Junior high (6th, 7th, and 8th grade) is more often associated with teen angst than with financial literacy. But it's also when your kids are poised to start learning about handling finances in more hands-on ways than ever before.
Here are five things to teach your kids about money when they're tweens.
1. MAKE MONEY MORE RELATABLE
By this age, kids have a definitive grasp on how money works but not necessarily how much things cost. Now is a good time to shine a light by involving them in the purchasing process. When the check comes at the restaurant, have your kid read the bill and add up the tip. At the movies on the weekend, have them price out how much it would cost to go to the matinee versus a regular showing, and imagine what that saved money could go toward. The general idea is to illustrate that activities have costs that add up in the real world.
2. INTRODUCE BUDGETING
Up until this point, if you give your junior high school student $20 to spend after school with a friend, they can figure out how to go to Starbucks or buy a snack without going over. That’s basic budgeting, but at this age they’re ready for more, at least conceptually. Use opportunities like back-to-school shopping, holiday buying, or stocking up on sleepaway camp supplies to have them draw up a budget, then tackle the shopping together. They’ll quickly understand the value of the items and learn to prioritize some wants over others.
3. TURN A GROWTH SPURT INTO A FINANCIAL CHALLENGE
One thing most junior high school students have in common: They grow like weeds. It’s both beautiful and annoying, since that also means high turnover in shoes and clothing. This is also the age when brands begin to matter. The two become challenging when your kid gets obsessed with limited-edition Nike sneakers at the same time that his shoe size is increasing every few months. However, there’s a resale market for gently used clothing and shoes (and a really valuable niche resale culture). Your teenager can easily get involved in selling things he or she has outgrown using a variety of apps and local Facebook groups. Not only does it help highlight the cost and value of a basic need like clothing, but it also teaches them to treat stuff well.
4. ENCOURAGE THEM TO START EARNING MONEY
When the kids were younger they might have had chores or allowances that helped them earn money, but the stakes are not the same as they are at the junior-high age. Kids are starting to want bigger ticket items and are becoming more social. Let them take part in deciding how to contribute and hold them accountable. Starting a “business” like babysitting, mowing lawns or shoveling sidewalks allows them to learn bigger lessons about planning, marketing and earning. It’s also the age where some jobs specifically geared toward teenagers become available, such as becoming a counselor-in-training at a summer camp (Pro tip: local libraries often hold job fair-type gatherings for this very thing every spring). Going through this process with your early teen definitely teaches them about the hard work that goes into a dollar, and doubles as a way to teach them the responsibility and accountability that will help them succeed in high school.
5. HELP TEACH THEM TO SAVE, SPEND AND DONATE
If you’ve been doing the “save, spend, donate” exercise in your house, now is the time to tighten the screws on what happens with each bucket, especially in terms of saving and donating. Take a trip to the bank and sit down with an advisor who can walk your child through the differences between having their money in a savings account versus an IRA or a CD. If there’s a 529 college fund set up for them, make sure they’re checking in on how that’s doing. For donating, start to look at charities not just for their causes, but how they spend their money. Sites like Charity Navigator and Guidestar are great resources.
Junior high school students are at an awkward crossroad: They are beginning to feel like adults, but don’t always want to let on what they don’t know. Take advantage of this time by modeling good financial sense as you did when they were younger, but now involve them in the process a little more. They’ll feel empowered to take control of their financial future and grow more responsible, which is a win/win for the whole family.