“You’re considered a bad parent if you don’t have those conversations about sex and drugs,” says Beth Kobliner, a veteran personal finance commentator, “But when it comes to money it’s much more taboo.” Kobliner’s latest book, Make Your Kid a Money Genius (Even If You’re Not), aims to make that conversation a little less intimidating with practical advice for teaching kids good habits on saving, spending, getting insurance, and even investing. We talked to her about the biggest mistakes parents can make at every age group. Here’s what to steer clear of, and when.
1. Lying for Convenience
When your kid is between the ages of three and seven, it’s tempting to fib and say you don’t have any money to buy the candy he or she has fixated on. Don’t. Kids know that “you may not have dollar bills, but you have a plastic card that buys whatever you want,” Kobliner says. If you plead having no money, but then buy something else while you’re out, your kid will put it together that you lied. It’s better to give a real reason, even as simple as “We don’t need to spend money on that right now.”
2. Fighting With Your Spouse Over Money in Front of Your Kid
Kobliner cites a study of college students that demonstrated the kids were more likely to have credit card debt of $500 and upwards if their parents fought about money than if they didn’t. You’re all better off when you keep the disagreement behind closed doors. This is particularly important when you’ve got a kid in the range of eight to twelve who’s questioning your every move. If a kid asks for a big ticket item, discuss it with your spouse first, Kobliner says, and then present a unified front.
3. Oversharing Your Own Mistakes
Maybe you used up all your savings following your favorite band around one summer. Or bought a motorcycle with every last penny you had. Whatever your past financial misdeeds, be careful about how you tell your kids about them. Kobliner suggests telling the basic truth, but not the details. If you get too caught up in rosy memories of the road but don’t dwell on on how the spree set you back buying a house, your teenager might not get the point you actually intended to make: It was a big mistake.
4. Letting Them Live Off Credit Cards
“If there’s one thing I think doesn’t get explained properly and lot of grownups don’t understand,” Kobliner says, it’s that not paying credit cards off each month means you end up paying a lot more for what you buy. So encourage your kids who are just starting out as young adults to only use credit cards as a convenience, even if they’re not making much at their first job. You don’t want them to get used to living beyond their means and racking up credit card debt. Co-signing a credit card is also a big mistake, Kobliner says. It won’t teach your young adult child financial independence, and it could ruin your credit as well as theirs if they can’t make payments.
5. Skimping on Your Daughter’s Financial Education
In a 2014 survey by T. Rowe Price, more boys than girls said their parents talked to them about money, a difference of 58 percent to 50 percent. Forty-five percent of boys in the survey thought they were very or extremely smart about money, but that number was lower for girls, at 38 percent. That’s evidence there’s a gender gap you need to be aware of and fight for your daughters, because girls need to be equally prepared to manage money as boys, if not more. “Especially since the wage gap still exists,” Kobliner says, “they’ll need to make up for that gap with smarter savings.”
Buy Make Your Kid A Money Genius (Even If You’re Not) by Beth Kobliner here.