As Jodi walked to class that day the freshman noticed a large circle of booths spread out across the main courtyard of campus.
Scattered among the booths was one giving away free t-shirts with the school’s mascot on it. All Jodi had to do to get the free swag was fill out a form. As a bonus she would receive this little plastic card that was practically free money.
Or so she thought. Four years later she was stuck with a $5,000 t-shirt thanks to the debt she rang up.
"Children who learn the importance of saving money at a young age are much better prepared to manage their money independently once they are grown,” says Eric Hutchinson, certified financial planner and author of the book “The Financial Briefing.”
Jodi’s parents never talked to her about debt. Or how she could have bought a similar t-shirt with cash, stashed away a matching amount in an emergency fund and been in the clear financially by the time she graduated. Instead she has joined the average college graduate in America who leaves school with more than $5,600 in credit card debt alone.
Hutchinson recommends that children begin to build an emergency fund as soon as they can so they can have some money saved up and understand the principals of savings and creating an emergency account by the time they become young adults.
Here are seven ways to help your child develop a lifetime emergency fund:
Encourage kids to save something. Whether it be a 10-year-old stashing away a dollar or teenagers opening a savings or checking account, get kids in the habit of saving no matter how small the amount.
Help kids balance treats and sacrifices. Help your kids by setting, and meeting goals. Once those goals are met allow them a little withdrawal to buy something for themselves.
Loose change goes to the emergency fund. Loose change can add up, so don’t let kids discard those pennies or leave them lying in the parking lot – no matter if they are heads or tails up.
Set an example. Children don’t miss much, and if they don’t see you saving, they might wonder why they need to save.
Keep kids away from credit as long as possible. Credit card companies have large marketing budgets and much of those funds are spent on marketing to older teenagers. Make sure he or she understands what credit pitfalls could lie ahead.
Schedule money meetings. Meet with your child at regular intervals so that you can discuss their emergency account, answer questions and discuss money issues he or she might encounter.
Help kids set up a real budget. The earlier kids learn to manage a budget, the easier things will be down the line. Younger kids can start learning by jotting their plusses and minuses down on a piece of paper, while older kids can be introduced to budgeting on software and apps.
“Circumstances are always changing as people grow older,” Hutchinson says. “I would recommend going over each year’s changing needs with your kids. The emergency fund has to adapt and be ready for whatever circumstances might pop up.”
Eric Hutchinson is a certified financial planner with more than 30 years of experience in the areas of financial planning, investments, estate and tax planning. His new book “The Financial Briefing,” distills time-tested wisdom based on decades of professional experience and provides an overview of many of the financial and life issues everyone will face at some point.