Parents really do make cents

June 1, 2012 | Posted in: Early Learners, Elementary, High School, Middle Years

Whether we’re “spenders” or “savers” may be determined to a great extent by our temperament. But researchers are finding that parents have a greater influence on their children’s financial habits than we may have thought.

In a recent interview with NPR, Joyce Serido, a researcher at the University of Arizona, Tucson, said her team has found that children who said they talked with their parents about financial matters were more likely, when given a choice, to behave in a financially responsible manner.

Serido and her colleagues interviewed college freshmen to document different aspects of their family lives. They found that those students who had been included in conversations about money and budgets–such as discussions about what kind of car a family could afford–were much more likely to make more responsible financial decisions as they approached life after college.

Many of the students who had had those conversations were using a budget, making choices about “wants” and saving money. According to Serido, the difference in which kids developed strong saving habits was not based on socio-economic status but rather family dynamics.

While experts say we should start the money conversation with our kids early, it’s certainly never too late. Your middle schooler who is earning money mowing lawns or babysitting can use advice that will get or keep them on a path to financial responsibility.

By this age, your middle schooler probably knows the difference between needs, wants and wishes, but a little refresher never hurts (particularly since the middle school mind can define “needs” very differently than his or her parents do). “Needs” are basic human requirements to live; “wants” are what we work toward to live a comfortable life; wishes are the things we dream about. Give your child examples (food, new jeans, $100 tickets to Big Time Rush concert) to help them see the difference between needs, wants and wishes.

It also helps to let children learn by doing. Set a monthly budget for their clothing and entertainment, for example. The idea isn’t to add more to your budget, but rather to allocate money that you would normally spend and allow them to make choices. The lesson: When they’ve used up their budget, it’s gone. They’ll need to wait until the next month to buy that “must have” pair of jeans.

Over time, they’ll learn valuable goal-setting skills about to how to save (for those Big Time Rush concert tickets) and plan ahead.

Kids who don’t have control of money before they become adults may come to expect that money will be provided for them, so they don’t learn how to make responsible decisions about spending. When they become adults and have money of their own, they often treat it the same away, spending liberally without worrying about the future.

By giving your child some basic financial tools to “practice” with now, you’ll set them on a path to financial responsibility. Here are some resources to help you get started:

  • has a section on money that is geared to your child.
  • Money magazine offers insight on how to teach your child about money at any age
  • Smart Money also has some great information on its website,
  • To read the NPR story on the study, visit