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The Secret to Money-Smart Kids? Start Young

BUT I WANT IT! Almost everyone has had the pleasure of witnessing a stressed parent trying to derail a non-stop toddler trip to trantrumsville.  Our little mini-me’s are bombarded with consumer information and face incredible pressure to keep up with fashion and technology trends. iPhones! Xboxes! Hannah Montana concert tickets! Who can blame kids for having a mall meltdown?

Childhood experts agree that early education about money is a vital lesson that many little ones are missing.  “So,” you may be asking, “on top of all the day-to-day parental responsibilities—establishing healthy eating habits, instilling strong moral values, and seeking out the best education—we ALSO have to talk about money?”  YUP, but don’t panic—teaching money principles doesn’t have to include dry-as-dust discourses on microeconomics or NASDAQ stock symbol flash cards. There are lots of ways to both have fun and teach healthy financial habits that will last a life time. Here are a few ideas:

Piggy banks: A time-tested, hands-on saving experience
Buy a see-through bank for your loose change. Show your child the bank and let him give it a shake. Let them drop in coins to see the pile grow. Coin collecting is another way to show the value of money. Start with 41 cents—a quarter, a dime, a nickel, and a penny.  Help your child make a coin display with colorful labels and creative symbols. Discuss the different values of each coin. You can even throw in a lesson on US Presidents.

Unleash a young imagination by playing store with your child
Identify a “product,” like little toys, books or snacks, and design price tags (5 or 10 cents is appropriate) and displays. Provide some play money and choose who will be the shopper and who will be the store clerk. The objective is for them to experience the fun of shopping and learn about basic money exchange.

Let your kids get involved with money management tasks
Little ones can help sort coupons, make grocery lists, and pick out items at the store based on price. Have your child sit on your lap when you pay a few bills, explaining as you go, “This money pays for the lights in our house, the kitty’s doctor bills, and mommy’s car.” 

Setting a good example for your children is vital
“Do as I say, not as I do” won’t work here—today’s I WANT CANDY could turn into tomorrow’s I WANT $1,400 MANOLO BLAHNIK LEOPARD PRINT PUMPS. Like saving money, putting in time with your children is an investment in the future, and lets you choose what kind of behavior they will be surrounded by.

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