April is Financial Literacy Month, and what better time to teach your child – or teen – about saving and spending money?

“The financial services world is complex; it uses a lot of terms that are not readily available or well-known by people,” said Thom Dellwo, a financial education coordinator at Cooperative Federal Credit Union in Syracuse. “The more ways you can give them realistic but safe versions of the real world and money management, the more likely they are to be successful and to not get taken advantage of.”

Read on for some ways that parents can do exactly that.

How Early Should You Start?

Parents can begin talking to their children about money at a young age – “As soon as they start asking for things, you can start having a conversation with them about what it means to pay for something,” said Dellwo.

What Financial Topics Should You Address?

That depends on the age of the child (or teen), but they should get more responsibility as they grow older.

“With my own kids, I started when pre-school started, talking about making decisions around money,” said Dellwo. “Like if they wanted something, talking to them about why it’s important to think about how much something costs because there are limited resources. And then, once my oldest hit kindergarten, we started giving him a small allowance and asking him to manage it. If he wanted something, asking him, ‘Ok, are you going to pay for this out of your money?’ and then having him think about what impact it would have in terms of his ability to get something else.”

For younger children, Dellwo recommended working with play money or physical money. That way, they can touch it, give it to someone to pay for an item, and gain a basic understanding of how money works.

“When they receive money, you can coach them to physically separate it into, ‘I’m going to spend this. I’m going to save this. I’m going to share this,’” he said. “And then when they’re in middle and high school, you take that concept to the next level, which is, ‘You’re going to have the same kind of buckets, but they’re going to be electronic accounts at a financial institution. You’re going to have a savings account for saving, you’re going to have a checking account for your spending, and you’re going to have an account where you have money that maybe you’re ok with donating. And you’re going to continue doing the same thing as before; when you receive money, you’re going to split it up and allocate it for different purposes.’ Each dollar should have a role.”

Parents can also introduce older teens to debit and credit cards and make them responsible for an expense or two – Dellwo said clothes are one example. They must then save money for the things they want to buy.

“It’s better that they experience it with something they can live without than when they get older, and they overspend, and they can’t pay rent or something like that,” said Dellwo. “I feel like the goal should be opportunities throughout their lives starting from when they start asking for things to just reiterate over and over again how money is about making choices. We can’t have everything, what are you going to choose to spend money on – and what does that mean when something else comes up down the road?”

Final Thoughts

Whenever possible, parents should give children and teens realistic versions of money management.

“Try to be creative around giving your kids opportunities to have, make choices with, and suffer the consequences of those choices with their money – in safe spaces,” said Dellwo. “I feel like your job is to really set up scenarios where they can try things out safely and figure out what works in real life, and what doesn’t work. That way, they will have experience making those choices.”


Courtney Kless is the Editor in Chief of Family Times. Courtney is originally from Maryland. She earned her Master’s degree in Magazine, Newspaper and Online Journalism from Syracuse University. Courtney began her career as a sports journalist, then spent several years working in higher education, before joining the company in August 2019. She enjoys traveling, reading and hiking, and recently adopted a Labrador Retriever, Bailey.

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