In this season of giving, it’s easy to get caught up in the shiny and the bright. Wouldn’t we all like the newest tech, or the trendiest outfit? But as we all know, those that are new and innovative today will be outdated and old news tomorrow. Parents, as your kids get older it becomes more and more difficult to find that perfect gift and those desired items gradually grow more and more expensive. For those kids leaving college or at the beginning of their adult lives, those needs may even include more practical items for the first time. How about this year, while showering them with gifts that may only last a season, you pass on some financial knowledge about savings and debt that will last their whole lives?
A healthy savings habit is the gift that keeps on giving. All of life’s major money milestones – whether it’s for a down payment, starting a new business, or a long period of unemployment- require having cash in the bank. For your children, the feeling of being able to tackle challenges like these without parental support is both extremely liberating and a memory they will pass onto future generations. Although everyone’s situation is different, a good rule of thumb for those starting out is to put 10% of total income toward long-term goals (like retirement) and 10% toward short-term goals (like the emergency fund or a house down payment.) To help ensure success, we recommend having these savings deductions automatically withdrawn from a paycheck into separate accounts each month. We find that it’s much easier to not spend if you don’t see the money. And for those who’re receiving holiday bonuses for the first time, save at least 50% for the future. We promise that this practice will have you remembering the holidays in a positive light for years down the road.
Every year on TV we see the Grinch who tries to ruin Christmas. But for twenty-somethings, he’s going by a different name this year – debt. As a parent you’ve known for a while that there’s no such things as free money, but this is a new concept for young adults. Tour guides don’t discuss loan repayment strategies on the campus tour and credit card companies don’t emphasize their high interest rates while they tempt kids with free t-shirts on the Quad. Credit cards are one of the best ways to help establish good credit. They can also come with great perks, travel benefits and discounts. But, all of these “benefits” are only helpful if these cards are used responsibly. If you’re comfortable, help your child open their first credit card, but discuss with them the importance of paying it off in full each month. Show them how incredibly high the interest rates are on these cards – higher than the return any investment or savings account will ever earn them. We recommend starting with a low credit limit ($500 or less) for the first year or so while they grow accustomed to paying off the card each month. If your student was one of those kids that picked up one of those free t-shirt/credit card combos, but doesn’t remember what happened to either, it also would be a good idea to check out their credit report. This report will give you the details on the card, as well as help you monitor for fraud or identity theft. Although there are many online sites that will show you your credit report, there’s only one site, annualcreditreport.com, that’s authorized by the federal government to show your credit reports from all three reporting agencies each year.