For many families, the school year is off to a great start.

But did you know there’s one subject that’s often absent from grade schools and even high schools: personal finance courses.

Currently only four states say that a one-semester course in personal finance is a requirement for high school graduation, leaving parents responsible for their children’s financial education.

For Omaha parents who don’t know where to begin – they’re not alone.

Teaching children about money requires more than a single conversation. You may have to bring the subject up several times before he or she gets it. In fact, you should probably start discussing finances at an early age — say elementary.

Momaha recently spoke with money experts Crissy Hayes and Karen Guy of SAC Federal Credit Union about how to teach children about savings and finances.

Karen Guy & Crissy Hayes

Hayes (pictured on the right) is vice president of operations at SAC Federal Credit Union. Guy was instrumental in creating their Banzai Financial Literacy Program, which teaches kids (middle school to high school age) to save, using real-life scenarios.

Here’s what they had to say:

1. Teach by example. Demonstrate the kind of financial behavior you would like to instill in your children. Even children as young as three will pick up on their parents’ behavior.

“Finances… It’s the back bone of what we do,” Hayes said. “Teach children at an early age — even as early as kindergarten — how to count coins and save them in a piggy bank.”

2. Start early and keep going. Your 3-year-old needs to know that you sometimes have to wait to buy something, but your 18-year-old needs to know to pay the credit card bill every month. The Treasury Department’s Money As You Grow page has 20 lessons to teach your kids, grouped by age, and activities to teach those lessons.

3. Use games. Kids learn best when they’re having fun, and there are many games for teaching kids about finances. Simple games like Penny Toss get them started, then more complex video games like Financial Football, The Great Piggy Bank Adventure and Celebrity Calamity can teach them about saving, investing, debt and credit cards.

4. Don’t stop at saving. Some parents think they’ve done their part when they encourage kids to save every bit of money that comes their way. There’s nothing wrong with teaching the value of saving, but remember: They need to know how to spend wisely, too.

“The most common challenges parents face when teaching their children about money is instilling the importance of savings,” Guy said. “Get your little ones into that routine of putting those pennies away.”

5. Build a budget together. A budget is a good, concrete way to show little ones how you plan your spending – particularly when you respond to requests to buy things with “That’s not in the budget.” Make sure you include a plan for saving in your budget, so that they see the relationship between saving and spending.

6. Let your financial institution help. Most financial institutions offer financial education programs for kids. At SAC Federal Credit Union, the Dollar Dog Kids Club savings account is just for kids, and the prizes, gifts and contests help them enjoy learning the value of saving. For teens, check out the Banzai Financial Literacy Program, designed to help establish good financial habits around budgeting, insurance, debt and more before they dive into the real world.

Once your child’s piggy bank is full have the banker show them how to run their money through the coin machine, Hayes suggested.

7. Treat mistakes as teachable moments. When you hear requests for more money or that a teenager’s investment went south, use those moments to teach your kids about choices. Bailing them out may teach them that there’s always more money somewhere, and that’s the last lesson you want to teach.

8. Don’t neglect debt. For many major purchases, borrowing sensibly is a necessary skill, even if you hope your kids won’t have to do it too much. Make a small loan to them and charge them interest, then show them how much the total was in the end.

Learn more money saving tips, by clicking here.

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