The idea of setting goals is appealing to many parents; goals teach responsibility, show kids how to persist through obstacles, and create initiative. But when it comes to money, sometimes it can be hard to integrate goal-setting in a meaningful way that young kids can understand.
Research shows that children who set and achieve clear, written goals are more likely to succeed than those who don’t have such expectations. After all, creating and reaching goals is about much more than just dollar signs, it’s about an important life skill.
Here are 5 ways to help your kids set financial goals, and set them on a path to success:
1. Start with a reachable, straightforward goal.
A goal for a 3 year old will not be the same as a goal for an 8 year old. Remember that challenging goals are good, but they must also be achievable, or the child will lose steam and give up. A 3-5 year old child could save $20 for a medium sized toy such as a Lego set or doll, a 5-8 year old might save for a movie, videogame, or larger toy around $40, and a goal for a child between 8 and 10 years old might be a game console or a bicycle. Good goals will be measurable, challenging, and something the child desires strongly.
2. Even a three year old can get started.
Setting goals early will normalize the process, and make it a part of everyday life. A child as young as three years old can be introduced to the concept by showing them how things cost money, such as at the grocery store or bookstore (great example here from Forbes). Even places like thrift shops and yard sales can be good places to demonstrate how to pay for something. Once a child understands that things cost money, they are more likely to be excited to save up for something they want, hopefully understanding that everything is not easily given to them.
3. Break the goals into bite-sized pieces for your child.
While your five year old may understand and enjoy reaching a goal for a toy or item, they may also get burnt out. Breaking it down into smaller chunks helps them stay motivated. For younger kids, a visual aid, such as a sticker char or a reverse paper chain where they add a link for every dollar saved up towards their goal. Physical money is also perfect for little hands (even if you have to break out the Lysol after they count it for the umpteenth time), so look for clear containers or jars as a helpful, visible tool that showcases the actual money. Whatever you end up using, make sure to add in mini-celebrations to keep up the excitement.
4. If your child doesn’t reach their goal, do NOT bail them out!
It can be so, so hard to resist giving your child the money when they are disappointed for not reaching their goal yet, but whatever you do, keep those wallets tucked away. By not bailing them out, you will teach them resilience. Instead, encourage and praise their hard work, and emphasize patience. They may throw tantrums in the store, or fits because of the length of time it takes to save up, but remember to stay calm and keep your emotions to a minimum. It’s important to set money and goals in a positive light, and not let your own frustrations with a child’s attitude cloud perspective.
5. Show them stellar examples.
The best examples to share with your kids are your own successes, financial and beyond. Show them how you achieved things you are proud of in your life, such as a specific career, earning a degree, or learning something new. You can also use other people as motivators, such as olympic athletes, those with careers such as doctors and lawyers, or friends and family who have achieved large goals like graduating college or getting a specific job. Research shows that when children are shown strong examples, it can help them to stay motivated.
Goal-setting can be challenging to implement, especially when you’re a busy mom or dad, but when you do so, you are helping set your children up for successful and responsible lives as adults. They will appreciate saving and spending, and we bet they will share stories of their financial successes with you long into adulthood.