The cornerstone of healthy personal finance is also something many people struggle with: saving money. From the time your kids are old enough to desire toys, books, and other entertainment items, you should teach them how to save for the things they want to buy.
An allowance is a good tool for this concept. Your child may want a video game that costs $50, but she gets an allowance of only $5 a week. It's her choice: candy or comic books today, or the more expensive item a couple months from now. Almost all personal finance boils down to this essential concept, and it's best to learn from experience.
You can help with this notion another way, by offering to pay interest if your child saves part of her allowance with you, or by matching part of her savings if she starts a bank account - say, you'll contribute 1 dollar for every 5 she puts in the bank. Offer a high rate, so she can immediately see the benefits of not spending her money. Your child may find that momentary desire passes, but the satisfaction that comes from saving money lasts indefinitely.
2. Work hard for your money
Help your child make the connection early in life that money isn't something freely given, but is earned through work. This isn't to say that you should put your small children to work re-roofing your house. Instead, just emphasize that nothing comes free, even if you're tempted to bestow upon your offspring everything that their hearts desire. If you choose to give your kids an allowance, tie it to the successful completion of certain jobs throughout the week. Or you may choose to set a market rate for various tasks.
Age-appropriate chores and rewards are the key. Younger kids can help with simple things like setting the table, where doing the job well isn't as important as learning how to see it through. Older kids can take on more arduous jobs like mowing the lawn, in exchange for greater compensation. You may even encourage them to begin offering their services around the neighborhood.
3. Understand a budget
A budget is a foreign concept to kids (and, it should be said, to many adults). Younger children, especially, simply won't realize that mommy and daddy have a limited amount of money to spend every month. But learning what a budget is, and why it's a good idea, is one of the central pillars of financial literacy.
The best way to teach kids how a budget works is simply to show them. That's not to say that you should open your books up to your children and show them every penny coming in or out (although you may consider sharing some details with teenagers about things like your mortgage payment, car payments, and so on). Instead, just give them a broad sense of how adults have to divide up their money each month.
One easy way to demonstrate this concept is to take a stack of Monopoly money, and tell your child that the stack represents how much money you make every month from work. Then, divide up the bills one at a time to show how much you spend on the house, how much you spend on food, how much you save, how much you give to charitable organizations, and so forth. The denominations aren't important. What's important is showing your children that you have a conscious plan for your money, and that you're on top of the family finances.
Encourage your child to start a budget of his own: Part of his allowance should go to savings, part to charity, and part of it is just for fun. Help your child indentify what he truly values, and budget his money accordingly.