Today is the first ever National Numeracy Day, spreading the incredibly positive message that we can all learn to be better with numbers: whatever our age and stage.
There has been an awful lot of change in primary schools in recent years designed to make sure all children leave school with maths skills. As year six primary school children sit their SATs maths papers today, many will have spent years focusing intensely on the technical skills they need to get them through the tests.
But it remains to be seen whether this will translate into a nation with a positive view of maths. There are far too many adults who left school with the idea that they somehow don’t have the right kind of brain for numbers.
Fortunately, alongside these technical skills, many brilliant and devoted teachers provide more creative lessons, offering a rounded understanding of the practical role of numeracy in life – including money matters. The Moneywise Personal Finance Teacher of the Year Awards are a brilliant celebration of their tremendous achievements.
However, classroom time is limited, so there’s the risk that personal finance teaching can be crowded out by the demands of SATs. It’s one of the reasons why a recent Moneywise study found a third of parents think that family members play a vital role in teaching kids about money.
Of course, as anyone who has helped children with homework will know, discussing maths theory around the kitchen table on a sunny Saturday morning is guaranteed to breed resentment and frustration rather than impart any knowledge. So what you need are approaches that teach kids about money – and are engaging at the same time. Here are my top tips:
Ages nought to five
1. Play ‘shops’ or ‘cafes’: You don’t need to spend an arm and a leg on plastic tat. Just save your most pristine recycling to stock your shop, or set the kitchen table and get the kids to make a menu. Make your own play money, and you can spend many a happy hour buying the same box of cereal over and over again and drinking endless cups of invisible tea.
2. Set them the pound shop challenge: Armed with a pound they can buy almost anything in the toy/craft aisles – assuming it’s safe for their age group. They may need to go through some agonising decisions, but it’s a useful early lesson in prioritising.
3. Give them a stake: This is the time to get cracking with saving for children, and a Junior Isa (Jisa) is a great place to start. If you set one up now, and get friends and family to contribute up to the annual allowance (£4,260 in 2018/19) for birthdays and Christmas, they’ll be building a stake which will come into its own further down the line.
Ages six to 10
4. Play money games: There are all sorts of games which get kids used to handling money, improve their numeracy and learn financial lessons – from Monopoly to The Game of Life – and, assuming nobody has a tendency to overturn the board and stomp off to their room, you should be able to have some fun while you’re at it.
5. Pay them pocket money: It may feel like a waste of money when they spend it all on bits of plastic, but it’s an investment in money management. Small regular payments, and the opportunity to spend it on whatever they want, is a better way to learn about money than pestering parents in shops.
6. Let them earn their own money: If you make children do chores in return for pocket money, you’ll teach them the value of money, but nobody would accuse you of injecting too much fun into the process. If you make paid-for chores optional, they can opt into car washing on a sunny day or tidying their bedroom in a week when they’re desperate for more football stickers.
7. Incentivise them to save: The easiest way to establish a savings habit is to start with achievable short-term targets, such as a new toy or game. From the age of seven your child is able to open and manage a savings account, and to encourage them to save their cash rather than to spend it, you can provide an incentive. You could match any money that they save, or have some sort of ‘savings day’ ritual whereby any day that they deposit cash, they get a treat – whether that’s being able to pick a film for movie night or choose what to have for dinner.
8. Give your child a monthly allowance: This should go beyond pocket money, and include sums for items such as clothes, hobbies, and their mobile phone, so they can learn to balance their own budget. Saying ‘no’ to a pre-teen or a teenager who is badgering for something impossibly expensive is stressful. Saying; “here’s an allowance and it’s up to you to spend it how you see fit”, is a great way to get them to take responsibility for their own decisions – and the consequences of making the wrong choices – without anybody needing to slam a single door.
9. Show them the money: At this stage, it’s worth showing kids where their Jisa is saved or invested, and how it has grown. If you have invested in funds, take a look at some of the underlying shares and explain to your child about how they have a stake in some of their favourite brands. If you opted for cash, look at how the initial savings have grown. It’s far more exciting to say; “look how much money you have, and how you got there” than it is to try to teach the mechanics of compound interest. It also stands them in better stead for when they take control of their Jisa at 16, and take ownership at 18.
Ages 16 to 18
10. Build on their passions: If, for example, your offspring is keen to buy a car, learn to drive and gain their independence, you can become a human cash machine, or you can use their focus to encourage good money habits. You might, for example, set a monthly savings target to go towards the car, and each week they hit the target, they qualify for a driving lesson.
Sarah Coles is a personal finance analyst at financial provider Hargreaves Lansdown.