A+ Advice for Parents

Different Tools Can Help Kids Learn Financial Literacy

Q: This summer, I want to teach my daughter, a rising high school sophomore, to be a smarter saver, because she's not learning it at school and she now has a summer job. Where can I find resources?

A: You're smart to take this on. Only 17 states require a personal-finance course to graduate.

Yet financial illiteracy is a big threat facing our country, says certified public accountant John J. Vento, author of "Financial Independence" (Wiley, 2013): It's passed "from generation to generation, because parents often lack financial literacy, too."

Some teens learn money management themselves. A seventh-grader I know walks dogs, organizes closets and cleans refrigerators to meet a big goal: earn $4,000 by the time she's 16 to buy a car so she can commute to a "real" job. Is her older brother equally motivated? Not so much, says their mom: "She's from Planet Save-It. He was born on Planet Spend-It!"

Parents of teens from both planets can find good online resources to help kids develop money sense.

-- Don't just focus on saving; teach the basics of financial literacy. At a minimum, teens should be able to budget, save and spend wisely, according to Kelli Ramey, director of H&R Block's Dollars & Sense, offering links for parents and teens at www.hrblockdollarsandsense.com.

-- Schwab MoneyWise provides games and tips for teens that cover budgeting, saving, spending, investing and giving back. Go to www.schwabmoneywise.com.

-- Junior Achievement $AVE, USA offers downloadable resources on financial planning for parents and kids at juniorachievement.org. Check the website for Junior Achievement programs in your area.

-- Find quizzes on earning, saving, borrowing, protecting and spending money at Northwestern Mutual's The Mint. The site offers a compounding calculator that demonstrates the "magic" of compounded interest in various savings and investment vehicles. Go to www.themint.org.

Gail Karlitz, co-author of "Growing Money: A Complete Investing Guide for Kids" (Price Stern Sloan, 2010), defines financial literacy as "knowing how to earn money, manage it, invest it to earn more money, spend it and donate it to help others. While that may seem a tall order for the summer, it really isn't if you use your family as the example."

Karlitz encourages parents to get concrete: list the family's needs (food, clothes, housing); wants (treats, entertainment, things we love but aren't essential); goals (things we save for, such as a TV); and giving (charities, gifts, religious donations).

"Explain that, as parents, you're assuming the cost of the family's needs, such as mortgage payments, insurance, food and so on. Discuss what those expenses are," says Karlitz.

Have your daughter list her own needs, wants, saving and investing goals and ideas for giving. Discuss how she'll allocate her summer earnings into these buckets.

The financial planning website Jump$tart Coalition has a tool called "reality check" that makes this fun, says Karlitz: "Input amounts you spend into key expense categories to see the relationship between your spending and your income. This is an eye-opener!" Go to www.jumpstart.org/reality-check.

Before your daughter starts her job, have her set up a bank account so the paycheck is direct-deposited, says Karlitz: "Once it goes into her account, she's more likely to stick with her allocations."

(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)

More like A+ Advice for Parents