It’s that time of year—school is winding down and I start thinking about my list of summer projects. At the top of my list: teaching a young person to manage money. I am the mother of two children, and because I am also a financial planner, I find myself trying to sneak fiscal management into their young brains. My 12-year-old daughter Lauren and I did a summer project last year, and she asked to do one again this year. Perhaps you know a young person who would benefit from a summer project as well.
Step 1: Find something they care about.
In Lauren’s case, that is birds. Some other ideas you might consider include learning a new instrument, trying a new sport, building something (backyard fort, anyone?), updating a room in your house, learning how to cook fancy meals or bake fancy desserts—the possibilities are endless…
Step 2: …but your budget is not.
Decide how much money you want them to manage for this project. We allowed $600, which is what I would have spent on summer camp.
Step 3: Spend time together talking through what they want from the project.
Lauren decided she wanted to make our yard a more friendly place for birds. This is an important part of the process, but don’t forget to allow for failures and how to handle them. Failures are almost always part of any project, so use them as pieces of the bigger experience to teach your young person how to take them in stride.
Step 4: Let them drive.
Personally, this was the hardest for me, because I wanted to step in and show her the way. Turns out, the best thing I could do was to be quiet and serve as a sounding board rather than a guide.
Step 5: Listen to how they want to go about achieving their goal.
Lauren decided on a few things that were important to her project:
- Pulling out overgrown plants
- Planting native species
- Hanging birdfeeders/birdseed
- Getting a birdbath
- Adding a birdhouse
She also knew she had a budget—and here’s where my financial planner’s heart smiled—so she picked what was most important to her and worked backwards from there. She wanted a native tree that would provide berries to the birds she loves. She researched trees for hours and found one, a serviceberry, that met her goal. The tree cost $150. It ate up a lot of her budget, but with a little financial creativity, she was able to figure out new ways to get the other things on her list.
- Pull out overgrown plants: free labor from mom and grandpa to assist
- Find native plants: trips to Merrifield Gardens and online plant research
- Birdfeeder/birdseed: buy in bulk, research options, only buy what you need
- Birdbath: found one for free on Nextdoor
- Birdhouse: made one from scratch with grandpa
The outcomes of this endeavor are amazing. First of all, my 12-year-old now feels confident in managing a budget. She learned how to use Excel so she could track her expenses, and she is thrifty about what she decides to spend her money on. We have built a foundation for talking about money together, and she understands that it is not an unlimited resource. She enlisted the help of her community to get more out of the funds she was allocated—her grandpa and I did a lot of labor, and she worked alongside us. She didn’t just learn about fiscal management; she also learned more about plants and carpentry through this project. On the interpersonal level, we got to do a project together that we will always remember. This summer she has already asked me for her budget and is diligently working on new things she wants to try in the garden, like fresh herbs and vegetables.
There are lots of opportunities for us to teach young people about healthy fiscal habits long before they “need” them. I wonder what projects you might do with those in your life and what benefits you will see as they go through the process of figuring out how to manage their own budgets. I wonder if this gift of feeling confident with money management will continue to affect their choices as they grow into independent adults.
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