The list of things we want to teach our teens before they leave the nest is long: how to put clean clothes in drawers to avoid those same clean clothes being intermingled with the dirty ones that are in the floor just feet away from the laundry basket, how to open the refrigerator and see the possibilities for a meal besides cereal and milk, how to clean the bathroom before the grime elicits a gag reflex, etc. At the risk of increasing your feeling of being overwhelmed, may I add one more item to this list? Get comfortable talking to your teens about money. I could have said “teach your kids proper financial management,” but doesn’t “get comfortable talking to your teen about money” seem more manageable?
Here are 3 tips to help you get started:
- Discuss your family bills. To be clear, I’m not recommending you pull a Murray Goldberg and tape off the thermostat in an effort to reduce your power bill! Instead, have conversations that will give your teens perspective on what it costs for your family to live. For example, you could take a few minutes when you’re paying monthly bills to go over the cell phone statement with your teen. You might even ask him to research plans available from competing companies to determine if you’re getting a competitive rate. Your teen might be interested in taking on this research project if you offer to pay him a bonus for reducing your monthly bill!
- Share the why behind your spending decisions. Maybe you explain that you chose to spend $500 on a suit for work because you can break down the cost per wear to less than $10. You might then share that you chose to rent a $75 dress for a cocktail party because it is unlikely that you will ever wear it again. The idea is to give your teen a “behind the scenes” view of how you choose to spend money on discretionary purchases. This conversation does not have to be long; keep it short and sweet. Otherwise, your teen will likely pop in her earbuds before you’re done talking.
- Share the why behind your giving. Does your teen know what charities you support and why you support them? Does your teen even know that you give money to charities? Or what a charity is? I once had a client tell me that he supported the Salvation Army because he grew up poor and Christmas presents from the Salvation Army were the only ones he received. I encouraged him to share this story with his teens and I’m encouraging you to share your own giving stories with your teens. You could also show your teen how to use a web site like Charity Navigator to check out a charity’s effectiveness. You might even give your teen an amount of money that she can give on her own after doing some research. Studies show that giving makes us feel better and wouldn’t we all like to feel better?
Don’t exasperate your teen by trying to cover all these topics in one sitting. Like the “sex talk,” it will take more than one conversation to get comfortable being uncomfortable talking about money with your teen. And, if you keep the conversations going, you may eventually pique their interest in saving for retirement early by sharing why Albert Einstein called compound interest the eighth wonder of the world. I make no promises on whether that lesson or the one on putting clean clothes in drawers will click first!
Patti and her husband have a lot of practice getting comfortable being uncomfortable when talking with their teenaged twins. Patti is also a Certified Financial Planner™ with more than twenty years of experience helping her clients spend, give, save and invest wisely.