The money management lecture about spending summer earnings on an iPad

My 16-year-old son will be working for the first time this summer.

He already has plans to buy an iPad with his earnings.

Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, “The Color of Money.” View Archive

And he made the mistake of telling me.

What followed was another one of my lectures that ended with him shaking his head. I’m sure my many money conversations will weigh heavily when he and his two sisters are possibly faced with determining with whom I may have to live in my retirement years. I bet they’ll play Rock-paper-scissors to decide.

Still, despite the moans and groans and threats of putting me in a nursing home, I lecture anyway. I talk about what it means to be a good money manager. I encourage them not to overspend or go into debt. I stress the importance of saving.

Many students will be making their own money for the first time this summer, and so now is a great time for parents to discuss responsible money management with their offspring. Or maybe your child has already been working for a couple of summers. Are you seeing the development of good financial habits?

There are many initiatives around the country to encourage schools to teach financial literacy. I applaud such efforts and support them. But various studies have also shown that the biggest financial influence in children’s lives is their parents, for better or worse.

In a survey by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, 28 percent of respondents said they learned the most about personal finance from their parents or at home. At the same time, a T. Rowe Price survey showed 28 percent of parents agreed with the following statement: “I am not good with money, so I should not be the one to teach my kids about money.”

But you do matter. If you’re not a good money manager, learn to become one. As you learn, teach your children, who will then teach their kids. Model good financial behavior and they are more likely to emulate you.

So just like his sister before him when she got her first job, my son was given the “now that you are earning your own money” talk:

-- On saving: From the very first paycheck, learn to save something. Anything. It’s the most vital lesson I learned from my grandmother. Big Mama wasn’t so much concerned at first with how much I saved but that I develop this lifelong habit.

Have your child tie the savings to a specific goal.

It’s also a good idea to show kids how to budget their earnings. What summer expenses will they be responsible to pay? I plan to charge my son a little money for the gas it takes to drive him to work (he can’t drive yet). I want him to begin to feel what it’s like to pay for some expenses, which up until now he didn’t have to be concerned with because he didn’t have a job. It’s important to show him that his pay has to be divided between necessary expenditures and wants. Since he doesn’t have to work, his dad and I feel his summer job and the money he earns from it should be used to teach him how to be a responsible worker and financial steward.

-- On giving: He must tithe or give a tenth of his gross income to the church we attend. My husband and I make it a priority to donate to our church and charitable causes. We want to teach this custom to our children. My son already is a generous giver. But I reminded him that his giving will be more than he’s used to and that to whom much is given, much is required.

If you encourage giving now as a regular part of a child’s money management, it could become another lifelong habit.

-- On spending: I’ve talked to my son about watching what he spends on a daily basis. More money tends to spur the desire to spend more.

-- On splurging: In the end, I didn’t discourage him from buying the iPad. I encouraged him to save up for it. I want him to have it because I know he’ll work hard and he should get something fun with his summer earnings. But, depending on which iPad he wants, he may be saving for a while. Nonetheless, I want him to also learn that it’s okay to splurge if you have the funds to do so. If you know me at all, you know that’s one lesson that took me a while to learn.

Readers may write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or michelle.singletary@washpost.com. To read previous Color of Money columns, go to postbusiness.com.

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