Question - My son recently had a lesson at school about the importance of saving money and came home with a neat little cardboard bank that pops up. Trouble is, he doesn't have the discipline to fill it. Can you suggest any (easy) tricks we can use to help him along?
Answer - While thrift is a virtue, it can also be a downer - especially for children, who crave instant gratification. Saving is spinach, and spending is dessert. If you were a kid, which would you choose?
One trick, then, is to sugarcoat the spinach. Tell your son that if he forgoes buying small things now and saves his money, he can use the cash to buy even bigger things later.
After all, no one, neither adult nor child, can be expected to save in a vacuum. Everyone needs a target to shoot for. For adults, that could be a new home, a child's college education or their own retirement. For kids, it could be a CD, a skateboard or a new video-game system.
There's nothing wrong with tapping your savings once you've accumulated enough to meet your goal.
To help kids keep their eyes on the prize, you can offer rewards along the way. Younger children will appreciate something as small as a pencil, eraser, sticker or other trinket for each deposit they make to their piggy bank. (Kiplinger Online lists fun banks for kids at (www.kiplinger.com/drt/dt980205.html.)
You can also offer to match what your children put aside. Whether it's dollar for dollar, 50 cents on the dollar or even less, your contribution will be a powerful incentive.
Often what kids need is an organized system that helps curb their urge to spend. Such a system could be as simple as divvying up their allowance among different envelopes for spending and saving. When the spending envelope is empty, that's it until next allowance day.
If your kids can't be trusted not to raid the savings envelope, you can hang on to a portion of their allowance for them.
Or suggest that they not take money with them when they hang out with their friends. If that's unrealistic, at least urge them to take exactly what they need to play a few video games and buy a soft drink, or to buy a new pair of jeans. What they don't have they won't spend - as any adult who has ever participated in an automatic savings plan can attest to.