"Can we buy this, Mom?"

"Dad, I want this! I really need it."

Do these phrases sound familiar? If so, take heart, you're not alone. Walk down any cereal aisle or toy store and you'll hear it over and over (and over!) again.

For many parents, making sure their kids understand the value of a dollar is an important life lesson. How can you make sure they can differentiate between “wants” and “needs” and help get them set up for money management success? Turns out, there are many teachable moments for children from the time they’re toddlers to teenagers, and into adulthood.

How to talk to your kids about money

An important factor in teaching kids about money is communication. Talk to your kids about money. It’s an important conversation to have at all stages of life to help them stay on track, feel supported and successful at managing their money. Discussing money doesn’t have to take the form of a lecture or a formal lesson. For little ones, it can be a part of everyday play and as they grow up, the conversation can evolve while grocery shopping or later on, while choosing which program or school to enter after high school.

How to help pre-schoolers learn about money

At this stage, children are often playing store and pretending to buy things. Whether they’re in a pretend grocery store, scanning items at the counter or reaching into their play wallets and purses for fake money, it can be a good opportunity to talk to kids about how money is used to purchase items. When you’re out shopping with the kids, have a conversation about where money comes from. You can explain that money isn’t just for spending, it’s important for saving for the future and giving.

Little ones can learn about different coins just by sorting through them and identifying the different coins and their values. You can teach kids how many quarters, dimes or nickels, add up to a dollar or look closely at the defining features on paper money. Lessons about saving can be tangible. Children can learn about saving by putting coins into a clear jar and they can watch money accumulate and grow right before their eyes.

In addition to learning about money and handling it, and it’s important to teach children about patience. Learning to delay gratification can help them become better savers down the road.

Elementary school children and money lessons

We’ve all heard the saying, “Money doesn’t grow on trees” and at this is a great age to reinforce the idea around making smart decisions and not spending more than you have.  

This lesson can also be early using jars marked “Save” “Spend” and “Give”. When a child receives money they can divide it equally among the jars. money equally among jars. They can learn about making choices around spending money by allowing them to purchase smaller items such as stickers. Learning to donate and give money to a charity is also a good discussion at this stage. If there is a toy the child wants to save for, this is a good way to help them set a goal that’s realistic and achieve it.

Getting children involved in cutting coupons, learning about sales and discussing “needs” versus “wants”, is a good way to encourage conversations about money.

Middle school or junior high schoolers and money

This is age when kids want to buy stuff - NOW.  Often, they’re not thinking about the future. One way to encourage more long-term thinking and reinforce a lesson in saving for what you want is to aim for a bigger purchase. For example, if a child would like a particular video game or console, perhaps they could consider setting aside birthday money or allowance over time and saving money, rather than spending it on smaller items along the way.

Another lesson that can be introduced at this stage is the concept of compound interest and how money can grow over time and accumulate.

High school students and money

Thinking about life after high school can be tough enough, even without considering how much it will cost to pursue higher education. Despite this, it’s an important moment to help your child understand the realities of cost and budgeting which they will need as they go onto their post-secondary education.

Have a conversation and compare programs and schools. How much is tuition? How much will it cost to go away for school? What will food and books cost? Will you need to pay for transit or car insurance? What about financial aid? Scholarships?

Look at loans, compare and investigate the impact of taking out a loan. Perhaps it will give your teen more motivation to find scholarships or bursaries.

Is it time to get a part-time job to help with costs? This is something for each family to consider as well as setting limits on working hours, to make sure that students still make the grade.

Money lessons for students going to post-secondary school

For many students, this will be their first time away from home and making independent decisions about their budget and spending. It may also be the first time they sign up for a credit card. The key here is to learn to not use a credit card unless you can pay the balance.

Students must be aware of the consequences of using a credit card and carrying a balance. A critical element is for students to understand how to use a credit card wisely.

Make money a part of your family’s conversation. Involve the kids along the way – it helps them learn. Doing so, may also help you keep on track, and walk the talk so the whole family can save towards a better future.