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Kids and Money: How Teen Attitudes are Shifting

Kids got the message.

They saw what happened to the finances of their family and their friends' families the last four years, and they have a whole new attitude about money. That is the uplifting conclusion from Schwab's 2011 Teens & Money Survey.

The Great Reset, as this recession has been called, reached way beyond Moms and Dads who in varying degrees have had to rethink their savings, career and mortgage; and even their retirement ambitions. The recession reached teens in a visceral way, and many are now rethinking their material ambitions as well as their congenital indifference to things like budgets, late fees and cell-phone upgrades.

Kids are still kids, for sure. Schwab found that more teens could name the exact price of an iPod than could name the price of a gallon of milk. Still:

  • Nine in 10 teens say they were affected by the recession.
  • Nearly two-thirds of teens (64%) are more grateful for what they have.
  • The majority (58%) of teens say they are less likely to ask for things they want.
  • The majority (56%) of teens have a greater appreciation for their parents' hard work.
  • More than a third (39%) of teens appreciate their families more.
  • Nearly three-quarters (73%) of teens say it is important to have an emergency fund.
  • More than half (51%) of teens say it is important to understand debt.
All this newfound self-awareness is heartening. A mind-boggling 86% of teens say they would like the chance to learn about budgets, taxes, credit cards and savings strategies in class -- before making money management mistakes in the real world. Take note if you are one who believes teens will never learn money concepts because money issues are largely irrelevant at this age. Let's give them a chance to learn.

Kids seem to understand that they aren't as moneywise as they may have thought before the recession. Since Schwab's 2007 Teens and Money survey, reality has set in:

  • Teens saying they understand credit card fees and interest rates declined to 32% from 43%.
  • Teens saying they know how to manage a credit card fell to 39% from 64%.
  • Teens saying can check the accuracy of a bank statement dropped to 43% from 60%.
A lot of folks believe the shift in teen money values is temporary. As soon as the family finances are restored, this generation will revert to spendthrift thinking. I'm less skeptical. My parents were children of the Great Depression. Thriftiness was part of their upbringing and they never let it go, even through boom decades. I see my college-aged kids now displaying frugal behavior quite on their own.

A lot of credit goes to parents, who have become much more open about their finances and more willing to talk to their kids about hard times and sacrifice. But let's give young people their due. They see what's going on around them. They are reacting in a positive fashion and, if the survey is accurate, they are open to more guidance.

Photo courtesy Flickr user stevendepolo
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