfilling life one must feel that one has the power to make decisions that create the life one wants to live. Living paycheque to paycheque happens when you run out of cash before paying bills, buying food, or rewarding yourself. I recall vividly how incredibly stifling this situation was emotionally and spiritually when I was a university student. The last thing any parent wants for their child is financial dependency on them well into adulthood.
Today's consumer landscape is confusing. Young people are constantly being influenced by various and sophisticated messages designed to channel their desire to buy. This unchecked consumerism contradicts any instruction a person might receive about saving or fiscal responsibility. Without intervention with the full weight of your parental influence, kids risk developing unrealistic and unhealthy expectations that they are entitled to the latest trends. Worse yet, they may learn happiness is dependent on full participation in rabid consumerism.
On a weekly basis, I hear of more reports that Canadians are carrying record levels of consumer debt. With interest rates seemingly locked down below the rate of inflation, many rational adults succumb to their desires to improve, redecorate and upgrade. Of course, there are solid financial reasons to leverage credit to create stability (i.e. mortgage) or capitalize on real opportunity (i.e. postsecondary education), but kids without money smarts will have trouble seeing the constraints and potentially paralyzing effects of unhealthy debt on their future options.
Without positive money habits, the risk of a big financial mistake in young adulthood is higher. The cascading consequences of such a circumstance can turn the confident and empowered into the shaken and demoralized. It would be hard to quantify the long term, compounding effects of a false start to adult life, but surely this something we all would like to mitigate for our kids.
Of course, it's not all bad. The opportunities in equipping kids with money mojo far exceed the dangers of not doing so. This is the spirit of Financial Literacy Month and the motivation of the thousands of volunteers who deliver our JA Dollars with Sense program in Canada. Together we are striving to be an upstream solution to the risks I see above.
As always, I am interested in your thoughts and reactions. Why is an early financial education important to you? What perils are you preventing by equipping kids with money mojo?
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You may feel like saving is impossible with that huge pile of debt sitting on your back, but unless you take care of it first, you won't be able to plan out a clear financial future. "High debt levels will slow down your saving and investing abilities when you start working, so do everything you can do to stay out of debt," says author and financial coach David Campbell Lester. Obviously, this situation isn't ideal for everyone — especially students who take loans during the school year and don't find full-time work right away. Once you graduate, talk to a financial planner to figure out how much you should save each month, and if you're a student, talk to your school's career centre for part-time work or look for grants or scholarships.
This can either be someone who works at your bank or someone you know who is really good with their money. Meet with your mentor once a month and discuss your challenges and successes thus far in terms of your career and finances, Lester says. And although it may be a little embarrassing to share your savings and debt numbers with someone you know, remember, we've all been there at one point.
"When in school, get a part-time job that will complement your career when you graduate, and give you cash to keep out of debt," Lester says. Although getting part-time work can be tough during the school year, try looking at jobs on campus that can work around your schedule, and give you more skills in your preferred field.
If you love your credit card and treat it like a best friend, make sure you're using it for the right things."Build credit by paying your mobile, cable, internet, and other fixed costs on your credit card and then pre-authorize a full payment at the end of the month," he says. Don't make of habit of paying for everything on credit — especially if you can't pay it off. Also, when you are looking for a credit card, choose one (or two) that will benefit you with either points or a cash back feature. Credit can be your friend, as long as you don't create a hole of debt.
If you know you have $100 a week to spend on food, coffee, entertainment, etc. then leave that amount in a "spending account," or take it out in cash every Sunday, Lester says. If you are the type of person who is more likely to spend cash if they see it in their wallet, start with a small amount, like $20 to $40 per week.
Make your own coffee that day, pack your lunch, stay in and watch Netflix, and make your own dinner. Start this challenge by bringing your lunch every day, for example. Turn it up a notch by implementing financial-free weekdays at least three times a week. "Going out only once a week will save you a ton of money," Lester says.
Have your bank transfer 10 to 20 per cent of your paycheque into a savings account every time it goes in. Over time, it will grow and you won't even miss the amount. If you're worried about spending it, try opening up a separate bank account without any fees or invest in a TSFA. Remember, once you get comfortable, you can move up the percentage.
Looking into the future, start thinking about investing in property. "Real estate has gone up in the long run and there isn't a single better investment for retirement than a home that is paid for," Lester says. Although this may seem out of reach for most millennials, start saving early by putting away a certain amount of money each month for a condo or house, live with roommates to decrease your own rent costs, and keep an eye out for new buildings or units in your area.
"I know it seems boring, but once you have a portfolio of investments pumping money into your account, you'll see it as fun too," Lester says. Join an investing group, watch the news for the latest numbers or pick up some investing books from the library.
Take a minute to actually figure out where your money is, including how much money you have in each account, money you owe and money you have invested, if any. "You don't have to cut out expensive coffees, shop with coupons, and live like a hermit to be a money champ. Spend less than you make and save 10 to 20 per cent for your future," Lester says. If your net worth is increasing year after year, you're on the right track.
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