Rainy day funds, retirement accounts, college savings…they are all part of responsible financial planning, but allocating money towards them doesn’t always feel that exciting. Teaching children to save will serve them well throughout their lifetimes and sticking to a budget is much easier when all members of the family are on board. But how can you make the idea of saving interesting, or even fun?
The Family Fun Jar
Designate a large jar or other container as the holding zone for money that is being saved for something special for the family to purchase or experience together. Decide as a family what this highly targeted fund will go towards…it could be a vacation, video game system or new bikes. When I was little our family spent the accumulated savings in our jar on an above ground pool.
Here’s how it works: money goes into the jar when you pass on spending money in favour of saving. Thinking of ordering pizza? Stick the cash in the jar and have cereal or PB ‘n Js instead. Kids begging for the latest toy, movie or treat? Offer them the choice to put the money the treat would cost in the jar instead. Extra change found in pockets, couch cushions and the floor of the car can go in the jar too. The idea is that the money that goes into the jar comes out of the amounts already budgeted to other discretionary spending; try not to spend as normal and then stick an additional amount into the jar.
Prefer not to have all that cash around? Like so much of banking and finances these days, you can also keep this Family Fun Savings electronic. Keep a record on paper or in a spreadsheet of the amounts saved, and then once a month transfer the total into a special savings account set up for this purpose.
The Bank of Mom & Dad
These days the traditional banks don’t offer much in the way of encouragement to save in the form of interest. When a kid sees that they earned a whopping 1/3 of a cent on their savings it doesn’t feel too exciting. Offer to supplement that interest at 2, 3 or 4 percent so that they can see their savings grow in numbers that make sense to them. This can help them learn smart saving habits and be more likely to stick allowance, birthday money or cash earned through small jobs in the bank rather than in their pockets to be spent in short order.
Of course for this to work kids have to have some money with which to make these choices. Every family is different when it comes to the amount of allowance kids get, if any, and what their contribution must be in order to earn it. Some parents come up with special jobs and chores (in addition to the normal daily jobs that are just part of keeping the household running smoothly) that can be done to earn a few extra dollars. A friend of mine keeps a running list on the fridge so the kids can always check it out when they have a little free time. The items could be anything from washing windows to weeding the garden to folding the laundry.
An Investment Experiment
Ready to take the savings lesson to the next level? Make an investment as a family and watch together to see what happens, sharing in the excitement of the ups and downs of the market. Set aside a small amount of money and choose a publicly traded company to invest in. It could be a favorite restaurant chain, toy company, or ice cream producer. It should ideally be an organization that everyone in the family likes and wants to see succeed. Every so often you can check in to see how the investment is doing and when there are proceeds decide together whether to reinvest or cash out.
Anna writes for the popular personal finance blog, Good Cents Savings, which helps you save money, stick to a budget, and live well on less. She is also the mother of a five year old daughter who is worth every penny!