3 Valuable Money Lessons From (Not Just For) Kids

Last Updated Apr 21, 2011 4:37 PM EDT

Viña del Mar, Chile -- My daughter Lexie is studying here this semester, and when my wife and I decided to dig deep, pay up and visit it was not our intention that I'd spend time reporting on kids and money issues from the southern hemisphere. I guess I can't help myself.

Yet this post is less about how to teach kids about money than it is about what one kid managed to teach me in a few short days. I've been delighted to find that, two months into her college-abroad experience, my daughter has adopted many of the smart-money habits I've tried to instill over the years. So, for now, I'll just skip the part about her not knowing how much money was in her checking account when I asked, and get right to the good stuff:

  • "Don't buy that sweater!" We spent a couple hours at a craft fair and my wife had her eye on one of the colorful alpaca sweaters that are so popular in Chile. She was about to move in for the purchase when Lexie stopped her, saying she knew where to buy one for much less. We're usually pretty good about comparison-shopping, which is an important money habit. I was pleased to see that even with someone else's cash on the line my daughter fights impulse purchases and also researches the best price. Her careful shopping reminded me to be diligent too, especially now that there are so many Internet tools and smart-phone apps to make comparing price a breeze.
  • "Call me at this number" When we parted company the first day I learned that Lexie had a new cell number. Upon arriving two months earlier she had found that her smart phone and international plan was an expensive setup. So she bought a simple calling plan, which included a plain-vanilla cell phone. Now she pre-pays $20 at a time for minutes that go a long way for local calls and texting. Cell plans with lots of bells and whistles are an unnecessary expense anywhere, and her thrift prompted me to review my own plan. A low-cost pre-paid strategy won't suit my needs. But I can and will cut my cell bill, starting by eliminating the costly international features I loaded up on for this trip.
  • "I got 100,000 pesos" That amount of money isn't what it may seem. It equals about $200. But that's still a lot of money for a student, and when Lexie returned from the ATM one day with all those pesos I had to ask why she was carrying so much cash. She explained that the ATM fee was $3 whether she took out $20 or $200. So she makes large, infrequent withdrawals to cut card and bank fees. Nothing revolutionary there. But it was great to see her practice this smart strategy, and it made me feel good about how during her allowance years I had shifted from smaller weekly payments to larger monthly ones, as she got older. It also got me thinking about my own card-related expenses. I sometimes let inertia take over. But rates and terms change so fast that you should review credit card accounts at least every six months.
Photo courtesy Flickr user unclekage
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  • Dan Kadlec

    Daniel J. Kadlec is an author and journalist whose work appears regularly in Time and Money magazines. He is the former editor of Time’s Generations section, which was written and edited for boomers. Kadlec came to Time from USA Today, where he was the creator and author of the daily column Street Talk, which anchored the newspaper's business coverage. He has co-written three books, including, most recently, With Purpose: Going from Success to Significance in Work and Life. He has won a New York Press Club award and a National Headliner Award for columns on the economy and investing.