Teach Kids to Set Financial Goals – Video

Here’s the next in my Kids and Money video series:  Setting Personal Financial Goals

The Mystery Charge – A Teachable Moment

The cell phone bill came in.  It was a little higher than usual, not by much, but enough to get me looking for the reason why. 

I consider the cell phone bill a fixed expense.  Technically, it’s not since there is always the possibility that we could go over minutes at which point the charges skyrocket.  I know this.  Two teenage boys with their first girlfriends and, well, let’s just say they finally understood what I meant by girls can be expensive

But even so, we pretty consistently pay around $98/month, give or take a few pennies.  So it’s a fixed expense in my budget.

Both boys pay for their portion of the bill.  John and I take care of the family plan charge which leaves the boys with their $10 extra line charge and $5 unlimited texting fee.  That plus taxes and surcharges and the kids each owe me $17.04 monthly.  It’s a steal, really.

I located the extra charge.  It was for $5.99 and showed up under Ryan’s portion of the bill.  Ryan recently upgraded to a new phone.  His second in three years.  That’s what happens when kids have to pay for their own stuff.  They discover that they really don’t need the whiz-bang latest technology.  The old stuff works just fine, thank you very much.

Since the rest of us were not charged this fee, I figured it had something to do with Ryan’s new phone.  But instead of me picking up the phone to figure out what was going on, I decided it was time for Ryan to handle his own inquiries.  He’s 15 and quite capable.   He was also quite willing.  Again, when you have to pay for your own stuff, a $5.99 charge is worth looking into.

So he dialed the number and talked with the representative.    Here’s what he found out:  Apparently, out of the goodness of their hearts (it wasn’t in the contract), TMobile decided to enroll him in their insurance plan for his new phone.  It was $5.99 a month and would cover the cost of a new phone minus the $40 deductible (he’s familiar with deductibles) should he lose his.  He asked me what he should do.

“Have you ever lost your phone before?” I asked him.

“No,” he replied.

“Well, there’s always the chance that you will.  Is it worth it to you to pay six dollars a month on top of a $40 deductible should you lose your phone?   That’s up to you to decide.” 

I could tell he was thinking really hard about it.  He had his old phone for three years and never lost it.  He’d been scared that he had a couple of times, but we always found it.  Besides, his new phone cost him $150 plus taxes.  Minus the deductible, that would leave $110 that he was insuring at $6/month.  He decided it wasn’t worth shelling out the additional money. 

He finished his conversation with the representative who reversed the charges for him.  But the lesson is not over.  When the next bill comes in, I’ll have him confirm that it was reversed.  

Dealing with this sort of thing is definitely not fun.  It’s time-consuming and a hassle.  But I’m thrilled that both boys are at the age where they are capable enough to handle these on their own.  It puts them one step closer to being ready to go out in the world on their own…and do okay.  Sort of a bittersweet moment for me.

How Does a 15-year old Save for a Car?

Ryan just bought a car. And she’s a beauty, too. 2002 baby blue Toyota Prius with only 57,000 miles. Owned by a 91-year old grannie who used it mostly to drive to church and back. No kidding. Problem is, Ryan can’t drive it; never mind he doesn’t have his license. He barely has his permit. And taking an online course to get his permit happened after he bought the car.

How does a 15-year old with no permit end up with a pretty snappy car sitting at the bottom of the driveway? It starts with a plan.

When Ryan was 11 years old he got his first job. He delivered papers once a week after school. Most of that money went directly into his savings account. Although he was responsible for all his discretionary spending, there wasn’t a whole lot he spent money on. John and I customized his interest rate (KidsSave was a great help in this area), so that the more he saved, the more he ended up with. This was a great incentive. But an even greater incentive was the offer his grandmother gave him. She would match him dollar for dollar on his first car.

Over the years he added soccer reffing, teaching math centers, and yard work for our neighbor to his list of jobs. He also did the occasional lemonade and root beer float stand. Then there were his buys and sells on ebay. Again, most of it went into his savings account. Although I have to mention here, just in case you may think he never enjoys spending money, he bought his own $350 mountain bike, an ipod touch, golf clubs and other pretty pricey items. He knows when to save and he knows when to spend.

But my main point is that, when you have a goal in mind, when you know what you want and have figured out the steps to get there, it’s easier to keep your eyes on the target. That’s the power of goal setting. It keeps us focused. Even when you’re eleven years old.

Four years later the perfect opportunity presented itself. We live near a community college which doubles as a used car lot on the weekends. Nathan and Ryan, just playing around on the computer one day, discovered that a used Prius would be on the lot. A Prius is exactly what Ryan wanted. He’s my little eco-friendly kid.

The stars seemed to be aligning for him. About six months ahead of when he had planned on buying a car, it was an opportunity not to be missed. An opportunity on a variety of levels. This was his first major negotiation and he wanted to do it himself. So John and I prepped him. He needed to know exactly what his maximum offer would be. Start low, move up.

The owner, through her grandson, was asking $10,000. Ryan went in at $8800. They came back at $9200 which was exactly what Ryan had hoped. He had just made his first deal.

After registration and taxes, the total came to $9796. Split with his grandmother, Ryan’s share was $4898. He paid in cash. That’s how a committed 15-year old buys his first car.

Teaching our kids to set personal financial goals when they are young is so important. It starts with the little things…a video game then a bike then an ipad. They learn it’s possible and begin saving for the bigger things. To see how it’s done, check out this video:

How To Encourage Kids to Save Money

This is the first in a series of Kids and Money Quick Tips videos that I will be putting together. This first one is on getting kids in the habit of saving money.

Should We Reward Good Grades Monetarily?

An interesting article appeared this morning in The Sacramento Bee. Apparently college students can now make bets on their performance in school. Twenty-five bucks says I’ll ace this class. Fifty bucks, I bomb. It’s the genius of two guys, Steven Wolf and Jeremy Gelbart, who point out that, technically, it’s not gambling since students are betting on themselves and not others. It’s really about students, ahem, investing in themselves. So they created Ultrinsic, a site that allows college kids to place wagers on themselves.

Hmmmmm….I can see this go in several directions. It may motivate some students to work hard. On the other hand, if there’s a lot of money involved, it could evolve into something that never happens (!) on college campuses….cheating. And then there’s a potential for increased altercations with professors over a grade on an essay. It’s enough to keep anyone from wanting to teach at the university level. When money is on the line, I find it’s best to stay clear.

But let’s take a look at money and grades from another angle – rewarding elementary, middle, and high school kids for high marks on their report cards. Unlike the college student scenario, the money would come from outside, most likely the parents. That makes it what behavioral psychologists call an extrinsic reward.

So the questions are: Does paying kids for good grades motivate kids to do well? Do kids get stressed out over tests and grades knowing there’s a price tag attached? Is this type of reward fair or unfair?

I’m going to go with my personal bias here which is based on my background in child development and my 23+ years of teaching kids. That, and current research on what motivates us.

But first let me say that it has been my experience that all parents love their children. They want their children to succeed. And they’re willing to do what they think is right (and what fits into their very busy schedule) to help their kids attain this success. But just because someone thinks something is right doesn’t necessarily make it the best choice.

For example, what about the kid who really works at his studies but just seems to come up short on test days? Is he less deserving because he didn’t pull that A or B? And let’s be honest, we all know kids who have slept through an entire semester of lectures only to end up acing the class. Is this person more deserving of the money than the one who burnt the midnight oil and squeaked by? There is a difference between “getting good grades” and “effort” that doesn’t always show up on the report card. Besides, rewarding kids who already do well in school by paying them for their grades robs them of the opportunity to develop intrinsic motivation.

And speaking of motivation, behavioral psychologists say that extrinsic rewards, like giving money for grades, are not sustaining motivators. They may work well initially but usually tend to peter out. That’s because extrinsic motivators like this are more geared towards controlling a certain behavioral outcome, in this case, getting good grades. After a while, kids just aren’t interested…unless, of course, you up the ante…again, and again, and again. Besides, the focus becomes on the extrinsic reward, the money, and not on the intrinsic reward, the desire to reach our potential. And that’s not what we want.

So, my personal experience, then, is that it’s better to work on developing a child’s intrinsic motivation. And I have backup. Again, enter the behavioral psych. Turns out, we are motivated to do things when we have more personal control over them. And -when our work is validated and encouraged. This last one is important because it offers parents an alternate way to reward kids for trying and “doing well” in school. Kids often perform better if they feel that what they are doing is important. Anyway, who says you can’t go out for ice-cream as a family to celebrate success. That gets everyone involved in validating work well done.

But I can’t dismiss the argument that states that giving kids monetary rewards for good grades simply mimics the real world. It comes up a lot when I talk with parents. Here’s my argument back:

We want our kids grow up and choose a career that is interesting to them (intrinsic motivation). They will get paid to do their job, but the focus won’t be on the money. The focus will be on feeding their intrinsic desire, their desire to be a part of something larger, something meaningful.

At least, that’s the hope for my kids. Unless, of course, they make a killing off of betting how well they’ll do in each of their college classes, in which case, they may not need to work at all.

Kids Earning Money? Set Up a Roth IRA

I took Nathan and Ryan to our broker this morning to discuss Roth IRAs. Both boys have jobs and I thought it was time to have them begin thinking about their retirement. John and I decided to match any money they made this summer, dollar for dollar, and, well, my boys have never been known to turn down free money. They were all in.

I could have easily set up their custodial accounts online but I wanted the boys to have the experience of meeting with an expert. Besides, I’m not all that familiar with Roth IRAs, I had a few questions to ask, and I wanted them to learn right alongside me.

Our broker started by asking the boys what they already knew about Roth IRAs. Nathan volunteered that it was a retirement account that they wouldn’t be able to touch until they were 65 (turns out it’s 59 1/2). Ryan offered the fact that taxes were taken out before the money gets deposited into the account allowing for the money to be drawn tax-free later on. I was proud of both of them for being able to discuss the basics of these types of accounts.

I know it’s hard for many kids to even entertain the notion that one day they will be retired. It’s even harder to get them to begin to prepare for it. I’ve been lucky in this area with Nathan and Ryan. They’ve sat in enough of my money classes to know that they are in the best position now to set themselves up for financial freedom later in life. A little sacrifice now can pay greatly later.

When our broker started talking about the compounding effect of money, and having money work for them, Nathan and Ryan started to smile. They know all about it. In fact, once kids see the power of compound interest, they’re usually quite interested in making those sacrifices.

We then got into risk management. The question posed both boys was What would you do if your account value dropped by 10%? Sell, stay put, or buy more? It was an interesting question and I was curious what each would say…although I already knew.

Ryan said he’d buy more. Nathan said he’d stay put. Ryan has made a killing on his stock picks this year; he’s a little bit more of a risk-taker. Nathan is simply not willing to lose money if he has a choice. This fits in with the next question: When are you looking to retire? Under any other circumstances this would have been an odd question to pose a 15- and 17-year old. But we were in his office to discuss retirement, so it was totally appropriate.

Ryan wants to have the option of retiring when he’s 40. Nathan said he probably wouldn’t retire any time before 55. With this information, our broker created personal target funds for each of them. Then he printed them out. That alone was worth the 45 minutes in his office. The boys were fascinated with these pieces of personalized information and devoured them in the car ride home. Very cool.

And me, all I could think about in that car ride was how I was jyped of information when I was a teenager. Had I known then what I know now, I’d have left that office in my flip flops ready to head out to the beach and work on my tan.

Money Reflections

Excerpted from Beyond the Piggy Bank, a 15-Day Challenge

One of the goals for this Challenge is to develop healthy attitudes about money in our children. Since YOU have the greatest impact on what your kids learn about money, it’s important to take a little time to reflect honestly on the money messages you are sending them.

Ask yourself the following questions. To help clarify your thoughts, you may want to write your responses down on paper.

~What is my attitude towards money?
~Is money a good thing, a bad thing, am I indifferent about money, does money annoy me, is more money better, do I complain about money a lot…
~Why do I feel this way about money?
~What attitude about money are my kids observing in me?
~Which money personality reflects me the most?

–Worrier: I’m always fretting about money
–Carefree Spender: I love spending money. I’ll deal with the consequences later…maybe.
–Penny Pincher/Hoarder: I’m not worried about money, I just don’t like spending any.
–Giver: I’m always buying stuff for my friends and giving them money. I’ll worry about myself later.
–Saver: Yippee! I get to balance my checkbook and maybe put some more into my Roth IRA.
–Avoider: Honestly, do I really have to think about managing my money?

~What are the pluses about my money personality? What are the minuses? How can I improve the minuses?
~How do my kids see me manage money? Am I happy with that? If not, how can I change?
~How would I like my kids to manage money when they are older?
~What money attitude would I like my kids to have as adults?

Once you reflect on and understand more about your own personal feelings towards money, you are in a better position to help your kids develop healthy money attitudes.

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