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Teaching Good Fiscally Responsible Habits at Every Age

Published Mar 15, 2018 • Last Updated 11:16 am, March 15, 2018

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Today more than ever, financial responsibility seems to be becoming a more abstract concept as payment methods reach beyond credit cards and people are able to make purchases with a flick of a smart watch or smart phone. People go on their computers, click add to cart, and two days later, a smiling box arrives on their doorstep.

With these technological advancements, children are not seeing physical money exchange hands, making the concept of spending even more difficult to understand. To many, communication about finances is key.

"We talk openly in our house about what things cost and with my boys being 13 and 15, they totally get it," said Michelle Provencher of Northford. "We don't hide restaurant bills from them or what a vacation costs–when they see what these items cost, they are very appreciative of what we do for them and with them."

Fiscal responsibility is not a subject that is taught in school so there are many students who graduate high school without knowledge of how to balance a checkbook, how to save for the future, and the risks of incurring debt.

Ann-Marie McCarthy of Branford, who has a master's degree in elementary education and is the director of the Family Resource Center in North Branford, stresses that education about how to handle finances should be taught in the home from an early age.

"Kids can start learning about responsibility as early as two or three and then it's probably not with money, but learning that if you play with toys, you clean them up," said McCarthy. "From there it may snowball into an allowance and then becomes about showing them what to do with the money."

While McCarthy has never given her own children an allowance, she has helped them save money when they were given gifts or earned money for doing jobs around the neighborhood like mowing lawns or shoveling snow.

"As they get into elementary grades, making a trip to the bank and opening a savings account is great because they get a slip and can see their money growing," said McCarthy, a Branford resident. "If they want to get money out, I don't make it easy for them–they don't have ATM cards for their accounts and have to talk about what it's for."

There are several versions of the "Rule of Thirds" that people apply to finances, all involving splitting your income–or in a child's case, birthday or gift money–into three categories. One version includes long-term savings that will not be touched, short-term savings toward a specific purchase goal like a Lego set or new bike, and immediate spending money for impulse purchases. Another version that would work better for older children is the 50-20-30 rule where 50 percent of income goes toward necessities and bills, 20 percent goes toward saving for financial goals, and 30 percent is for wants. A simpler version for the youngest children is splitting the money into three categories: Save, spend, and give.

"We talk about how much you can keep, how much goes into the bank, and how much you use to give back," said McCarthy. "It's never too early to think about others."

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