Money talks for kids

Money talks for kids

Before they turned 12, brothers Teo Keane and Teo Zern already understood financial concepts such as fixed and variable expenses, income and interest, thanks to their mother, Madam Lum Yin Peng, 44, who made it a point to teach the boys about money.

It was a way to teach them important life lessons, such as delayed gratification and managing a budget, says the stay-at- home mum and freelance writer.

She started giving her sons, Keane, 15, and Zern, 13, a small allowance about five years ago when the family was living in China, where her husband, Mr Teo Seow Ling, 44, was working at a multinational firm that handles logistics for petro-chemicals.

"Keane was around 10 and Zern, eight. If they saved all of their allowance, they would get an interest of 5 per cent on it. If they spent anything, they would not get any interest. I wanted them to understand the meaning of delaying gratification - enjoying something now or getting a bigger thing later," says Madam Lum.

The boys did not spend a cent as necessities such as meals were provided at the international school they were attending, though they do not recall what they bought with the extra pocket money.

When they were 11 and nine, Madam Lum wanted them to learn to manage the household budget.

"I showed them the household's expenses versus income. I wanted them to differentiate between fixed expenses, such as utility bills and insurance premiums, and variable expenses, which you can control, such as eating out, books and toys," she says.

"They asked, 'Are you sure we can afford all this?' They began to understand a bit better why I tell them to switch the fan and lights off when they are not in use. Money is not everything but money is important."

Today, Keane and Zern live within their means on their $120 monthly allowance. They do not have an "entitlement mentality" and their mother manages any expectations surrounding gift buying.

"If they want something for their birthday beyond the $30 budget, they will top it up with their savings. The younger boy once wanted a Lego set that was about $80. His aunt and I paid $30 each and he forked out $20," she says, adding that the family does not celebrate Christmas.

Unlike Madam Lum, many parents shy away from talking to their kids about money, experts say.

"Most parents don't want to talk to their children about it, for fear of instilling the idea of making money as the only goal in life. But the fact is that children need to learn about money; to be more specific, they need to learn about budgets. They must be educated on the notion of needs versus wants, and that money, the idea of a budget, is finite," says Associate Professor Jeremy Goh from the Lee Kong Chian School of Business at Singapore Management University (SMU).

Dr Koh Noi Keng from the National Institute of Education (NIE) says that children show a "marked and sudden increase of interest in money" between five and seven years old.

"A child's money habits may become set by as early as seven years old."

So start them on money education, urges Dr Koh, who chairs the Citi-NIE Financial Literacy Hub for Teachers, which promotes financial education.

"The process of a child's financial socialisation may begin as early as three years old when children start demonstrating (things such as) advertising knowledge, brand knowledge and material motives and values. So start early…. You won't know how much they are absorbing and whether habits are already starting to form. Don't miss those formative years," she adds.

Dr Larry Haverkamp, adjunct faculty member of SMU School of Economics and an American who has lived in Singapore since 1990, used different strategies to teach financial literacy to his daughters, Larrissa, 19, and Larrinna, 16.

"Our family's experience has been that games work best at primary school age. Any game where notes are among the play pieces should work well. We found our children liked Monopoly and learnt from it, especially in Primary 5 and 6," says Dr Haverkamp.

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