An allowance can pay for itself…really

An allowance can pay for itself…really

School may be out, but never fear—there are plenty of teachable moments to be had when it comes to kids’ financial literacy.

There are lawns to be mowed and summer jobs to be had—but parents also can go a long way toward helping children learn about money with a simple tool: the allowance.

(Read more: A record 21.6 million millennials live with Mom and Dad)

“From my point of view, allowances should be required. You want kids to get comfortable with money,” said Nathan Dungan, president of Share Save Spend, an organization aiming to help people develop healthy financial habits. “It gives a really critical structure and kind of intentional marking point that a child develops to get them comfortable with money.”

Dungan suggests starting an allowance when a child is just 5 or 6, increasing the amount each year. “It’s a great opportunity to delve into it, transfer some responsibility and work on things like deferred gratification,” he said.

Tying an allowance to chores diverts the focus on to the completion of the work, Dungan adds, so he recommends straight cash. And rather than just handing out money, he says an allowance should be a springboard for conversations about spending, saving and giving—and that kids should be taught to do all three.

This time of year, Dungan says parents can try giving teens responsibility for back to school shopping. He suggests giving a teen a budget—whatever you are allocating for fall clothes and school supplies—and tell him or her to figure out how to make it work by shopping around and deciding what’s necessary and what’s not.

(Read more: Retailers poised for good grades on back to school shopping)

“A lot of things you’re spending money on for your kids, there’s no reason you can’t have your kids do that,” he said. Allowances, he said, “transfer accountability and responsibility.”

Others, though, beg to differ. Lewis Mandell, the former dean of SUNY Buffalo’s business school and a financial literacy expert, has researched the impact of allowances on financial behavior later in life, and says the results are troubling.

His initial premise, he said, was “that kids who had a regular, nonconditional allowance, who could reasonably budget their allowance, would probably have the highest financial literacy scores,” he said. “Well, it turned out they had the lowest.”

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