5 Money Skills To Teach Your Homeschoolers Before Graduation

A common criticism of the typical American educational system is that life skills for the real world are not taught. I'm sure you've heard a complaint similar to this one many times, "They can solve for 'x' in an algebraic equation, but don't know the first thing about balancing a budget!". You needn't look further than today's headlines to view financial problems facing us today. Credit cards, student loans, mortgages and the like have gotten out of hand for many American families. How can you best prepare your children to avoid the common financial troubles facing Americans? 

“Look at the mortgage crisis and how many families lost their homes — 3.9 million foreclosures. Look at the amount of money — $1.1 trillion—we owe in student loan debt. The amount — $845 billion — we owe in credit card debt. It’s pretty clear that adults don’t know much about money. To help the next generation avoid the mistakes of their elders, and to live financially fit lives, they need to be taught the essentials about money.”
— Beth Kobliner, author, Get A Financial Life

 

Fortunately, homeschooling families have the advantage of purposefully selecting curriculum and experiences to best prepare students for life. In no particular order, here are five skills to include in your homeschool student's education before graduation. 

1. Know How To Budget

I was never taught about budgeting growing up. Odds are, you weren't either. It wasn't until I was in college, trying to figure out how to handle my bills, that I realized I lacked skills in this department. Good habits are best taught right from the start, so when you're planning to get your children involved in family budgeting, the sooner the better.

How to teach this skill:

  • Get your children involved in family budgeting from an early age. For example, when you are thinking about a vacation, include them in that process. Discuss the costs and planning associated with a vacation and how it fits into the family's financial picture. Chances are, they will appreciate the family trip more because they were involved. As they get older, it can be beneficial to get them involved in family finances, such as budgeting for monthly utilities.
  • Utilize allowance. Weekly allowance is an excellent teaching tool for budgeting. How much allowance, and whether or not it is connected to chores, is entirely up to each family. For our family, we have decided to keep allowance and chores separate. We provide a modest weekly amount ($1 per week for each year of the child's age - an 11 year old would receive $11 weekly) to allow for small purchases. For larger purchases, they're required to learn to save and budget. 
  • If your family uses a budgeting program, such as YNAB (You Need A Budget), allow your children to learn the program with you when it's age-appropriate. We utilize a budgeting program and it has helped our oldest understand comprehensive budgeting - from a bird's eye (big picture) perspective, right down to the nitty-gritty activity of daily spending. Specifically, it has helped in understanding the monthly inflow and outflow of money, where that money goes, and how quickly small, unplanned purchases can add up!

2. Learn How To Pay Bills

Paying bills on time is crucial to keeping your credit score strong and I highly recommend a monthly routine to ensure nothing falls through cracks. It's all about organization. For us, we utilize online banking. All of our bills are located on one website. We're able to monitor and pay them from one location. 

How to teach this skill:

  • When it's age appropriate (about age 8 in our family), begin to demonstrate to your children to your bill paying system. In our case, it was interesting for our kids to understand that some bills are ongoing, such as utilities. Conversely, other bills have a loan attached to them and can eventually be paid off, like your mortgage. 
  • Introduce the concept of how there are different ways of paying for things. For example, a bill can be paid for with a debit or credit card. Big difference there! It was important for us to teach our kids that using credit cards is merely transferring debt and that you still owe the bill amount, plus interest. 

3. Become Financially Literate

This is a big, complicated monster of a concept. Even economists and the like, who study finance as a career, will tell you that America's financial institution is difficult. Yet, don't let that stop you from developing a core understanding of the basics. Knowing what money is, how it's regulated, and the ways we can use it makes us feel more in control of our finances. Remember, knowledge is power. 

We were not taught financial literacy in school. It takes a lot of work and time to change your thinking and become financially literate.
— Robert Kiyosaki, Financial Literacy Activist

 

How to teach this skill:

  • Learn about the history of money. Essentially, money is something of value. Over thousands of years, money has transitioned from animals and shells, to coins, to paper, and now is primarily electronic. Resources are limitless on this topic. A great place to start is, NOVA: The History of Money, PBS
  • Understand the United States government's role in money. The federal government issues currency, levies taxes, and borrows money. Additionally, U.S. Congress established the controversial Federal Reserve Act with three goals in mind: maximize employment, stabilize prices, and moderate interest rates. The Center for Economic & Financial Education (CEFE) provides educational resources for younger and older kids. 
  • Discover the different ways you can use money. To start, introduce the concept of Saving, Spending, and Giving. There are even piggy banks divided into these very three sections that are available for purchase for younger children. As you move beyond the basics, discuss how money can be spent on things you need and don't need, and describe the importance of saving for future goals and emergencies. Additionally, it's an excellent opportunity to focus on the value of charitable giving. One last thing: don't forget to differentiate between spending and borrowing (i.e. putting purchases on credit cards). 

4. Focus On Math

Some attest that understanding mathematical concepts is just as, or possibly more, important than financial wherewithal in terms of predicting economic success as adults. The OECD, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, conducted a worldwide study with 29,000 15 year-old participants. Released in 2014, the study "assessed the financial knowledge of teenagers dealing with financial issues, such as understanding a bank statement, the longterm cost of a loan, or knowing how insurance works".

Generally, students scoring highest on mathematical concepts also received the strongest marks for financial understanding. The top scores came from Shanghai, China where schools focus heavily on math, and specifically conceptual understanding. 

A lot of decisions in finance are just easier if you’re more comfortable with numbers and making numeric comparisons
— Shawn Cole, Harvard Business professor

How to teach this skill: 

  • Most importantly, select a math curriculum your student finds success with. 
  • Look to the schools in Shanghai, China. Students are expected to be full participants during lessons. Their focus is on understanding and application, instead of memorization.
  • Chap Sam Lim, from the University of Malaysia, studied five Shanghai schools and observed six common educational characteristics: 1. Teaching with variation. 2. Emphasis on precise and elegant mathematical language. 3. Emphasis on logical reasoning, mathematical thinking and proofing during teaching. 4. Order and classroom discipline. 5. Strong and coherent student-teacher rapport. 6. Strong collaborative culture amongst the learning community. 

5. Understand What Money Can Do For You

Knowing how to use money and knowing what money can do for you are different concepts. In essence, I support "paying yourself" first. If you learn how to utilize money before your 20s, you're ahead of the ballgame. Some of the best things money can do for you are securing adequate protection, setting aside an emergency fund, and if you develop focus and patience, reaching big life goals, like purchasing a home. 

Money isn’t the most important thing in life, but it’s reasonably close to oxygen on the ‘gotta have it’ scale.
— Zig Ziglar, American Author

How to teach this skill: 

  • Introduce the topic of insurance protection. Appropriate insurance is necessary for protecting yourself against the unknown. Scholastic and Life Happens have teamed up to create a curriculum called, Next Generation, "providing lessons on risk management, life insurance, health insurance, disability insurance and financial planning" (Scholastic, Next Generation). 
  • Teach the importance of setting aside an emergency fund. Let's face it: we know it's inevitable for unplanned expenses to arise. Generally, you will want to set aside, at a minimum, three-month's worth of your income. For your student, this could mean setting aside their allowance. Many financial experts recommend working towards having a year's worth of income saved. 
  • Focus on the importance of goal-setting. Specific, attainable, long-term, and short-term money goals are a surefire way of bringing financial happiness into your life. For example, assist your student in documenting a specific goal (i.e. new shoes), how much it will cost, how long it will take to save for the goal, and any potential roadblocks to meeting the goal. Regularly review your goals. 

 

Homeschooling families have the benefit of selecting and customizing curriculum, and financial education should be included.

Insurance Happens is an independent life insurance agency, specializing in families who homeschool or have an at-home parent.