Your kid’s allowance: Financial literacy 101

September 12, 2013

By Sheryl Smolkin


As a card-carrying member of the sandwich generation, I can attest to the fact that financially literate children are one of the best investments you can make in a comfortable retirement.

If you are lucky, your kids will help to take care of you and your money when age or infirmity makes it difficult for you to manage on your own.

Yet an August 2013 ING survey revealed that although kids 11 to 14 generally rate Mom and Dad as good financial role models, many want their parents to better educate them about the following financial issues:

  • 38%: How bank and credit cards work
  • 36%: What things cost and why
  • 27%: How to save their money
  • 26%: How to manage their money.

Exactly what you need to teach kids about money depends on the ages of the children. The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada offers the following suggestions on what financial lessons are appropriate for different age groups:

Ages 4 to 8:

  • Understand that people have a limited amount of money to spend.
  • Use money to buy basic goods and services for simple transactions.
  • Divide allowances or other money received among the financial goals of saving, spending and sharing.
  • Understand that there are choices when it comes to money, and that money spent on one thing means that there is less money available for something else.

Ages 9 to 14:

  • Recognize the difference between needs and wants.
  • Understand the importance of saving a portion (for example, 10%) of all money received and the value of an emergency fund.
  • Create a savings plan for short-term and long-term financial goals.
  • Identify regular family financial commitments and know that families use household income to meet those commitments.
  • Create a simple budget for an activity or event.

Ages 15 to 18:

  • Understand the pros and cons of different payment options such as cash, debit cards and credit cards.
  • Understand different kinds of investments (GICs, stocks, bonds and mutual funds).
  • Understand the time-value of money (for example, past, present and future worth of money) and opportunity costs.
  • Understand the concept of “living within your means” and why it is important.

I think much of what my offspring learned about budgeting and saving came through osmosis and the school of hard knocks. But my husband and I did one thing that helped our children understand the value of a dollar at a young age.

Paying them weekly allowances was a real nuisance because I never had the right change. It was also very tempting to withhold the money for minor misdemeanours which did little to promote family harmony.

So we started giving them monthly cheques instead. We opened accounts for them at the Royal Bank because they had a low-fee ATM in the convenience store at the end of our street. The kids also got their own bank cards so they could easily make deposits and withdrawals.

The deal was that they had to pay with their own money for specific things like movies, school lunches and bus fare (in the case of my daughter who was older).

I knew it was working the day my son – who was 10 or 11 at the time – missed the school bus for the second or third time. Instead of expecting me or his Dad to bail him out, he called a taxi and had the driver stop by the ATM on the way so he could take out enough money to pay the fare.

I can’t remember if he gave the driver a tip, I guess that was a story for another day.

Do you have tips for parents about kids’ allowances?  Share your tips with us at and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.

If you would like to send us other money saving ideas, here are the themes for the next three weeks:

19-Sept Extracurricular activities How many and how much?
26-Sept Employee benefits Getting value for your employee benefits
06-Oct Seniors Colleges, universities offer free tuition for seniors
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