Making Kids Money Smart, Reprise

Little girl withdrawing money form ATM with help of mother.

Some time back I had written about how we could better prepare children to handle money responsibly, how to help establish good financial habits and why that was important. You might have thought that banks would have played a role in that education, but I failed to talk about them and what positive (and negative) aspects they can play when it comes to a child’s money intelligence.

In theory banks should be the obvious first stop when it comes to talking about money and yet they rarely are. They may not even be helpful. This is partly because banks have long since given up being a waystation for protecting money from the general economy. While banks themselves have always had a central part to play in lending and growing the economy, the roll of doing that off the back of people who are housing their savings for a rainy day has been replaced by the desire to more quickly facilitate economic activity. Whereas banks were once a speedbump on the road to making a purchase, today they occupy the chief role of facilitating that purchase. No one would dare deposit money with a bank that did not provide debit cards, credit cards and easy online financial transactions.

Being money smart though has a lot more to do with instilling patience and setting goals, not immediately reacting to every consumer temptation. But a teenager with a bank account is not going to find that he or she is hindered much by their savings account. Furthermore, they are unlikely to see the benefits of keeping money in a savings account since there is little growth to be offered. This gives banks a paradoxical role in your child’s financial education, one that offers little incentive to save while facilitating bad financial choices.

For instance, TD Bank offers a Youth Account, a basic savings account for children up to the age of 18. There’s no fees, unlimited transactions per month and minimal interest rates for savers at 0.05%, or 50₡ for every $100. However, a child of 12 will receive a debit card with the Visa Debit system and a daily limit of $25 or $50/day. Meanwhile Scotiabank’s Getting There Savings Account offers similar low fees and minimal interest, but throws in 2 free Interac transactions per month and Scene Reward Points for the movies. The lesson banks teach kids is that putting money in the bank helps buy things they want whenever they want it.

For parents who opened an account for their children when they were small it may be a surprise that banks will send teens and pre-teens bank cards. And even approaching a bank about what can and cannot be done with a bank card may not offer up much help. I went to three separate banks to ask about their youth accounts and was frequently met with several “umms” and “ahhs” when I pressed for details. At one bank I was assured that even though the bank card was a “Visa Debit” that card could not be used to buy items online (which is what the Visa Debit system does). When I pressed for confirmation that this was the case the person disappeared to consult with other employees before returning and confirming that online purchases would be allowed. Financial limits are also not particularly inspiring. A $25 limit per day totals pretty quickly, and parents may not realize what that money is going towards since online purchases can be easily overlooked.

And yet.

This is also the system that we live in. Children should be raised to understand that there will be few breaks when it comes to making bad financial choices. Banks and credit card companies will happily provide debt to those who can barely afford it and defend themselves with impenetrable multi-page legal documents. Engaging with this system is essential to beating it.

So what can parents do?

As I wrote back in 2015 the best course of action is to do planning with kids to help establish good habits. Giving kids an allowance in exchange for chores isn’t a bad idea, but it might make more sense to both expand the money that is given, and then set up automatic withdrawals to cover expenses. Rather than receive $20/week as an allowance, consider $50/week and automatically take $30 back for RESP contributions. Or up it even further and charge them room and board. The experience of seeing financial responsibilities coming ahead financial luxury would establish a good habit of the real costs of living.

Another idea would be to sit and plan the purchase of a large item together that a child wants. Maybe it’s a video game system or a subscription of some kind. Go through the budgeting process together and figure out how many weeks it would take to get the item while also factoring money in that time for usual expenses like eating out with friends and going to movies (people still go to the movies right?). Invariably good budgeting forces us to question what we’re doing and whether it makes sense, so the action of picking an item and working towards it will go a long way to either validating those wants or rethinking what to do with that cash.

If you can convince your child to save and budget, help them as well consider alternative things to do when it comes time and they’re tempted to spend the money they were meant to be saving. Budgeting should help provide a passage to success and being left home alone while their friends are out having a good time will be hard.

Lastly, take your kids to the bank and have a meeting with someone together about the ins and outs of their youth account. Parents should know what is and is not allowed and not assume that simply because they opened the account 8 or 9 years ago, they understand what that account does or does not allow.

Financial planning remains an unpopular pastime, and few enjoy the responsibility of dealing with money. This may have more to do with how out of control Canadians feel with regard to their expenses and how much debt we carry. But as parents we should be looking for every opportunity to teach our children some of the bitter truths about money, debt, banks and budgets. Nobody else is.

As always, if you have questions about fees, performance or your financial future, please don’t hesitate to give me a call or send a message.

Information in this commentary is for informational purposes only and not meant to be personalized investment advice. The content has been prepared  by Adrian Walker from sources believed to be accurate. The opinions expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent those of ACPI.

Down With Universities, Up With Education!

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Let’s say I had an investment that cost around $100,000 to be a part of, and after a fixed period you would be left with debt in the area of 25% of your initial purchase. Also there is less than 50% shot at having any ROI at all. If that sounds like a bad deal that’s essentially the proposition of going to university; an expensive 4 year party that leaves many young Canadians in debt with little chance of landing a job that even requires a degree in the first place, let alone one in the chosen field of study.

In some ways universities have it tough. They have become an outlet for millions of Canadians expecting a good future; the final stop for middle class social mobility. They carry with them all of the unexamined concerns we have about class and status in our lives. They are the primary gateway to white collar high paying jobs. They hold the simultaneously contrarian positions of bastions of independent thought and radicalism while also being expected to turn out thousand of grads ready to work “in the real world.” The demand for this type of schooling is so great and has become so expected that parents begin saving from the minute their kids are born, sometimes at the expense of much needed retirement planning.

Universities don’t always help their cause either. While the number of Canadians (and Americans, Brits, Australians, or anybody for that matter) struggle to both pay off their student debt and can’t seem to find gainful employment, some of the major schools themselves have become sources of ridicule as they deal with less serious, or trumped up issues. Students have had their way at college campuses, objecting, protesting and winning arguments that seem pointless, silly or ridiculous. Halloween costumes were deemed to “triggering” at Yale, and statues of Canadian Prime Ministers were called too offensive at Wilfred Laurier.

But if we look past silly controversies and focus on university attendance as an investment, we can see that returns really are low, and its hard to imagine any other investment we would make that carries with it so much speculative risk. Being smart about secondary education requires a similar mindset akin to being smart about investing. Where can my investment yield me the best return? And while universities can show that simply having a degree does improve earnings compared to those with only a high school diploma, it doesn’t make up for the fact that costs remain high and students are still saddled with too much debt after they leave school.

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Saving for education is but one part in an ongoing series of financial life goals. The purpose of that education is to help set the stage for a productive economic life (so to speak), where an education provide options for meritocratic growth and allow for economic milestones like home buying and raising families. As the education system becomes both too expensive and largely pointless, the knock on effect has been young people deferring other stages of their lives.

For now there is no quick fix for the question of higher education. Since before I was in university, students have complained about the rising costs of tuition and the weakening job market. But the absence of top-down solutions doesn’t mean that parents and students are without options. Education is an investment and it should be treated like one. Parents who take the time to open RESPs, collect the Canadian Education Savings Grant dutifully and invest wisely should not consider their due diligence over once their children begin going to school.

Entering higher education is an ideal opportunity to begin expanding children’s entry into the world of finance, and is an excellent way to reframe the education conversation from one about “passion” to understanding that school is an investment akin to a home. A bad investment will end up yielding a negative return, will cost large sums of money and leave the owner feeling helpless. A good investment is one that will provide both comfort and security, allowing for future ambitions to be fulfilled.

Is your financial advisor at your table, or are you at theirs? We’ve been helping families for nearly a quarter of a century one kitchen table conversation at a time, and we’d love to help yours. Plan for your children’s education, and have us join them and you to discuss their educational options. Give us a call or send us a message today!

 

Can Your Kids Be Made Money-Smart?

Richie_Rich_comic_No_1By the time your kids get to university, do you think they will have the financial wherewithal to resist the siren song of credit card debt and wasteful money habits?

It’s a good question; when kids go off to school we expect them to finish growing into adulthood but from the standpoint of financial institutions they are already adults, ready to take on all the burdens of credit and predatory loan rates. This is regardless of how experienced they are when it comes to accepting financial responsibility and no doubt contributes to the average indebtedness of students leaving Canadian universities.

Companies are busy grooming kids to be little economic engines, buying on impulse and spending when they should be saving. Whether you agree that it is right or not, children today either directly or influence economic activity to the tune of $1.2 trillion, so don’t assume that we’re likely to see a change in how we advertise to kids. The most effective counter to the tidal wave of advertising and commercial temptation is to make your children money-smart as soon as possible.

Transparent Pig

What is money-smart? Well, think of all the financial decisions you make on behalf of your kids, and then consider how many times you don’t include your children in those decisions. RESPs, RRSPs, credit cards and bank accounts all represent opportunities to not simply teach about money, but create habits and routines around money and how it is used.

For instance, did you know that so long as a fifteen year old has a social insurance number and files a tax return they can have an RRSP? Crazy right! And yet given that most 15 and 16 year olds work in the summer there is no reason that they can not be introduced into the basics of long term savings, even if it is merely an early step.

The spending habits of teenagers. From Business Insider: http://www.businessinsider.com/how-teens-are-spending-money-2014-2014-10
The spending habits of teenagers. From Business Insider: http://www.businessinsider.com/how-teens-are-spending-money-2014-2014-10

Allowances too can serve as a useful tool, not simply in terms of introducing basic money management but also in budgeting and even early credit. Parents shouldn’t simply hand over the money and walk away, instead be part of every step of the financial story, from planning big purchases to paying bills. Family budgets can be a useful addition to the allowance as well. Most parents buy clothes for their kids well into early adulthood. But given how much importance kids put on clothes, both as a fashion choice and as an expression of individuality why not set up a clothing budget, giving children the opportunity to choose what they want and find the outer limits of how far money will go?

Some guidance around allowances

Money-Smart KidsGail Vaz-Oxlade, the prominent and popular Canadian money guru, has a book about this exact subject, and it is a short and useful read for adults looking for ideas on how to introduce the concept of money to children in practical and fun ways. I can’t recommend it enough as a clever way to get your kids ready for good fiscal health.

But we can all chip in. I leave my clients and readers with this open invitation: If we manage your children’s RESPs then invite them to the table! On average we see clients between 3 and 4 times a year in person, and over the course of reviewing their financial picture not once has anyone invited their teenager to join a regular review of the savings they will be employing for their higher education. We view this as an easy learning opportunity for soon-to-be students to get a better understanding of the RESP tax credit, the reasons behind investing decisions and how their RESP will be applied to covering their university costs and what will happen to the money if they don’t use it. We are your resource for educating your children and you shouldn’t be afraid to use us!

Is it time for your children to be part of your RESP decisions? Give us a call and set up a meeting to help get your kids money-smart! 416-960-5995 or at awalker@alignedcp.com

The Educational Industrial Complex

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It is hardly an original thought to lament higher education in this country. It has been a regular pastime of every cultural critic and an open invitation to people of all political stripes. Students complain that they leave school too indebt with little hope for a job. Liberal critics fear that schools have become too focused on making money, Conservatives complain that schools are too PC, professors worry about their jobs, TAs complain about not having enough money and social activists have a host of complaints, ranging from institutionalized racism to accusations of disinterest in campus rape (itself a dispiriting hotbed of controversy).

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Undoubtedly, the growth of universities and the number of people seeking higher education has been one of the great success stories of our society. Parents begin saving to help their children at a young age to attend a university. Schools are geared largely to getting students into university and in general our society has created an environment that fosters a belief that education is the key to doing whatever you want in life, though statistically whatever you want is more likely to come true if you want to work in a cubicle.

Universities serve many masters, so it should be no surprise that few are happy with it as an institution. But even looking past the general complaints that are directed at post-secondary education, it might be worth at least stopping and asking why we still look to universities as the preferred direction for young Canadians after finishing high school.

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Asking why we do something can be fraught with peril. Sometimes the mere examination of a closely held belief can be perceived as aggressive and asking why something is done can expose the uncomfortable reality that sometimes we don’t know why we do what we do. Nevertheless, the price of a university education and the effort and time that go into receiveing a degree should make us stop and pause: Do universities still serve the public interest?

Consider first the cost. Ryerson estimates that the cost of a single year of tuition for someone living on-campus (the ideal university experience) is between $21000 – $25000 per year, including books and other fees. That seems right, and means that a four year degree could easily cost $100,000 – an exorbitantly high cost given that it is roughly the same whether you study Aerospace Engineering or Philosophy.

We should also consider the job prospects. A study from statistics Canada shows that a full one third of graduates with a humanities degree are over qualified for their jobs. And while the evidence is strong that a university degree will improve your earnings, without a vocational degree like engineering, those earnings will be lower than comparable graduates. Worse, having a degree from a university doesn’t dramatically improve your chances of employment over a somebody with a high school education. On top of all that a study done by CIBC showed that there is a negative return on a humanities or fine arts degree. Some have even argued that having no degree is better than a liberal arts degree!

But perhaps the best way to understand the conundrum of universities is by this fact from the CIBC report. Canada has the greatest proportion of adults with a post secondary degree among the OECD, but those degrees cost double the OECD average and the number of university graduates making less than half the national median income is the largest among the group of countries.

Canadian university enrollment in various subjects - 2005/2006 - Statistics Canada Education Data
Canadian university enrollment in various subjects – 2005/2006 – Statistics Canada Education Data

Some of this can be explained by what degrees are chosen, and also not chosen. But given that a current estimate for a four year degree for a Canadian born in 2015 will be in excess of $120,000 in 2033 (when they attend university) shouldn’t we be asking whether this is the wisest use of resources? Canadian parents of all stripes are busy trying to balance their need to save for retirement and for their children’s education, and judging by some estimates we’re doing a poor job of both.

The most recent statistics on universities from Statscan
The most recent statistics on universities from Statscan

I feel confident in saying that one of the reasons we strive for a university education is that it is connected to ideas we have about both social mobility and social status. Universities were once closed off to general population. Only the wealthiest went on to higher education and the best jobs. White collar work in the city afforded the highest pay and was exclusively the result of a university education. And while I encourage all new parents to start a RESP, I believe that more should be done to shape how we perceive the point of our educational system. Given the financial challenges that all Canadians face, funding an education should not become a pyrrhic victory in a life of financial battles. If the purpose of post secondary education is to improve our economic prospects then we are doing a poor job of it.

Hey, Guess What? Trying to Plan Saving For Retirement & Your Children’s Education? We Can Help! Give us a Call or Send Us a Message!