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Modeling Good Investment Habits

One of the basic truths of life is that your children learn how to do things by watching you. If you want them to treat others with kindness and to practice patience while driving, it’s key that you do those things yourself.

The same goes for money behavior. If you want your kids to be purposeful investors later in life, it will help to involve them in your investing life right now. They will learn by watching what you do.

Demonstrating investing over time is a little tricky—a lot of things happen on paper or in an electronic account, and watching you read your statements isn’t super scintillating. But with the right approach, you can help your family understand how you’re investing for the future. Here are a few strategies:

Read Them Stories

When your kids are little, the concept of investing may be a little complicated. But the idea of working hard now to save for future needs isn’t tough to grasp. Look for children’s literature with characters who save for later, or whose slow and steady progress wins in the end – such as The Tortoise and the Hare. Then chat with your kids about the messages in the books, and how they might apply that in real life.

Let Them See You Save

Saving for a distant aspiration is an abstract idea, so demonstrate savings to younger kids with a series of jars in a visible spot in your house. Choose a family goal or two, label your jars accordingly, and stash some cash in there on a regular basis. Maybe you can save for a family trip or new car.

If you feel your children are old enough to grasp the idea, move the cash to an investment account once it reaches a certain level, and then start over in the jars—perhaps with a little label that states the total balance.

Watching the money accumulate and seeing you contribute habitually can help plant the idea of saving regularly. (See: Start Building Your Nest Egg with Just $50 a Month)

Match Their Savings or Pay Interest—or Both

Get your children their own clear piggybank or jars for savings, then offer to match some percentage of whatever they save, whether it’s 50% or even 100% of whatever they put away. At regular intervals, consider paying interest on the total in the jar, so they can see the power of compounding in action.

Over time, it will be clear that the more money they save, the quicker their jar fills up. “The idea is that money can work for you,” says Alexander Lowry, a professor of finance at Gordon College in Wenham, MA. (See: How Much Are You Missing Out On Every Day You Don’t Invest?)

For teens with summer jobs, consider having them open an IRA or other type of savings account. Then, if you have the means, match some portion of whatever they save. But remember, for both Traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs, your child can only contribute an amount up to their earned income for the year or up to $6,000, whichever is less. “You can incentivize them,” Lowry says. “You can begin to plant seeds that will be paying off as they continue to grow older.” (See: Don’t Miss the Tax Savings Benefits of an IRA)

Take a Paycheck in Cash

For dramatic effect, consider withdrawing the equivalent of one full paycheck (pre-tax) in cash from your bank. Lay it on the dining room table and show your kids how your money is budgeted.

Start by taking out all your deductions for taxes and any pre-tax contributions to retirement accounts. Then take out monthly expenses like the mortgage, utility bills, groceries and insurance. Finally, you can show what’s left over to save toward other goals—college savings, a vacation, or a regular contribution to an investment savings account. It’s powerful for kids to see what you start with—and end up with—and the decisions you are required to make with the money you earn.

Use College Savings to Discuss Risk

In a way, a 529 or Coverdell college savings account functions like a mini retirement fund—you can be more aggressive when your kids are little, but you should be more conservative with that money as you get closer to the time you need to withdraw it.

The idea of risk is a good one for kids to learn. Have your kids sit with you when you make regular plan investments, or when you look at how the account is doing. Explain why you chose your investments and how they’re designed to meet your needs.

Have Periodic Money Meetings

One of the themes of investing is growth over time, and one of the best ways to see that growth is by checking in with your investments at regular intervals and discussing their progress. Having a monthly or quarterly meeting, whether it’s over dinner or after, gives you a chance to go over everything and have a teaching moment.

You can talk about how much you’ve put toward each goal since your last meeting, and the amount of earnings or interest (or losses) those investments have seen. If there’s a reason your investments have lost value, you can discuss that as well.

Often, investing behavior happens quietly—deposits from a bank account, decisions about investments. But if you take the time to show your family what you’re doing and when you’re doing it, you’ll build an image of yourself as an investor—and reinforce the idea with your kids that investing is a lifelong habit.




The concepts presented are intended for educational purposes only. This information should not be considered investment advice or a recommendation of any particular security, strategy, or product. At Thrivent Mutual Funds, we recommend you consult your tax advisor to make sure you’re getting the most out of your investments. Thrivent Mutual Funds and their representatives cannot provide legal or tax advice.

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