Every parent wants the best for their child, but what does that mean financially? If setting your child up for a financially healthy life has your head spinning, you’re not alone. As Director of Wealth Management & Financial Planning at COUNTRY Financial, I get to witness the exciting life event of parents starting or expanding their family—but the financial preparation for a family isn’t always top of mind.
Parents need help prioritizing and planning for their child financially, both before their arrival and thereafter. As parents we do everything in our power to give our children every option and opportunity for success in life, and their financial well being should be no different. From setting up savings accounts and updating legal documents to reinforcing seemingly small financial lessons and having an open dialogue about money, parents play a key role in setting up a financial foundation and future for their child.
But don’t let the tasks send you into a panic. The truth is, just beginning the conversation is valuable. After all, parents don’t need any more guilt! Consistency and leading by example go a long way in laying the groundwork for raising kids with smart money habits.
The question, then, is where to begin? To help navigate financial best practices for parents, here are nine things all parents should do to help set their children up for a smart financial future before they turn 10 years old.
1. Set your own financial goals.
As the parent, your child’s finances start with you. So, it’s important to pause and take a temperature check of your own personal finances to make sure you have a strong foundation in place. Much of this begins by evaluating your long- and short-term financial needs, such as having an emergency fund in place and saving for retirement. Moreover, it’s important to have a roadmap for your financial goals before planning to have children, or before any big life change. If you are falling behind, don’t worry! Just take the first step to get started. Working with a trusted financial professional can ensure you’re on track. The earlier you prioritize your finances, the easier it will be to adjust when unexpected things come up.
2. Purchase life insurance.
This is admittedly not a topic we as parents like to think about, but if you haven’t thought about life insurance up until this point, now’s the time to start. It’s critical that you protect your child’s financial future by purchasing life insurance, in addition to building a trust and a will (more on that below). Should something happen, these pieces are essential to protecting what you have and ensuring your child is provided for financially. A financial professional can help you to identify the right type and amount of life insurance that is right for your family.
3. Create a will and trust.
Establishing a will and trust are critical documents that should not be overlooked. Before starting a family or as soon as possible thereafter, it is important to work with an attorney to put both documents in place to ensure a written plan for how your assets are to be distributed, should something happen. These are especially important for underage children as it allows you to have a say in how and when money is spent for your child.
4. Get your child a piggy bank.
Equal parts nostalgic and educational, a piggy bank is an easy and engaging way to introduce your child to the concept of earning, saving, and spending money at a young age. Remember, this isn’t meant to be a deep introduction to financial habits, but rather an age-appropriate way to make the abstract concept of money relatable and fun—especially as the concept of money becomes more digital and less tangible. My four-year-old daughter uses her piggy bank as the most basic practice of saving, and knows that once she has enough coins, she can use the money for additional saving or spending. The very act of dropping a penny in her piggy bank and hearing it clink begins to establish an understanding of money. It’s one of the best ways to begin teaching your child about money and saving while also having fun with it.
5. Talk about money.
It’s important to talk about money in front of your kids and with them, to normalize the conversation and show them real-life applications. You don’t have to go out of your way, but as opportunities arise, take the time to talk to your child about money. Begin the conversation in a relatable way; it can be as easy as explaining the swipe of the credit card at the grocery store or how parents go to work to make money to pay for things. This helps expose your child to different money situations and create independent financial thinkers. It’s also important to have age-appropriate financial conversations with your partner in front of your kids so they see you discussing and making decisions about money together—it shouldn’t be taboo!
6. Also, talk about the unexpected.
As parents we plan for unforeseen circumstances or situations, and kids should understand that even with the best laid plans, stuff happens! Talk about what happens if a toy breaks and they want to replace it or if they save up for a new toy and it’s out of stock or the price goes up. Share how you used your emergency fund to pay for a recent car repair or home maintenance project. These conversations help kids learn the lesson of saving for a rainy day and push them to consider whether or not they really want to spend that money. It also makes for easier conversations when your child wants something but it’s not in the budget.
7. Take your child to the bank and open a savings account.
This is where the piggy bank comes back into play. Plan a trip to the bank with your child and open a savings account fueled by those saved pennies. The actual activity of going to the bank helps form the connection between physical dollars and the value of money within our digital world. Especially since credit cards and digital forms of payment, such as Venmo and Zelle, can be a hard concept at a young age, this will provide a tangible meaning to earning, saving and spending money. It also establishes a sense of ownership for kids who otherwise have little control in most aspects of their lives. The idea that they are in charge of their own savings and can decide (to an extent) what to spend their money on will help grow their financial confidence.
8. Start saving for college.
According to a survey fielded by COUNTRY Financial, 56 percent of Americans would voluntarily go into debt to pay for their child’s college education, with the average person willing to take on $31K in debt. Rather than having to put yourself into debt, it’s important to begin planning for education early. There are tax-advantaged college savings plans that are designed to encourage saving for future education costs. They can also be a great gift-giving option for family and friends (especially for younger kids who won’t notice that they don’t have a slew of toys to unwrap).
However, before you set anything up, it’s important to revisit the first tip and evaluate your financial goals. There are loans to pay for college, but there are no loans for retirement. Ensure college savings fits within your family’s goals, budget, and priorities. A financial professional can help you evaluate your personal situation and provide important information like whether your state offers any tax benefits or incentives and help to put the best plan in place for you and your child. Then set up automatic contributions and sit back and watch those education dollars grow.
9. Start an allowance.
The biggest tip here is start small. Allowance doesn’t have to be a lot to be a valuable lesson. We give my daughter pennies for picking up her toys, and it will grow into bigger responsibilities as she gets older. The simple concept that she earned a penny for picking up her toys puts the action in context to help her make the connection about earning and saving in an age-appropriate way. It may seem like a small step, but you’re building the foundation of smart financial habits while ingraining savings in your child as early as possible.