As a Certified Financial Planner and Charted Special Needs Consultant, one thing I am constantly hearing from parents and young adults of all backgrounds is the lack of financial literacy being taught to young people. I find this to be true with all young adults, and we find it even less emphasized for children on the spectrum.
Luckily, there are a few simple things you can do as a parent that can help make sure you are setting your child up for success when it comes to his/her financial future.
Most curriculums for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) revolve around verbal and reading literacy, and normalizing behaviors. What some seem to forget is that children with autism grow up to be adults too! Money skills are an important foundation for independence and confidence.
Here are a handful of tips and guidelines you can use to help educate children to become well-rounded adults when it comes to their finances.
Have a basic understanding of money yourself before attempting to teach your child — this is not rocket science, but you are absolutely not alone if there is some seemingly basic terminology you are a little fuzzy on–whether it’s interest rates, bank accounts, insurance, investing, or retirement plans! You do not need to be an expert in money, nor should you feel the need to learn everything.
Having the basics down and being able to understand it in a simple way is plenty. I remember when I was young and curious about investing, I asked my mother what buying a stock was. She told me it was like owning a little piece of a company. I distinctly remember we were at McDonald’s, and I was excited at the fact that, for a relatively low price, I could own a tiny piece of my favorite restaurant.
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The earlier you start, the better — just like any habit you want to instill in your child or anything you want him/her to learn. The younger and more consistently you start, the better the outcome will be. Start with basic money skills. For Easter this year, when my daughter gathered all the coins from the egg hunt, we sat down and put the coins in her piggy bank (and I admit, it may have been more fun for me than for her). She wasn’t even two and a half years old yet, but this simple act planted a seed to teach her about money identification and saving. This is how you can start with money identification.
It was as simple as presenting coins and bills, having her identify each type (“Show me a nickel,”), and then dropping it in the bank. With an older child, something like this could be taken a step further by having him/her sort them by type and value, adding up the amounts, and talking about why you are putting it into a piggy bank versus spending it right away. Start with small denominations and work up. Pennies, then nickels, then dimes, then quarters. All other money skills are scaffolded off this one: identification. You don’t start learning how to count at 100; you start at one.
Use real money when possible and real scenarios — Plastic/fake money does not look, feel, or even smell like the real thing. It is important for a child with ASD to be able to equate what he/she is learning to the real world. If the money you are using to teach doesn’t look like what he/she has been practicing with, he/she may become confused in a real world setting and thus frustrated. We want to set our kids up for success.
Work to establish an allowance — No matter how small, allowances give a child the chance to take ownership of his/her own money. Keep it consistent. Pay on the same day each week. Pay the same amount each week in the same denominations (A five dollar bill every week rather than sometimes a five dollar bill, sometimes five one dollar bills).
Teach the value of what money can and can’t buy — Play “store” at home and count out money in exchange for goods. If you’ve gone with the allowance advice, have him/her pay for something he/she wants with his/her own earned money. This is a great opportunity to talk about why he/she can and cannot afford things with the money he/she has (why $10 can’t buy a swing set, but can buy a small toy). This is also a great time to talk about sales, coupons, and why shopping smart is so important.
Set up a bank account — If possible, set up an appointment and take your child with you to the bank to see what it is really like and let him/her make his/her own deposit. Talk to him/her about basic banking terms—deposits, balances, interest, debit cards, etc. If your child doesn’t do well in a bank setting, online banks are a great option you can utilize from the comfort of your own home that still allow for all of the same educational opportunities.
Try to open monthly bank statements with your child so he/she can see what he/she is saving and earning. Have your child put a portion of his/her allowance into a jar each week and take him/her to deposit it at the end of each month.
Utilize your child’s special interests — Your child or young adult with autism almost certainly has a special interest in something. Whether it is dinosaurs, a video game, or a favorite food—try and incorporate it into whatever you are doing. Get a piggy bank that looks like a dinosaur! Order checks that have his/her favorite characters on them. Talk about saving up for something he/she loves. Use his/her interests to your advantage.
Once a bank account is established, use this opportunity to help teach long versus short term goals and delayed gratification. Set financial goals for money in his/her bank account. Saving for retirement when you are a young teenager doesn’t sound remotely fun, but saving for a new puppy or video game system is exciting!
For bonus points, many online banks will let you buy tiny fractional shares of a company as starter investments. Even starting super small with a store or company he/she likes can get him/her excited about learning to invest.
Nobody likes paying bills; however, they are a necessary skill for independent living. They reinforce the value of money and introduce the idea of credit – delayed payments for services or goods already provided. Helping a young adult understand credit and debt is a positive thing.
Even a simple and small store credit card that is paid off every month when he/she is 18 can help him/her start establishing credit. This helps drastically increase his/her access to independence in the future. Jobs, apartments, and even car insurance look at your credit score, so establishing a healthy habit of using credit wisely is extremely important.
Once you start establishing it, teach your child to monitor his/her credit. There are several ways to do this for free, and it is the first step in protecting the literal investing your child has done and the figurative investing you have done in teaching him/her so many great money skills.
Understanding money is a key step in providing your child with a skill that will lead to his/her independence and ability to advocate for himself/herself.
This article was featured in Issue 109 – Attaining Good Health.