During the summer I always enjoy having extra time with my kids that is free from homework or sports. One of the things they love to do with me is play Monopoly. Usually we start a game and then take a whole week to complete it; sometimes we even play for a quick 10 minutes before I leave for work! Last week while playing with them, we were about 30 minutes into the game before I noticed some unusual activity taking place with their money. Like any parent, I started quizzing them about what they were doing and at that point, they proudly revealed to me that they have been keeping a "secret" savings with their earnings so that they have money in the future to be able to buy homes or hotels. They also explained to me that they use their savings in case they get in a bind and owe a lot of money to someone that they normally wouldn't be able to pay. I was surprised and proud (and also humored) by this discovery. It was a huge reminder to me that kids watch what we do and that they actually do listen to what we teach them sometimes (even when we think they aren't listening).
Note how one of my children keeps his "secret" savings under a piece of plywood he found in the garage.
If you have young children or even teenage children and haven't already done so, I would encourage you to start teaching them some basic earning, budgeting and saving lessons so that they are equipped for the future. Even grandparents, who love to "spoil", can still find creative ways to teach their grand kids about money such as offering to match any money earned from a summer job to help pay for the purchase of a car. For the past 5 years we have weekly given our kids a small allowance so that they can "practice" with spending and saving (and by small I mean $1 when they were 5 years old and then increasing a little each year with age). Each week we have them give 10% back to us to put in a long term savings account I opened for them and another 10% in a Giving Jar which they then periodically give to various needs or organizations. They use the remaining 80% for things they ask for at the store like gum or a small toy or in the case of one of our children, to buy lots of hot Cheetos. It's been a great way to avoid whiny kids who beg for things at the store and cry when we say no. Instead, if they ask to buy something, we just ask them if it's important enough for them to spend their money on it. They've learned to evaluate how much they have and whether or not it's worth it for them to spend their money on the item they are desiring at that moment. Another way to help your kids learn to evaluate what things cost vs. how much they have is to provide them a certain amount of money for a category of items such as back-to-school supplies, Christmas gifts or their clothing. If they know you are giving them $75 to spend on their school supplies then not only will that guarantee they will look at the price of everything before putting it in their cart but they might choose to use last years lunchbox so they have enough left to buy the fancy glitter pens instead of regular pens.
In addition, consider having your kids help with some of their expenses even if you have the funds to pay for it. This helps them to value and appreciate what you are purchasing for them and also starts preparing them for the real world surprise of how much everything costs. For example, we've asked our kids to help contribute a portion of money to their week long overnight camp expenses each summer. This has inspired them (with our encouragement and guidance) to find ways to earn money each summer by watering neighbors plants, dog sitting, having a car wash in front of our house and, now that we have a teenager, babysitting. This summer we even encouraged our older ones to create fliers to pass out to the neighbors we know to let them know about their services.
Whether or not you have children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews, it's never too late to start teaching them about healthy financial habits, especially if you give them practical ways to apply what you are teaching. We often find that asking them a simple question or sharing something money-related that happened that day will peak their interest and start a great conversation.