5 financial facts of life every parent should teach

By Richard Barrington

5 financial facts of life every parent should teach

Were you taught the facts of life by your parents, or did you have to pick them up here and there and by experience?

No, this isn't referring to those facts of life, but to some of the basic financial skills just about everyone needs as they go out into the world. Here are five financial facts you should make sure your children understand before you help them open their first bank accounts:

1. Smart shopping makes a huge difference in banking

Your children may think of smart shopping as a way to occasionally save a few dollars, but there is a whole new world waiting for them when it comes time to find a bank account. Because a bank account is there every day, either earning interest or incurring fees, the right choices add up to big bucks over the course of a year.

For example, many banks, led by some of the biggest names in the business, have been raising fees on checking accounts. At the same time, free checking does still exist at some banks. The difference between a $12 monthly fee and no fee comes to $144 a year--a huge chunk of what the typical student is likely to have in a checking account.

Similarly, shopping for a high interest savings account means making more money each and every day. "High interest savings account" might seem like a contradiction of terms these days, but everything is relative. With average savings account rates at 0.15 percent, a high interest savings account would have to be considered anything paying over 1 percent - and those do still exist.

2. Keep close track of your money

Don't let your child make the mistake of thinking it's the bank's responsibility to do the record keeping. Children should learn to track every deposit, withdrawal, and debit card purchase, and update their records accordingly. Face it, compared to what they have to do in trigonometry, it's pretty simple math, and to avoid overdraft fees that can run over $30 a pop, it's well worth doing.

3. Your online skills can pay off

Today's teens are pretty much the first generation to grow up doing things online. Use this to their advantage. Have them use Internet tools to shop for the best online banks. Because of their lower overhead, the best online savings accounts may be able to pay more than traditional savings accounts.

4. Credit isn't free

Has your child started getting bombarded by credit card offers yet? To look at an older teen's mail, you'd never know there was a credit crunch in this country.

Being offered credit for the first time can be an intoxicating experience--there's no need to wait and save up for something any longer when you can simply charge it today. Children should understand that credit is not free, and your credit limit should not be viewed as a spending budget. What you spend today takes away from what you'll have available to spend tomorrow, and that's not an even trade-off. Because of interest charges, what you put on a credit card today will take an even bigger bite out of tomorrow's spending.

Further, if you abuse this privilege and damage your credit, you can look forward to going back to the days of having to save up for things before you can buy them.

5. Information is money

The saying used to be that time is money, but with technology saving so much time these days, information has become as important as money. Teach your children that being careless with account numbers and passwords, or not observing computer security protocols, is as irresponsible as leaving a wallet lying around.

Teaching your children about banking may not exactly make for a Hallmark moment, but it is something that could really help make their lives more successful in the long run. Plus, you'll probably both find it much more comfortable than the conversation about some other facts of life.

Richard Barrington has earned the CFA designation and is a 20-year veteran of the financial industry, including having previously served for over a dozen years as a member of the Executive Committee of Manning & Napier Advisors, Inc. Richard has written extensively on investment and personal finance topics.

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