How to talk to nine to 12-year-olds about money

As they move to secondary school and become more independent, children at this age will be facing more money choices and challenges. Now is the time to help them learn how to be responsible about money.

How does taking about money help?

Talking about money with them when they’re becoming more independent is important in establishing good money habits they can take into adulthood.

Our research shows that adults who do better with money were:

  • exposed to conversations about money as children
  • given money regularly, such as pocket money or payment for chores
  • given responsibility for spending and saving from an early age.

This is a great age for learning about money, particularly as they’ll soon be going to secondary school or may have just started.

Secondary school brings strong peer pressure. Although they’ll know more about money, nine to 12-year-olds will also be facing more money choices and challenges. For example, many secondary schools use cards for payment; they’ll need to understand how these work and how to choose what to buy every day.

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Did you know?

Our research shows that only four in ten children say they were taught about money and finance in school.

What nine to 12-year-olds understand about money

By the age of nine to 12, many children have a longer attention span and can understand a lot more about money. This includes:

  • simple calculations
  • that different currencies are used in other countries
  • how to plan and manage a basic budget, and keep track of spending
  • how to check basic financial information such as receipts, bills, and bank statements
  • how advertising is used to persuade people to spend money
  • how to compare prices and decide what’s best value for money
  • that there are risks associated with spending money online, such as scams
  • what bank interest is
  • the benefits of saving
  • the risks involved in borrowing money.

Pocket money and encouraging children to save

How much pocket money you give isn’t important. Giving children even the smallest amount of money regularly is a great way to help them learn how to manage money.

This could be pocket money or paying them for chores they do around the house, or both.

This helps them to practise learning to save up for the things they really want.

There are many ways to handle pocket money. Some options include:

  • Weekly pocket money – let them save up for what they want and give treats only at special times such as birthdays or holidays. This can help teach them to budget and save.
  • Opportunities to earn – they could earn pocket money by doing chores around the house.
  • Weekly pocket money and opportunities to earn extra money – this way they get regular money to manage, but can earn extra if they want. Although you may need to set a limit on what they can earn if you are budgeting yourself. Explain this limit to your child so they can see you managing your finances.

Before you decide whether you want to give pocket money or have your child earn it, think about what your child will have to buy from their money. Will you buy them extra items or do they pay for it all? Thinking this through will help you to budget and your child to learn what they need to save for.

Build responsibility around money

Use their growing independence to help them learn how to be responsible with money.

Mobile phone responsibility

If they haven’t already asked for a mobile phone, now may be the time they do. With a phone comes the need for financial responsibility.

If you decide they can have a mobile phone, use it as an opportunity to talk about money. Ask them questions that encourage them to think about the impact of a mobile phone on their finances:

  • How much do phones cost?
  • What is a contract and how does it work?
  • How do contracts compare to ‘pay as you go’?
  • How much does it cost each month?
  • What happens if they use up all their credit?
  • What happens if they lose the phone?

Now is also a good time to set up some rules around the use of mobile phones – particularly around money and safety.

Case study

“James was given a contract phone when he was 11 years old and had just started secondary school. We got a cap on it so he couldn’t run up any high bills. He can’t download apps without asking as I have the password. He also has to let me check the apps he uses every weekend.” – Amanda

Budgeting

A budget, or money plan, will help them look after their money:

  • Encourage them to keep track of their money by writing it down.
  • Get them to write down any money they get, how much, and what they spend it on.
  • Take a look at it with them regularly, maybe monthly, perhaps. Let them explain their notes to you and talk about what it feels like to see their money going up or down. Also, how they feel when they know they’re reaching the limit of their budget but aren’t due any more money yet. Decide what happens if they go over their budget.

This is also a good opportunity to tell them how you budget to make sure you can pay the bills.

Borrowing

By this age, children can understand more about borrowing money.

It’s valuable for them to know that when you borrow money you usually have to pay it back with interest, so you’re paying back more than you borrowed.

It might also be worth talking about what problems there might be if you can’t pay it back.

Ask them questions about borrowing:

  • What do they think are the pros and cons of borrowing money?
  • What would they do if they couldn’t pay back the money they borrowed?
  • How can they avoid the need to borrow money?

This is also a good time to discuss the importance of saving and having enough money for a rainy day. And the independence that comes with saving and not having to borrow.

Give them a savings challenge

Peer pressure is strong for nine to 12-year-olds, which may mean they want more things. Whether it’s a pair of branded trainers everyone at school is wearing or a new piece of technology.

This can help motivate them to practise saving. This is a good opportunity to help them child save for whatever it is they’ve set their sights on?

  • Sit down with them, with a piece of paper or computer.
  • Note down the cost of the item they want.
  • Ask the question – ‘how can you get that amount of money?’
  • Note down your child’s income, whether that comes from chores, pocket money or grandparents, for example.
  • Discuss your child’s weekly spending and how much they could realistically put away to buy the item they want. Encourage them to come up with ideas for how to either earn more or reduce their current spending.

Important money messages

Children can learn valuable ideas from the savings challenge that will help them as adults:

  • Saving allows them to have things they wouldn’t be able to afford if they always spend money as soon as they get it.
  • Saving brings a sense of achievement, and the item they save up for has special value.
  • Planning to save for something with someone else’s help makes goals easier to achieve.

Taking saving further

If they’re doing well with the savings challenge and you want to help them go further, when they’ve achieved one goal, set another.

Gradually increase the size of the goal and the length of time to achieve it, but make sure that it’s realistic – and fun.

Help them think of ways they might be able to save more, perhaps by increasing their income by doing extra chores.

The importance of choice

At this age, you can also explain to them about their own power to make choices around money.

You can explain that this could be choosing to:

  • buy or not buy something
  • save money
  • buy less expensive brands
  • give their time rather than expensive gifts
  • not buy something just because it’s the latest version.

Case study

“When Natalie went to secondary school, I gave her a cheap mobile phone, added her to my contract, and told her she had two choices: to use her phone whenever she wanted; or to manage her use and never go over the text and data allowance. If she took the second choice and achieved it, she would get a decent touch screen phone.” - Alex

More-money management activities

All children develop at different times. For example, some nine to 12-year-olds may respond better to some of the activities we recommend in our How to talk to seven and eight-year-oldabout money or How to teach teenagers about money guides. Simply choose the ones you feel are the most suitable.

For more ideas for all age groups, download our Talk, Learn, Do guideopens in new window (also available in Welsh).

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