washingtonpost.com
Color of Money Book Club

Michelle Singletary
Washington Post Columnist
Monday, April 23, 2007 12:00 PM

Michelle Singletary hosted an online discussion about kids and money with the authors and developers of several products aimed at teaching financial responsibility to children on Monday, April 23.

This was the topic of April's Color of Money Book Club selection. (Read more in Michelle's April 8 column: These Little Piggies Save at Home).

Participants for this discussion were: Denise LaBuda, from Quicken Kids and Money; Susan Beacham co-founder of Money Savvy Generation; and Lori Mackey, creator of Money Mama and The Three Little Pigs

Read Michelle's past Color of Money columns.

A transcript follows.

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Michelle Singletary: Good day to all. I'm feeling great today. It's finally spring.

And I love the topic today. Kids and Money. So let's get started.

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Reston, Va.: Posted early.

In regards to last week's chat, I was the posted that differentiated between necessities and things we think are necessities.

I've made a major decision to sell an art piece that I adore. Why? I can't afford it. Sure, it's going to take some time to sell, especially if I want to get what I paid for it, and it's really saddening that I have to sell it, but I can't afford it.

I thought about what you said, Michelle, that you can always find fat in a budget, and I decided that I'd rather reduce my debt load than keep the item. It's beautiful, I love it, and I'll greatly regret letting it go, but it'll make paying my bills a lot easier, and that's a peace of mind that I can give myself with this object.

Just wanted to say, thanks!

Reston

Michelle Singletary: I love to start the chats off on a good note. And you certainly hit that note but taking another look at what you could do to reduce your debt.

Good for you! And you are so very welcome.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Michelle,

I've asked this a few times -- hope you have time today! My fiancé is moving to the United States when we get married this fall. As he has no credit history in the U.S., we'd like to make sure to establish a good history right away. What is the best way to do this -- add his name to my credit card? To the mortgage? Will either affect my rates? (I have very good credit history, if it matters.) Thanks!

Michelle Singletary: Sorry I couldn't get to you before but while I wait for my guests to answer some kids and money questions, here goes.

First, wait until you are married before adding him to any of your credit cards, home, loans, etc.

Then you should know changes in the way credit is rated makes it relatively easy to begin to build a good credit history. So to start you could add your "husband" to your credit cards as either a joint holder or authorized user. Your credit profile and history will then be placed in his credit files. If you own a home you might refinance to add him to the mortgage. Don't just add him to the title and leave the mortgage in just your name because that means he had rights to the home without any of the liability.

Going forward as you apply for credit together and handle it well, he will be good credit. Takes about six months to a year.

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Anonymous: Hi, Michelle. Keep up the good work! My husband and I have three kids in their 30's. We were, and are, very frugal, which I think they somewhat resented, but our only debt is our mortgage, which will be paid off before we retire. All make more money than we could possibly have imagined, and all are in debt, surrounded by unnecessary things, and piling up more on expensive vacations and very expensive cars. So, as a parent who tried and failed in this regard, I just want to say good luck to you and the other parents who are trying to teach good financial habits to your children. I think your job is even harder, since if anything the economy is even more consumer-driven now. Good luck!

Michelle Singletary: So sorry your kids are struggling. And don't be hard on yourself. Sounds like you tried to do the right thing. But being frugal doesn't mean your kids will turn out to be spendthrifts because they resented wearing high waters (as mine do). I talk a lot about how frugal I am but I add a lot of humor to it and I talk to my kids and get them to see why we (meaning me and their daddy) choose to spend less on many things to save for other things. For example, yeah they don't have a lot of trendy clothes (or clothes at all) but we are planning a two-week vacation to Hawaii -- paid for in cash. So I asked them. "Would you like some jeans that you won't be able to wear in a couple of months or would you like to be kicking it back on a beach for two weeks?" Guess which they choose.

The trick is to get your kids involved why you are choosing to be cheap. One of my mantras is "Priorities lead to Prosperity." Once your kids understand you are saving so you can have a family vacation every year or to send them to college debt free they won't fuss so much or resent your frugality.

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Boulder, Colo.: What are your opinions on an allowance and doing chores around the house as part of being in a family versus assigning a value to chores and paying out on a chore by chore basis?

We have an 18 month daughter, and I figure that we parents need to come up with an answer to that question in the next year or two.

Denise Labuda: Hi In our Quicken Kids and Money program, we recommend that parents use a two part chore system when using chores to begin teaching the life skills of how to run a home and how to work for pay. Our first type is called "Citizen of the Household," and these are chores that teach the idea that you are part of a community (in this case, our family) and that we all do work here to live here--and we do not get paid for these chores. The second type of chores--"Work for Pay," we recommend should be paid like a salary. You do all of your chores to get paid, not just ones you feel like. Just like our job, we most often don't get paid piecemeal, but for completing our weekly responsibilities. And we start kids as young as 3-4 on this system.

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Bethesda, Md.: How to you instill a sense in your children that it is important to give to the less fortunate? We are fairly well off, do a lot of volunteer work, but our children's attitude is that, e.g., if inner city schoolchildren worked as hard as they did, or homeless people got jobs/didn't drink/had better personal hygiene habits, they wouldn't be in this situation. The children are 11, 9, and 6, and nuanced explanations don't seem to hack it. Thanks for your help.

Lori Mackey: It is important to allow children to give to what is important to them, ask them what it is they want to help, what is something they love or would like to make a difference in. One of my kids loves animals and gives to the animal shelters and the ocean charities; my son loves kids and gives to charities that help children. Let them give to what is important to them and they will start to see the power of giving back and helping others.

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Washington, D.C.: Michelle,

I love your advice, but I have a quibble with Sunday's column. I agree that foreclosures tend to reduce property sale prices in a neighborhood, but as some previous chatters noted, for some of us the best thing in the world would be a reduction in the average sale price of an American home. For example, when I moved into my neighborhood (1999), the average house (50 year old semidetached, less than 1000 sqft) went for $125,000-175,000. Now, then sell for $350,000-$400,000. More than twice the price in less than 10 years is fundamentally unreasonable.

Yes, the majority of Americans who are homeowners, a reduction in "home values" due to foreclosures would be bad. But for the 40% or so of us who don't own a home, and in consideration of the historically unprecedented rise in prices over the past 3 years, it's good news.

People who stayed out of the market in the past 3 years were good financial stewards. We deserve some help.

Michelle Singletary: I hear you and I do understand your pain. But the answer isn't to wish those folks -- who are in homes they can manage with some loan restructuring and budgeting -- be kicked to the curb.

What I'm suggesting is show some compassion. I know there are many in those homes that can't be helped. They did buy too big. But many can be helped to stay put and they should be assisted.

It just sounds like people are just waiting for thousands of people to be put out so they can buy a home. Perhaps the answer is to support and build more affordable homes. And if you have been reading Ken Harney's housing columns you will note he's spent a lot of time talking about real estate, and mortgage people who have been pushing appraisers to beef up the values of homes. So the mess we are in is not just the fault of people buying too much house.

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Ashburn, Va.: I've never understood why our schools don't offer financial instruction. Why is this, and how can it be changed?

Denise Labuda: As of today, there are no approved national standards on what to teach our children about money during their primary and secondary years. Folks are working to get them passed in Congress. The Jump$tart Coalition is the leading national non-profit working with Congress. In addition, there are about 15 or 16 states that have approved financial literacy standards in their state curriculums. If you want to help, consider doing work with the Jump$tart organization and to keep pressing your government representatives at the state and federal level.

Michelle Singletary: I think we need to approach this from two ways. Get more mandatory personal finance classes in high school and college.

But also encourage parents to teach it at home. Financial education must begin at home. Schools can't teach the values that should go along with this information.

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Laurel: To the other discussants: here's a point on which Michelle and I have differed in the past.

On the question of credit cards for college students or other similarly-aged persons, I think it's OK to let them experience of the pain of debt as long as it teaches them not to get into debt later.

One of the purposes of one's learning years is to make life's mistakes when the stakes are small and recoverable. You're thoughts, please, on what unpleasant money circumstances are worth experiencing at a young age?

Lori Mackey: I think credit cards should have warning tags on them like cigarettes, "This could be hazardous to your financial future!" If a child is educated about credit cards and understands how and when to use them then I feel it is ok, but most children cannot balance a check book. I definitely feel children should make money mistakes when they are young, but they should make them with cash, if they make mistakes with credit cards it will ruin their credit and it could take years to fix.

Michelle Singletary: Right. And please. Doesn't take long to learn to be a debtor.

I say put it off for as long as possible. And really what is so great about credit that we want to rush and teach our kids about it anyway. All it teaches them is buy what you can't afford to pay with cash today. And even those of us who pay off our bills every month still spend more studies show when we pay with plastic.

I have a friend who doesn't use a credit card at all!! These days you can rent a car and reserve a hotel room with a debit card.

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Camarillo, Calif.: Financial Literacy should be taken seriously by parents and schools, we finally have a Financial Literacy Month, how can we as parents and educators get our society to become more involved with the consequences of financial illiteracy?

Thanks for your comments,

Carol Haverty, retired, but still volunteering to teach Financial Literacy through Park and Rec, Comm. Colleges and other low cost and free venues locally.

Lori Mackey: The NASBE just released a report stating our children are treading in serious financial waters, it is called "Who Will Own Our Children" they are planning to implement a curriculum in k-12. This is very exciting, and we must educate our schools on the businesses and non-profits that are out there teaching kids about money. They also state in the report that this could be one of the biggest national security issues that our country will face if we do not get it under control. If you visit the NASBE.org website you can get a copy of the report and hand it out to the schools.

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What about the reverse?: What if it's the parents who need the financial lessons? My sisters and I are all married with kids of our own and are all financially savvy.

Our parents on the other hand, are 70. Dad still works, mom does not. They just don't get that you can't spend more than you bring in. They have relied on 2nd & 3rd mortgages/equity loans, etc.

On the one hand, we want them to have a good life; on the other hand, we know one day their debt will become our headache.

How do we help them?

Michelle Singletary: Love them and pray that they stay healthy because sounds like they will be living with one or both of you eventually.

You can't teach people what they don't want to learn.

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Rockville: The trick is to get your kids involved why you are choosing to be cheap. One of my mantras is "Priorities lead to Prosperity."

Yeah, this is kind of my question that I'm not sure I can articulate. How far do you go in relating that "I'm not buying thing A for you" means 'You'll get thing B instead' so that they understand that spending decisions aren't something for them vs. not something for them.

Michelle Singletary: You go as far as it takes to get your kids to understand that in life you have to make choices. Most of us can have it all. So you budget for what you can afford. I talk to my kids ALL the time. They are 12, 9 and 6. Even the 6 year old knows about her college fund and at times says she's not going to spend so it can go into her college fund.

When they whine about wanting something at the store, I use that opportunity to say if I give in to your every want, we won't have the money to take the nice vacations you like. Then I say, "Don't you like traveling every summer to nice places?" Then I remind them of all the fun things we did.

They still whine and I say, "Well too bad. This is how it's going to be."

Explain with love. Laugh at their crazy demands. Then in the end do what you know is best. Trust me they do get it. Maybe not right then.. but they do. But you have to be consistent!

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Coventry, R.I.: My son is interested in purchasing a toy that cost around $100. It is a higher model than one he already has but he seems motivated to save for it. At six years old how would you go about matching his savings or would you have him save the full amount?

Denise Labuda: With young kids, we encourage them to save for as much as possible towards their goal as long as the length of time to save given their "savings rate" is within their ability to wait.

So if you son is putting away $5 a week for example, and it will take him 20 weeks at that rate to save it all by himself and he can wait that long, let him do it. If you know he can't wait that long, then we suggest you do a "match rate" that will reduce his wait time to a timeframe he can handle.

Most importantly you want him to be successful in saving for something he thinks is important--this is an important long term skill...and the more he can be successful at it when he is young, the better he will be with his choices in the future.

Michelle Singletary: Listen to Denise. Me, I would ignore the tike and tell him I have two words for you, "College Fund."

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Anywhere, USA:

I always enjoy your columns and chats.

My sister married into an extremely wealthy family and I sometimes worry how I will explain the difference between our families' lifestyles to my children. Right now all the kids are little so no one notices but as they get older, the cousins will have more trips, possessions and so on. Thank you.

Lori Mackey: The most important concept is that you teach your children that money does not make you, who you are; there will always be people who have more money and less money then you. However, the key is in how you talk to your children. Always talk in a positive way about money, and let your children know that anything is possible and everything is attainable.

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Arlington, Va.: The problem with financial classes in schools is that finances are at the core about behavior, not about book smarts. Most people who would be teaching personal finance to our kids would either be teachers who are most likely in debt up to their eyeballs in student loans, car payments, and credit cards OR representatives of companies like VISA who would LOVE to teach our kids how to be "responsible" with credit cards.

Michelle Singletary: Now I wouldn't say most of the people teaching the class are broke, but your larger point that the values and behavior have to come from home is right.

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Re: Bethesda: If I were Bethesda, I'd be less worried about having my kids find a charity that interests them than figuring out why they have what sounds like fairly callous attitudes towards the less fortunate.

Michelle Singletary: Interesting. I was thinking the same thing. Perhaps you do need to figure out why they don't have compassion for the folks they see down and out.

Then again, it's not like we have to look too far. In our society people are fond of saying stupid things like, "People need to just pull themselves up by their boot straps."

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Upside down on the house Article: The article on negative house equity was shocking. I can't believe that a homebuyer making 70K featured in the article thought a 500K plus home was a good idea. Even if his soon to be ex-wife (they were in middle of divorce) made 70--that means that at 140K they were in a home 3 1/2 times their income. I don't know why the bank approved them but they should not have tried for a loan like that anyway.

Another couple can't come up with 28K to pay back what they owe--they are also in the middle of a divorce. These people don't have 28K in non-retirement accounts that they can access TODAY????

The adults highlighted in that article clearly did not even have the basics covered. Now we will have more people out there claiming "divorce" devastated them. What actually did it was an insistence on not living within their means and saving money.

washingtonpost.com: 'Upside Down' Home Sellers Owe More Than They Get

Michelle Singletary: Well, I wouldn't be so harsh because I'm telling you what I read in that article seems so normal to me based on the mail I get, the people I meet and the folks I counsel.

Many, many people don't have the basics covered. Not having $28,000 please. Many people don't have a spare $28 and I'm not talking about poor folks, I'm talking about well earning, middle and upper-income people.

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Washington, D.C.: We're having a baby in the fall, and I can't figure out what I'm supposed to be saving for.

We have a healthy cushion (probably more than six months' worth), we have no consumer debt, and are steadily working on the mortgage. And, since we both work in universities, we don't have to save for college tuition-- our kid goes for free, or at least gets a 90% tuition remission.

So other than maxing out our retirement plan contributions, overpaying our mortgage each month, and sending the stockbroker something to play with... is there something kid-specific that I should be worrying about?

Thanks!

Michelle Singletary: Sounds like you are on the right track. You're got an emergency fund, retirement going. But I would caution you about the college thing. 18 years is a long way off and you and your husband may change jobs or be pink slipped -- you never know.

I would still save for college, at least for room and board in case you kid or kids decide to stay on campus. And what if the school where you work doesn't have the program they want to study? Then what?

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Reston, Va.: Just a comment, if you have the time. I have 3 daughters, 15 year old twins and a 13 y.o., and their financial habits could not be more different. One makes Scrooge McDuck look like a spendthrift; one never met a cute outfit she didn't want to buy; and the third has taken a fairly balanced approach to spending and saving. We raised them all the same, and are now trying to get the spender to save while assuring the saver that it's OK to buy an occasional treat or funky pair of shoes. I know you have three children, as well. Without trying to pry, it will be interesting to see how they handle money as adults.

Susan Beacham: Here is some good news for you. Delayed gratification is learned behavior. And, delayed gratification is the end goal when we are teaching our kids about money. Start by teaching your children that they have 4 choices for money: Save, Spend, Donate and Invest. Then, teach them to set goals for each choice. Your teach children about money the very same way you taught them to take care of themselves if they every find themselves in a fire- remember the "Stop, Drop and Roll" mantra? Okay, for money it is "Stop, THINK and choose. Once they know about the choices that are available for money - they will stop and think and choose.

Michelle Singletary: I hear you Reston. Believe it or not I do fear sometimes that because of what I do my kids will run off after they finish college and become wild spenders.

But you know I have faith. So far all three of my kids handle money like me and their dad. They do just what Susan suggests. They think before they buy. If they don't learn anything else from me they do this, they ask themselves "Is this a need or is this a want." Then they weigh what it means giving up their cash for their want.

And again, we talk about money not in terms of things but in terms of priorities. This comes first, then this and this and after that if you have money left get a want.

It really works. I gave all three of my kids $10 once to go on a field trip. I purposefully said to them all, "Now I know mommy is always saying you should save but you can spend all of this $10 if you want."

Do you know every child came back with money? My oldest came back with $4. My youngest who was 5 came back with $6 and my son, the prince, came back with his entire $10.

And to a fault they each said they didn't really see anything they wanted to buy more than saving part or all of their money.

I tell you it brings tears to my eyes even now.

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Princeton, N.J.: Hello,

My 14-year old cousin's goal is to become a writer. However, when I talk to her about writing careers, she seems to think that all she needs to do is write a best selling book and she'll be well off for the rest of her life. I noticed that many of her friends also do not understand the hard work, dedication and understanding of finance that's needed to have productive careers. Do you have any advice on resources for kids to learn this sort of information? I also am looking for a creative outlet for my cousin that relates writing with understanding money.

Thanks,

Ivy Fleming

Lori Mackey: INGDIRECT has a contest called Adventures in Saving, any child/teen/adult can enter with the chance to win $1000 and become a published author. There are great resources on the website for her to learn how to write. If she wins this, she could be on her way! The story must be a savings theme, so she will learn how to write and understand how to save money at the same time.

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Re: college saving: Even if you work at a college that will pay your kid's tuition for free, I would definitely save for college. Do you work at a top university that's really hard to get into? If so, what if your kid doesn't get in? If not, what if your kid is brilliant and wants to go to (and gets into) Harvard? It is way too far off to count on tuition reimbursement, for any number of reasons. And if it all works out as you plan, then you'll have a tidy sum of savings.

Michelle Singletary: Love this point, echoes mine. Also, I've told all my kids if they get scholarships and therefore we have money left in their college fund, it's still theirs to use for a down payment on their first home.

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Ann Arbor, Mich.: Hi Michelle,

Thanks for taking my questions. First of all, I know you've said a few things about Dave Ramsey before, but don't remember if they are positive or negative. A few friends of mine have gone to his live seminars and really enjoyed them.

Second, how do your child/money experts feel about allowance, and how it is distributed? Some people say that you should require chores, but others say that then the kids can just turn down the money and that chores should be a minimum requirement of living in a house, and not rewarded. What do you think?

Lori Mackey: Children should learn to earn, we have a big problem with kids having an entitlement attitude, so I suggest children should do certain things around the house as being part of the family, but children cannot put value on their parent's money. So figure out how much you spend on a monthly basis on un-necessities for your kids, then allow your child to earn that through chores, jobs or tasks. Then when you are out in the malls, markets and stores and your child wants something, say, of course, you can have that; you just need to use your own money. Kids are too young to get a job, but they are not too young to earn an income. Kids will always spend their money much more wisely then their parent's money. This will also teach them that money is a choice; we all have the choice to spend or not to spend.

Michelle Singletary: I love Dave Ramsey. He's my idol. He doesn't believe in using credit cards AT ALL. That's my goal --- soon!

And he preaches as I do about becoming debt free, even of your mortgage.

As for allowances, I think a combination is good. There are certain things every member of the household should do without getting paid. I have no intention of putting my kids on a family payroll. But I do think they can do some things extra to earn money.

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Parent debts: What about the reverse? wrote: "we know one day their debt will become our headache."

Not necessarily. My parents are just like his or her parents, so I know that one day my husband and I may wind up completely supporting them instead of just giving them regular financial assistance and we are preparing for that eventuality. However, it should be noted that when parents die, children are not responsible for the parents' debts (thank god!!!). My sisters and I used to be petrified that we would be saddled with their debts -- I think we started talking about it with fear and trepidation when we were in our early teens, until I finally learned that, though creditors may try to trick or intimidate the children into paying debts that are not their own, they have no right to do so.

Michelle Singletary: You are right; heirs aren't responsible for debts unless they co-signed for it.

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Baltimore: What's age-appropriate for a 6-yr-old? She is starting to understand that money is important (she LOVES hoarding in her 3 piggy banks, but will then try to give us a handful of change to show us she loves us!), but isn't quite making the connection to earning money, saving up for what you want, contributing to charity, etc. She will be 6 in two weeks, and it seems like an appropriate time to start an allowance (how much?), and select a gift that will help her learn money management, but I don't have much of a sense of what is appropriate for her age.

Frankly, figuring out how to teach her about money is a struggle for us to start with. I was raised poor -- budgeting and saving came naturally to me, because that's how we stayed fed and clothed; and financial security is my number one goal, because I Never Want To Be Poor Again. But now I've been successful at that, and we don't need to pinch every penny as hard as I used to. Which is great -- but the flip side of that is that our kids aren't going to learn about saving and budgeting and delayed gratification quite as automatically as I did. So we have to consciously think of ways to instill in them that same structure and discipline and work ethic, without the same degree of financial deprivation that taught me.

Susan Beacham: I love that very young children are instinctual givers. They love to give what they have. My daughter Amanda once, upon hearing us talk at the dinner table about "meeting the Mortgage" offered all she had to help us make that payment. We should recognize that at a very young age kids are very giving and also that they have strong entrepreneurial desires.

I think you need to start teaching your child that she has 4 choices for money-save-spend-donate and invest. Then, allow her to "donate" Help her put the "do" in donate by suggesting that she can give her time and talent as well as her money. Then, help her "invest" in an entrepreneurial way. Kids at this age think of invest as investing in themselves - not in stocks. So, help them develop a plan to start a business. That will help your daughter focus on a number of money connections about earning money and the power of saving some.

Allowance. You know, I think she is too young - unless she is one sophisticated gal - I would wait. Allowance is not money for "chores" or "good grades" is money to cover expenses you cover now in their lives. So, hold off a little bit unless you think she is ready.

A final note: I passed a lemonade stand last summer. It was a hot-hot-hot 90 degrees in the shade kind of day. Two young boys - around 9 years old - were dressed in suits and ties and had a sign "Best Dressed Lemonade". I pulled over and asked them what the deal was - why the suits? They told me that they felt that people would be more willing to pass them money if they were dressed professionally! I love that story because it shows that kids are so smart and pick up all kinds of cues form the world that we never realize as parents until they start to reflect that education in their behaviors.

By the way - those boys told me that they tripled their sales with this approach!

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Annandale, Va.: Thanks for chat and interesting columns.

We have a five year old who has been interested in money (he has offered to buy soda for us in vending machines with some change we've given him). He was shocked the first time when I told him he could put the money in but he wouldn't get it back.

We just explained to him yesterday the differences between pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters.

Still uncertain when to actually let him buy something and to keep track of his money.

My question is if we start too early, would this lead to problems later on (but you let me buy x last week?) or is it something that we should just keep doing with small amounts until it sinks in?

Susan Beacham: Please start early. If you do not start early, then marketers will be the money voice in your child's head. Basically, marketing message are directed to your child from about age 18 months on up. So, your instinct to work with your child right now at this young age is exactly correct.

Since he is interested in spending, ask him to set a spending goal. Since he is young, have him draw the picture of the goal he has for the money he is spending. Then, post that picture on the refrigerator for you and your child to see - every day - so your child can remember what was important to him yesterday. Now, that goal may change, but having a picture of the goal will help you child delay gratification and stay focused.

Denise Labuda: I agree, please start early. Kids can be taught the basics of budgeting and given responsibility for making their own spending, saving and sharing decisions--with your help and guidance. All this can be done with a small amount of money each week starting as young as your son. You would like to empower him to make good money decisions, learn that money is a finite resource and we always get to make choices around what to do with what we have.

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Bethesda, Md.: What do you recommend about telling children how much we parents make? My parents never told us and I didn't feel it was our business but my parents, even though they were frugal, did not do anything to teach us about money and constantly harped about how expensive we were. I love your Hawaii example because its what I do - children will understand and respect money decisions if they know the choices and what is involved; I'm just interested in how much information you recommend providing children.

Denise Labuda: Be as transparent as you are comfortable with. If your salary is off limits, you can engage your kids in discussion around the cost of every day household things, like electricty/gas, food, transportation to help them begin to grasp what things cost and over time back in what one would have to make to afford the things we want.

Having ongoing, open discussions about money is the bigger goal--- so talk about money as often as you can, and include the choices you make.

Michelle Singletary: I will not and have not told my kids how much I make. It is none of their business.

But I do what Denise says; I show them or talk to them about what things cost. So when we go grocery shopping I get them to help me select items by comparing prices. For example, my oldest wanted some brand name item. But I showed her the store brand not only cost less but had more in it. She frowned but right there in the aisle we had a discussion about why she wanted the brand name. Just because she said. Well just because will make you broke I said. She rolled her eyes and I laughed because that does not impress me. Oh but when I tried to buy so really off, off brand soda she so lost it.

"Are you trying to kill us with some off brand bug juice," she said.

I mean it was really off, off, off. We laughed at that. So we compromised. I got the store brand, which was just a couple of cents more than the funny colored off, off brand.

Teachable moments folks. Teachable moments. And humor. Use it a lot.

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Blacksburg, Va.: "How far do you go in relating that "I'm not buying thing A for you" means 'You'll get thing B instead'"

Make this part of your daily parenting! My parents had us choose between things all the time. As an example: we rarely went out to dinner, but when we did my parents gave us a choice between a drink (soda) or dessert. We always chose the free water instead of the expensive syrupy soda, and learned that there were tradeoffs in life in an early, easy way. To this day I still prefer water with my meal.

Susan Beacham: I have offered our girls the "water or soda" choice as well. But, I give them the cost of the soda when they choose water. Then, they know that they must save a little, donate some and invest some and then they can spend what is left.

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"small and recoverable": I think Laurel is wrong. I graduated from college years ago so I don't have the pulse of the kids today but I think that they owe alot more than I would consider "small and recoverable". I think that a small number for a college kid would be 3k and under. I have a feeling the average kid owes about 7k. That would be consumer debt and not the school loan debt.

Susan Beacham: My stats tell me that college kids today owe anywhere from $3000-$7000 in consumer debt. Add that then to student debt that is anywhere from $20,000-$30,000 and you have a big nut to crack when you graduate. When I talk with college kids, I get the feeling that they are a bit immune to the "smaller" consumer debt bill as a result of the "larger" education debt bill. That is dangerous. Education debt is necessary debt. Consumer debt is an unnecessary debt.

University administrators report losing more college kids today to credit card debt than to academic failure.

We need to reach and teach our kids about credit long before they leave for college.

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Michelle Singletary: Well, well where did the time go. That hour went fast. Thanks to all who participated, especially my guest, Denise, Susan and Lori. I'm afraid Mary couldn't join us.

Great comments and questions today. As always, look for my print column (Thurs. and Sunday in the Post) and my e-letter, which I hope you subscribe to for answers to some of the questions we didn't have a chance to answer today.

Also, Join us for An Author Meet & Greet at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. Tuesday, April 24, 2007 6:00 p.m. -- 9:00 p.m. It's free!

I'll be there signing copies of my two books, "Spend Well, Live Rich," and "Your Money and Your Man."

Other Post Authors will include: Marie Arana, Jabari Asim, Benjamin C. Bradlee, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Pam Constable, Karen DeYoung, Juliet Eilperin, Michael Fletcher, Wil Haygood, Stephen Hunter, David Ignatius, Alec Klein, Jay Mathews, Kevin Merida, Lonnae O'Neal Parker, Tom Ricks, Jackie Spinner, Sally Squires, and Bob Woodward.

You will be able to buy books at the event.

Thanks again for joining me today.

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