Money Smarts for All Ages

Apr 12, 2017 ​


Money plays an integral part in our lives, and making good choices requires learning how to manage cash properly. But when is a good time to begin teaching children and young adults about money? While it wouldn’t make sense to suggest that a three-year-old develop a budget, or for a 12-year-old to get a credit card, there are simple money concepts that children can understand - and begin to apply - from a young age.

With graduations right around the corner, and students gearing up to move to the next grade level — from kindergarten to college — it’s the perfect time to get money smart. Here’s some age-appropriate concepts for children and young adults, as well as activities to support good money choices, courtesy of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s “Money as You Grow” series and the National Endowment for Financial Education.

Ages 3–5 years: Early Childhood

Basic money skills and attitudes form at a young age, and lay the foundation for financial well-being later in life. Children this age are learning how to stay focused, make plans, follow directions, complete tasks, and solve problems. Teaching them skills such as planning ahead, waiting for things they want, and finishing what they start will help them in many areas of their life. These skills, known as executive function skills, help children and adults stay focused, plan, and adjust to changes. They also support positive financial behaviors such as goal setting, planning, saving for the future, and sticking to a budget.

Teachable Moments:

  • Patience while waiting in line
  • Learning to stop and think before they act
  • Creating three jars for saving, spending, and sharing
  • Setting a goal and saving for a purchase
  • Counting and sorting money and identifying names of coins and dollars

Ages 6–12 years: Building Money Habits and Values

Kids in middle childhood begin to absorb and interact with the financial world around them. They begin to feel the pull of shopping and advertising, absorbing habits and attitudes about what’s typical and what’s popular. They also start to notice typical financial practices within their circle of family and acquaintances. When children are this age, help them establish day-to-day habits that will help shape how they earn, save, and shop.

Teachable Moments:

  • Thinking out loud when making spending decisions or paying bills
  • Discussing and practicing comparison shopping
  • Involving children in simple financial decisions, like shopping lists and family trips
  • Earning money by doing chores
  • Opening a savings account
  • Talking about how small expenses add up

Ages 13–18 years: Putting Habits Into Practice

Making independent financial decisions, as well as practicing positive skills and habits, will set teens on the path to making wise choices through a lifetime. When children are this age, give them chances to make money choices, experience natural consequences, and reflect on their decisions. It’s also a great time to ask young people about potential career and lifestyle choices, and help set goals for adulthood.

Teachable Moments:

  • Break financial tasks and problems into manageable steps
  • Explore compound interest calculators such as
  • Save for a longer-term goal
  • Talk about how small expenses add up
  • Estimate student financial aid at
  • Research scholarships and grants

Ages 19–21: Setting the Plan in Motion

Whether it’s attending college, learning a trade, or starting a business, it’s time to take what’s been learned and apply it to real-world situations.

Teachable Moments:

  • Those moving away need to ensure that their financial institution is nearby, or has robust online banking tools and multiple ATMs to easily access accounts.
  • Setting up an emergency reserve account for unexpected situations, such as a car repair or fixing a broken computer.
  • Reminding them that while credit card offers will be coming in fast and furious, the interest rates ultimately increase the cost of the purchase, and their credit score will be impacted by late payments or poor decisions.
  • Consider getting a card with a co-signer, which restricts credit limit increases; a prepaid debit card; or a bank-secured credit card, which is tied to the amount of money in a savings account.

While starting early is ideal when it comes to financial literacy, it’s never too late to start. Nusenda Credit Union’s goal is to be your trusted financial advisor — no matter what age! Explore a large variety of tools, money management trackers, educational opportunities, and resources for students and parents that’ll lead to success.

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