The personal saving rate of Americans is up a little since the end of the Great Recession - 4.9 percent as of November - but it's nowhere near the high teens of the mid-1970s.
That's the savings rates for adults. For children, the numbers can be bigger. If you've ever seen a child empty out his or her piggy bank and count the coins again and again, you've seen how children can be taught to save money.
Teaching your children to be savers can be one of the best lessons to start off the new year. If they already have piggy banks, that's a good start. But there are plenty more ways to teach them the value of being savers. Here are 10:
1. Open a savings account. Going to the bank and making deposits is a great start to learning about saving. Although interest rates are low, the point is to regularly contribute to the account and save for a long-term goal. At most banks, a savings account can be opened for free for a minor. If children under 18 open an account at the bank their parents use, they may get a break on fees. However, some banks require account holders to maintain an average monthly balance or make automatic deposits to avoid fees.
Ethan Casavant, 25, of Waterville, Maine, says he owes his savings skills to his parents, who gave him a simple choice when he was a child. "Whenever I get money, put it in the bank and save for college," Casavant says. "If I do that, then they will get me whatever I need and want within reason."
2. Match contributions. However your children get money - from doing chores for an allowance or getting cash for their birthdays - match however much money they put aside. Jacquie Whitt of Virginia Beach, Va., says when her children were around age 5, she and her husband opened mutual funds for them and said they'd match every deposit 100 percent.
Their son figured it out quickly and is now in college studying economics. "Our daughter had us worried, but at age 14 now, she is fully on board with the idea and doesn't hesitate to save her dough," Whitt says.
3. Give them an allowance. If you want to teach your kids to be savers, they're going to need money to save. Help them get there by assigning them household chores in exchange for money they can save. Use a free online chore chart, such as myjobchart.com, to track what they've done and how much they're saving. Gregg Murset, a father of six in Phoenix, a certified financial planner and CEO of My Job Chart, says his children have saved $4,700 combined, resulting in conversations about savings goals, what's worth buying and what groups to donate to.
4. Get a piggy bank. This is how most kids start saving, but a piggy bank can be more than the pink pig you've seen a thousand times. Some have slots for spending, saving and donating. Meredith C. Carroll, a blogger at babble.com, a site for moms, says she gives her 5-year-old daughter four quarters each week for allowance: two to spend and a quarter each to save and donate. "On top of that, she takes it upon herself to do extra 'chores' around the house so she can save money," Carroll says.
5. Create a budget for them. Keeping track of their money on a chart can help children see where it's going and how far they are from reaching their financial goals. Tracie Shroyer, who runs on a website on kids and money called 401kkid.com, says her children, ages 7 and 8, were given a budget to pay for their own activities and other expenses such as airfare.
When they were 8 and 9, they had the opportunity to fly from Minnesota to Phoenix to visit their grandparents. They had to save their own money for a ticket, earning it from chores or gifts. The two boys watched their deposits grow on the budget graph, and bought plane tickets. Shroyer's daughter kept spending her money and didn't make the trip.
"The day the boys and I boarded the plane and headed to warmer climates, my daughter became determined she'd never run out of money again," Shroyer says. "Five years later, she consistently has almost twice as much money in her savings account as our boys."
6. Teach them about compound interest. Saving money is a smart way to learn the algebraic lesson of compound interest. Money grows over time in a savings account, for example, and can be a good motivator to save. If you really want your children to see their money grow, have them invest in a mutual fund that should increase in value faster than a savings account. Warn them that mutual funds can drop in value, and go to your broker's website to show them graphs of how mutual funds you own have done over the years. Remind them that their money is in a long race, not a short one.
7. Opportunity cost lessons. When grocery shopping, show your kids the value of price comparison and how not spending as much on something can save you money for something else. "At the grocery store, you could show them how you're choosing store brands or generic products over brand names. Make a game out of it, showing them how much you can save in total," says Ray Advani of Chicago, whose blog tiethemoneyknot.com focuses on money and relationships.
8. Play games. Board games such as Monopoly and The Game of Life can teach kids how to spend and earn money, but they don't do a good job of teaching them to be savers. Instead, try online games such as Save!, a free downloadable game from Mass Mutual Financial Group that can teach them how to separate wants from needs when it comes to spending. The game leads players through a 3D fantasy world where they collect virtual money while trying to avoid impulse buys called "iWannas," more likely known to your children as candy, soda and toys.
9. Go to the bank. If you have elementary-aged children, bringing them to the bank can be a fun learning experience, says Suzanna de Baca, vice president of wealth strategies at Ameriprise Financial. Let them help you at the bank and explain what you're doing and why. "Let them pour coins into the coin counter and exchange it for cash or ask them to double-count the bills the teller hands you," de Baca says.
10. Invest. Setting up a mutual fund or savings account can help your child learn to be a saver, but a stock investment can teach them a little more. Pick a company they're interested in or a product they use a lot - such as Disney, Facebook, Apple or even your bank - and see if a dividend reinvestment plan is available to buy them a few shares. Investing in a DRIP can help them learn to research stocks and save more money by having the dividends reinvested for them back into the company.
Probably the best way to teach your kids how to be savers is to lead by example. Put money aside each month in a savings account to pay for a trip, for example, and explain to your children why you're doing this.
Eventually, a child's personality traits that may make them a spender or penny-pincher will shine through. But "with some guidance at an early age, you can help them understand financial responsibility and learn their own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to money choices," de Baca says.
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