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How to teach your son about money

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It's a dilemma every parent faces: How do you transform your teenager into an adult who's savvy about credit and personal finances?

While special attention has been paid to financial literacy for women and girls in recent years, boys have their own issues. Society often expects men to possess deep knowledge of finances and investing. But with financial products becoming more complex, learning the skills to manage money effectively can be tougher than ever.

A lot of advice for teaching boys about money works across both genders. Tahira K. Hira, a personal finance professor at Iowa State University, recommends that instead of launching into technical discussions of how credit cards and banks work, you should start by articulating your values from the time your children are young, much as you would in other areas of parenting. How to teach your son about money

Starting point: Your values
Some basic concepts to communicate to your kids: the relationship between money and happiness, the importance of hard work, income versus spending, and the value of saving and being frugal. You can address many of these issues by involving children in family budgeting and by offering an allowance. But you should also look for other teachable moments, such as explaining that flashy cars and big houses might indicate debt, not wealth.

"Establishing a value system is so important, because it is the guiding light to managing any situation, including our money," Hira says.

In addition to those types of situations, there are some concepts parents might want to explore to address the specific needs of boys.

Understanding risk
Studies looking specifically at how boys and girls learn about money are hard to come by. But you can glean insights from research into how adults behave. Studies have consistently shown that men and women approach money differently, Hira says. Men tend to have more of an entrepreneurial streak and be more comfortable than women with financial matters, she says.

That confidence has its drawbacks. "Men are more aggressive and they take greater risks," Hira says. "They are quick to make decisions, and they are overconfident about their own knowledge. Oftentimes they will hear something and act on it, rather than seeking out advice from a neutral expert."

A 2006 study funded by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority showed that about half of men sought investments with above-average risk, as opposed to only one-third of women. Studies do not agree on which gender achieves higher investment returns.

To Dakota Hoyt, executive director of the Gurian Institute, which helps schools understand how to teach to the different characteristics of boys and girls, the discrepancy suggests that parents should help their sons understand that taking chances is in their nature. "It is hard to change who people are, but boys should know that they will be more of a risk-taker," she says.

Resisting spending pressures
A 2010 survey of high-net-worth individuals by PNC Financial Services Group showed that 55 percent of men but just 45 percent of women said they derived pleasure from accumulating wealth.

It is hard to change who people are, but boys should know that they will be more of a risk-taker.

-- Dakota Hoyt 
Gurian Institute 

Getting rich -- and showing it off -- has traditionally had a higher payoff for men. Evolutionary biology holds that women tend to prefer partners who are able to provide resources for rearing offspring. Indelicately put, chicks dig guys with money. A 2012 study by researchers at the University of York showed that preference to be generally weaker in societies where the genders are considered more equal, but it's still a strong reality in the U.S.

Earning money is great. It can become a problem, though, when the impulse to prove your wealth translates into spending. Barbara Emery, program coordinator for the Center for Economic Education & Entrepreneurship at the University of Delaware, says she thinks the focus on spending starts early, when young women become conscious of fashionable clothing and young men are encouraged to compete with each other in sports and other areas.

"For a lot of adults, it's not keeping up with the Joneses -- it's trying to surpass the Joneses all the time in everything," she says. One important lesson to teach early, she says: You can't have everything you want, because everyone's income has limits.

Establishing household budgets
Women tend to manage household finances more than men, but there's no reason that both sons and daughters can't be more involved in their family's budgeting. You don't have to reveal more than you're comfortable with or more than your children will understand, but starting those kinds of conversations early can help boys learn about finances and credit.

"Start to talk about your family's goals, when you want to retire, how you're paying off debt, and show them your household budget," Shorb says. "Parents should share what they're doing financially, good or bad."

Renee Martinez, a mother of four boys in Cleveland, says she tries to teach her sons the value of money by not acceding to demands that she constantly buy things for them. On a recent trip to Target, she says she was proud that not one of her sons begged her to buy something.

"You can't start early enough educating your kids that money doesn't grow on trees and that we need to be responsible, even though the idea of credit is so appealing," says Martinez, who blogs about raising boys.

Be a role model
For both boys and girls, it's important to remember that children are perceptive and can often sense if you don't practice what you preach, Hira says.

For instance, if you tell them not to spend money on frivolous items and then go on an impulsive shopping spree for things you want, that sends a mixed message. So does demanding that they save part of their allowance -- while not socking away any of the money you earn.

"Children can't be fooled," she says. "They are very smart. Our research shows that they are learning when you don't know it, because they are watching you."

See related: Infographic: How men, women divide money-related chores, 5 credit lessons all parents should teach their daughters, Infographic: Who handles the budget? Both men, women say they do

Published: June 14, 2013


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