It probably goes without say that raising kids is expensive and takes a lot of work. But the costs might be greater than you think. The US Department of Agriculture says that raising a child born in 2013 until he or she reaches 18 will cost you roughly $245,000.
But that gets them just to 18. There’s a lot more to think about when it comes to kids and money. After age 18, they’re likely to need additional support from you for a college education. And then, finally, you hope they’ll be on their own.
While paying for all of their childhood necessities and saving for their college educations are important, what about the next 50+ years of their lives after college? Most parents want to set their offspring up for success after this period, too.
With this in mind, here are several tips for how you can help your child grow into a financially independent and successful adult.
Help them earn—and save—for themselves
The decision to give kids an allowance or make them earn it isn’t an easy one, and there’s no clear answer as to what’s best for your child’s future. Even psychologists who have examined this question don’t offer a definitive answer, so you’ll have to decide for yourself.
The most effective way to handle the “kids and money” question is to start when they’re young. You might give them a few chores they can handle in exchange for a weekly allowance. If you want to give them an allowance without assigning chores, that’s okay too, but if they need more money, it’s wise to let them earn it with a chore or task that needs doing.
The jury still seems to be out on whether or not having a summer job actually makes kids more responsible. But for me, the best money lessons grew out of earning my own spending money by doing chores and working summer jobs that eventually morphed into more work—and more money.
Save for college
Saving for your children’s college educations might not guarantee their eventual financial independence, but it can help them to avoid being strapped with thousands of dollars in student loan debt when they’re just beginning to spread their wings in their early 20s.
There are a few popular and advantageous ways to save for your child’s college education. One way is to start a 529 college savings plan.
A 529 plan typically offers tax advantages for investing money for a college education. It’s much like a Roth IRA, except the contribution limits may be higher, and it’s designed for the funds to be withdrawn when your child reaches college age.
All states offer at least one type of 529 plan, but some states offer better benefits than others. You can find a full list of deductions by state for 529 plans on FinAid.
If you decide not to use a 529 plan, a Roth IRA could be a good alternative. Roth IRAs also allow education expenses to be withdrawn without taxes or penalties after the funds are invested for five years.
Most plans allow you to put after-tax dollars in and withdraw the funds tax free. No matter what plan you choose, be sure to understand the implications of who actually controls the account and exactly what the funds can be used for.
If you’re unsure whether a 529 plan or Roth IRA is best, US News has a side-by-side comparison. They say 529 plans are likely best if you’re in one of 34 states that offer tax deductions.
While the limits are somewhat important, the most crucial factor is to start early. As with all investments, 529 plans do best when the investment is allowed to compound over time. Starting to regularly invest a small amount of money early will likely result in a larger balance than trying to play catch up by increasing contributions later.
Help kids take responsibility for their spending habits
Earning money is one thing—learning how to manage it and use it to pay for everyday expenses is another. In the TIME article I mentioned earlier, one teen who earned money at a summer job burned through all his earnings spending them on video games.
Having your child earn money is just the beginning. Teaching her how to use it wisely and spend responsibly is another. Several options for gradually handing over more responsibility, depending on your child’s age, could include:
- Paying monthly bills, such as for a cell phone or gas for her car
- Comparing tuition costs of different colleges she’s interested in, and computing the cost of a student loan
- Preparing her own taxes
- Shopping for a family cell phone plan to get the best deal
- Paying the bills for other regular expenses she has, like haircuts.
Children don’t have to do this all on their own. You’ll want to be there to support them and answer their financial questions, and give them help when they need it.
Teach kids about credit
Getting into credit card debt is one of the easiest and most common ways that young adults get into serious financial trouble. Usually, it goes something like this: A college freshman signs up for a credit card at school and fairly quickly racks up a balance that’s more than he can pay off each month. In short order, he’s in debt and can’t afford to pay it off.
I’m all for learning from experience—and ending up in credit card debt will certainly provide some important life lessons—but it’s easier and less damaging to teach kids the financial ropes before they run into trouble.
One strategy is to help kids learn how to manage a credit card with your help. You can add your kids as authorized users on your account to do this, although your credit will be tied to their spending habits.
Another option is helping them apply for credit and then monitoring their habits. You don’t have to go all helicopter parent on them. Just check in at least once a month and ask them if they’ve paid their credit card bills.
No matter what strategies you choose, helping your child learn about credit and explaining the good and bad of credit cards will almost certainly be better than having him find out about the hard way. I know it certainly would’ve helped me.
How do you handle kids and money questions like this?
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