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Teaching Kids About Money

Should you reward your child for keeping a clean room or getting good grades at school?
By Scott Reeves, Minyanville

Rewards are intended to encourage good behavior, but require a little thought to get right. First, be careful what you wish for. “If you reward certain types of behavior, you might end up getting that behavior all the time – and it might be something that you only wanted once in a while,” says Linda Leitz, founder of Pinnacle Financial Concepts in Colorado Springs, Colo. and author of The Ultimate Parenting Map to Money Smart Kids.

If you reward your child for extra help on an unusual or one-time task, make it clear that it’s a singular opportunity and won’t be repeated for a long time, if ever. Underscore that rewards aren’t a routine event and aren’t something that can be counted on each week. If you don’t, your child will seek to build on the one-time event and, when there is no reward, may wrongly conclude that receiving money depends on the whim of others. This undercuts your efforts to link hard
work with money and the wise use of money with personal responsibility.

Don’t reward your child for things that you’d require or praise as a matter of course. It’s a mistake to reward your child for keeping his room clean or for getting good grades at school. Make it clear  that good behavior is expected, including study habits that produce good grades and picking the comings-and-goings of growing off the bedroom fl oor. Leitz offers a deft suggestion on eating out that will save you money now and may save your child money as an adult. It can be easily adapted to other family activities.

If your family eats out too often and runs up a huge bill, have your child assist in the planning and preparation of meals at home. Make it the kid’s responsibility to start the meals at a set time and help with the cleanup. Next, compare the cost of meals prepared at home with restaurants, even fast food. Calculate the difference to be sure your child understands the cost of eating out. Then pay your child 10% of the weekly savings. That rewards frugal behavior and hard work. It also teaches your kid a valuable lesson – and saves you money.

This makes no sense if you regularly eat meals at home and your kids routinely help in the preparation and cleanup. In that case, make the reward more oblique. Out of the blue, ask your children if they’d like to go out for breakfast on Saturday morning. The answer is almost certain to be a resounding “Yes!” especially if you make the offer just once in a while. The meal will provide a great time to talk – and (eventually) will teach your little one that standing on a chair and reaching across the table to grab a handful of your omelette isn’t a good idea. Talk about life’s rewards, eh? VISIT MINYANVILLE.COM for more on business, finance and markets.