How to Raise Your Kids to Be Financially Independent


A recent Pew Research study confirms what most of us already know — a growing number of adult children are either delaying their departure from home or are moving back after a false start.

In all fairness to this generation of young adults, they just happened to enter adulthood during a deep, prolonged recession. To make matters worse, this recession has also been accompanied by a fundamental restructuring of our economy; so unfortunately things don't look much better for the generation that follows, either. (See also: 7 Important Lessons Frugal Parents Teach Their Children)

That's something the children can't control. But what can be controlled is how well prepared they are to deal with it. And their success or failure on that score will impact not only their own financial future, but also yours — for the longer your children remain financially dependent on you, the more it can delay or even jeopardize your retirement.

So, what can you as a parent do to reduce the "boomerang" risk and ensure your kids are financially independent?

Set Expectations: Share the Bigger Goal

When raising our two boys we established and tried to achieve three broad goals. We communicated these goals to them early and often. The hope was that if they had a clear understanding of what was expected of them it would help to anchor them and give them focus.

We summarized our goals as "IRC":

  • Independent (learn to live independently)
  • Responsible (take responsibility and be accountable for your actions)
  • Caring (care for and respect others…and yourself)

An important part of achieving the first goal — of becoming Independent — meant learning how to manage their own finances. For help with this we were fortunate to receive some well-timed advice. At our oldest son's first birthday party a couple we knew mentioned that they set up a savings account for each of their children just before they were born. The couple deposited into the accounts every dollar the kids received on birthdays, holidays, and special occasions.

Start Early With Savings

Because the couple started so early, over the years their savings grew to a tidy sum. This was our first lesson, and it got the ball rolling for us.

So we immediately opened a savings account for our firstborn. Not just any account, a passbook savings account. Why? Because, unlike a statement savings account, withdrawing money from a passbook account is inconvenient; it requires actually going to the bank — and during banker's hours no less. But inconvenient is what we wanted, for if making withdrawals was as simple as using an ATM card or clicking a mouse, then it would have been much easier to yield to the temptation of taking out some money "just this one time."

Make It a Team Effort

Soon our oldest son was joined by a younger brother and before we knew it, they were both in middle school. It was then that we introduced them to their savings accounts and encouraged them to take a more active role in the activity. Whenever money came their way, they accompanied us to the bank. With each deposit came a sense of accomplishment, knowing that they were contributing to a steadily growing savings amount.

Also, as an incentive to start adding their own money to the gifts they received from others we contributed a dollar-for-dollar match to each child's own deposit, much like a 401(k) program.

Add Investments to the Mix

Not too long afterwards, we introduced an investment component to the mix. Each child (actually, they were young adults now) could allocate a portion of their savings to one or two stocks. In keeping with the "teamwork" philosophy, stock selections were jointly made by the whole family.

Adding stocks made things a lot more interesting and also increased their engagement considerably, because it introduced the element of risk. Up until then, there was only one way their savings balance could go — up. Now it could go down, but it could also rise faster than if it were pegged to the bank's low fixed interest rate on the savings component.

Some stock prices did fall, so as these lessons were learned and as they began to understand more about how the stock market worked, we allowed them to make a small number of additional trades. (And to be fair, my wife and I secretly agreed to make them whole if by the time they graduated college their stock picks didn't at least break even.)

Monitor Progress With Financial Statements

By the time the boys were in high school they were fully engaged in this effort. Capitalists that they are, they even started making fairly sizable deposits into the account from after-school job earnings.

As "portfolio manager" I created and distributed quarterly account summaries. These summaries helped them monitor their progress and also prepared them for reading and understanding the financial statements they would later receive and use after leaving the nest.

The End Game: Setting a Final Goal

As high school graduation approached, each account had grown to over $15,000. That was considerably more than any of us had expected. With both boys planning to attend four-year college, we decided that the accounts would be turned over to them after earning their undergraduate degrees. This gave us an opportunity for a final shared activity — goal setting.

The logical place to apply the money was on college debt. Average student loan debt for college graduates who borrow is now nearly $30,000, so repaying all or a healthy chunk of it creates an opportunity to begin adulthood in a strong financial position. In our children's case, college was (and continues to be) paid for by dear old Mom and Dad. So they have an even better chance at not only being debt-free when entering the working world, but actually having a considerable amount of savings to help them get — and hopefully stay — ahead.

Lessons Learned

When we opened the first savings account around 20 years ago, we didn't know what it would lead to. The activity evolved and changed over time and, for us, it ultimately created an opportunity to accomplish many things.

  • It introduced our children to the concept of saving and the positive effects of compound interest over an extended period of time.
  • It introduced them to stock market investing, risk, and the learnings that come with failure.
  • It gave our children a hands-on opportunity to set and achieve financial goals.
  • It evolved into a process involving engagement, family teamwork, and collaboration.

And it did one other thing — it gave our children an opportunity to get ahead early in the game.

Hopefully the experience will nudge the odds in favor of reducing their financial dependence on us as they enter this brave new world. Perhaps this approach can be used in some fashion by your family or by others close to you to help their children get ahead, too.

Are you teaching your children how to be financially independent? What does your lesson plan look like?

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Guest's picture

WOW - I love the idea of picking some family stocks as a means for teaching kids how to invest. I will definitely be using this idea with my kids!

Thanks for the idea!!!

Keith Whelan's picture

Glad you found it helpful, Derek.

Stock picking was a learning experience for us (the parents), too. We tried to diversify our picks a bit by not having any two stocks in the same industry.

Good luck!

- Keith

Guest's picture

I love how you did the 401k match dollar for dollar. That is cool because companies do similar things and that can be a good way to teach your kids learn to save for retirement.

One thing I am excited to do with my kids when they are old enough is to help them make their own money. Especially, I want to help them set up passive income streams. Whether it is a website, youtube channel or whatever. How cool would it be going to college with a $1000 of monthly passive income?

Guest's picture

Thanks, Steven. Yes, I agree completely - there are ways to generate passive income at an early don't have to wait until retirement. In fact, doing so gets you to retirement (financial independence) much sooner.

And given how our kids are living in a more challenging time, having dear old mom and dad on their side to give advice and support can make a real difference. Good luck!