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For Better or Worse
Americans Learn Financial Skills from Parents

Founded in 1951, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling is the largest serving nonprofit financial counseling organization. Find various topics in this blog, including personal finance, credit counseling, housing, budgeting and student loan help. Click here to speak with an NFCC-certified Consumer Credit Counselor.

By Gail Cunningham

According to the NFCC’s 2012 Financial Literacy Survey, 44% of Americans indicated they learned the most about personal finance from their parents or at home.  By contrast, consider that only 10% said they learned their financial skills at school. 

In spite of the home being the primary teaching ground, many have never stopped to connect the dots between their financial habits and their parent’s. Confirming this concept is the NFCC’s May online poll in which 44% of respondents admitted that as an adult they have never compared their financial habits to their parent’s, suggesting that they are unaware of the potential impact their parent’s actions might have had on their current financial behavior. 

Of those who had contrasted their adult financial behavior against their parent’s, 12% chose to embrace financial habits that were exactly opposite of their parent’s, while 9% admitted their habits were very similar.  Not surprisingly, 35%indicated their financial style was a blend of how their parents handled money and their own attitudes. 

Whether parents are astute money managers or woefully lacking in financial skills, their behavior influences what the children are learning, and likely impacting how they will handle their own finances as adults. Understanding this dynamic should serve as an incentive for adults to improve their own grasp of personal finance, because like it or not, their actions in this area will speak loudly.

In addition to demonstrating responsible money choices through their behavior, parents should make a conscious effort to impart age-appropriate financial skills to their children. Summer provides an ideal time to focus on the finances with the children and increase awareness around different aspects of financial management.

Although conversations about money can begin with children of pre-school age, the NFCC provides the following 10 questions as ways to start a discussion with teenagers about money and create a teachable moment: 

  • Do you think children should be paid to do household chores?
  • Could you live on the current federal minimum wage in America of $7.25 per hour?
  • If not, how could you convince your boss that your skill set is worth more than the minimum?
  • How many hours are you willing to work to pay for that new pair of tennis shoes you want?
  • How is a checking account different from a debit card?
  • Why do credit card issuers charge customers different interest rates?
  • If not compact disc, what do the initials CD stand for?
  • Could you save a dollar each day from now until Christmas?
  • If you received $100 for your birthday, what would you do with the money?
  • What’s the difference between collision and liability car insurance?

By improving their own financial skills, parents can make a positive impact on their children’s financial futures, truly a gift that can last a lifetime. NFCC Member Agencies offer dozens of workshops on a variety of topics.  Make a date with your teenager, and take advantage of this free or low-cost financial education.

To locate the NFCC Member Agency closest to you, call (800) 388-2227, or go online to www.DebtAdvice.org.  For assistance in Spanish, call (800) 682-9832. 

The actual May poll question and responses are as follows:

Now that I’m an adult, I find that my financial habits are: 

Very similar to how my parents handled money, and that’s good = 9%

The opposite of how my parents handled money, and that’s good = 12%

A blend of their style and mine = 35%

Something I’ve never compared to my parents’ habits = 44%

Note: The NFCC’s May Financial Literacy Opinion Index was conducted via the homepage of the NFCC Web site (www.DebtAdvice.org) from May 1 – 31, 2012 and was answered by 785 individuals.

Gail Cunningham is Vice President of Membership & Public Relations with the NFCC.

Views expressed are the personal views of the author, and do not represent the views of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, its employees, its members, or its clients.

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