Moms share financial tips to help kids manage money

Rita Cheng, a certified financial planner who lives in Potomac, Md., says she works on money management skills with her children because “those are lifelong skills that will serve you well in all areas of your life.” Enlarge photo

Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press

Rita Cheng, a certified financial planner who lives in Potomac, Md., says she works on money management skills with her children because “those are lifelong skills that will serve you well in all areas of your life.”

CHICAGO – Moms are on the front lines of doling out allowances and shaping their children’s money habits.

And mothers who work in finance have extra knowledge to pass along about how to earn, save and spend it responsibly.

To Rita Cheng, a financial adviser and mother of three in Potomac, Md., there aren’t many more important skills a parent can teach than managing money.

It’s not that she schools her kids on the niceties of annuities, exchange-traded funds or some other complex concept. Her money talk is more about how they should handle their time and their money and what opportunities that can create.

Plus, she adds with a laugh, she needs to be ready with an intelligent response when her 13-year-old son accuses her of being cheap for not buying what he wants.

Moms who work as certified financial planners shared the best advice they gave their kids about money – tips suitable for offspring of all ages. Their five top tips:

Understanding needs, wants

Cheng, who works for Ameriprise Financial, talks a lot about needs versus wants with her son, Christian, and daughters Sarina, 16, and Karolina, 7.

Sometimes it’s difficult to tell the two situations apart, she acknowledges. Other times it’s clear, such as when Karolina, a second-grader, said “I need a cellphone!”

It was different when Sarina, a high-schooler, made the case for getting a smartphone. She was on the move a lot from school to babysitting to piano lessons and, in part, wanted to be able to access homework assignments online.

Cheng agreed that Sarina needed a smartphone and bought her one for her 16th birthday. But Cheng realizes that needs and wants differ by family, community and income level.

“In this day and age it is really hard” for parents to differentiate, she says, noting that it’s not easy to keep kids grounded.

Don’t spend it all in one place

Money that kids receive as gifts can provide a valuable teaching opportunity.

When she was a pre-teen, Eleanor Blayney’s daughter, Elizabeth, would get $25 from her grandma as a birthday present. Elizabeth would immediately ask, “OK, what costs $25 that I can spend money on?”

That gave Blayney the chance to emphasize that money is divisible.

“You don’t have to spend it all in one place,” says Blayney, consumer advocate for the Certified Financial Planner board in Washington. “You can spend some, save, invest, give.”

Some parents convey that message by labeling containers for children to divide their money among savings, spending, investing and charity. As part of the lesson, Blayney insisted that half of what Elizabeth later made from part-time jobs had to go into savings.

Live within your means

Lynn Ballou’s approach for giving advice to her kids as well as her clients is to embrace her role as a Jewish mom – meaning, she says, being direct and honest about money with a bit of fun thrown in. Her tips include “Don’t spend money on crap!” and “Don’t be afraid of the b-word (budget)!”

But she says the most important piece of financial advice she gives to her children – daughter Meredith and son Nicholas, both in their early 20s – or anyone else is to live within his or her means.

“If you think your gross (income) is what you make, it’s not,” says Ballou, managing partner of Ballou Plum Wealth Advisors in Lafayette, Calif. “Find out what your take-home is, and learn to live on your take-home. If you can’t, you need to do something else.”

Wait before buying

Impulse buying is a big trap for children and adults alike.

Blayney’s advice to her daughter was that if she really wants something, resist the initial urge and sleep on it. Put a little space between you and an impulse purchase.

“It’s amazing how much the impulse to spend goes away if you give it time,” Blayney says. “So, give it time, give it time.”

The equivalent advice for clients at the Directions for Women financial advisory service in McLean, Va., where she is president, is to get a good night’s rest and to shop with a list. Just don’t make going to the mall, or shopping, a source of pleasure and entertainment.

Be a smart consumer

Being a smart consumer starts early, as good money moms know.

Cheng uses simple discount coupons as one way to teach her kids to focus on saving and frugal spending. She got them started on clipping coupons out of the Sunday paper, with the savings going toward buying iTunes gift cards for family entertainment.

“It’s a way to encourage the habit of savings but also make it fun,” she says.

Sometimes the kids even compete to see who gets the coupons first.

“They like it,” she says. “I really want them to be good consumers.”