What Worries Parents Most About Their Kids' Finances

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Upset boy
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Whether you're a helicopter parent who frets over every one of your child's activities or a free-range parent who takes a hands-off approach to raising your kids, you are both likely to share a concern about your children's financial future. And it's generally not a happy view.

A recent survey by Citi of 1,500 parents found that 56 percents of parents surveyed "are not confident that life for their children's generation will necessarily be better than it has been for their generation." Parents worry about a range of financial issues their children will face:
  • 71 percent think saving for a home will be a major concern for their children.
  • 71 percent think their children will struggle to have enough money for major expenses such as a car or education.
  • 69 percent think their children will be concerned about having enough money for emergencies.
  • 69 percent of adults think their children will also worry about their own children's financial future.
On a more positive note, nearly nine out of 10 parents are teaching their children about money. "It's encouraging to see parents taking matters into their own hands," says Linda Descano, a personal finance expert with Citi. "Parents are doing various financial education activities, whether it's talking to their kids openly about their family's financial circumstances or taking them to the bank to teach them about money."

Ric Runestad, owner of Runestad Financial Services in Fort Wayne, Indiana, divides the concerns as micro-financial and macro-financial. "On the micro-financial or personal finance side, parents should be concerned that their children are able to find financially rewarding careers, but even more important, that they're financially responsible," he says. "People who spend whatever money they have right now often have an entire financial system working against them, instead of for them."

Tips for Anxious Parents

While parents can't do much to alleviate concerns about macro-financial perils -- such as the exploding costs of education and housing and a stagnant economy -- they can make sure their children know enough about money management to deftly deal with whatever life throws them.
  • Teach financial responsibility. It's natural to fear that your children will take on too much debt or be unprepared for financial emergencies when they reach adulthood. But you don't have to wait until they make a mistake to prepare them to be financially responsible. "It's important to remember that it's never too early to start talking to kids about money and saving," says Descano. "When they're young, you'll want to start with more simple conversations about money (sharing tidbits about your purchase decisions with them when you shop) and as they get older introducing more complex money matters (such as the value of having an emergency fund and saving for unexpected events)."
  • Use an allowance as an educational tool. An allowance is an ideal way to teach about responsible spending/saving, says Suzanna de Baca, vice president of wealth strategies at Ameriprise. "Provide your children with the opportunity to save and spend their allowance or earned money as they please (with some guidance). This flexibility will allow them to learn early on that spending money as fast as they earn it can have consequences. Depending on the age and maturity of your child, you may choose to share with them a financial mistake you made in the past and how you recovered."
  • Plan for college. As college tuition grows, many parents worry about how their children will afford to attend. "As parents, consider beginning to save into a 529 plan early in your child's life and ask your child to contribute once he or she begins earning their own money," says de Baca. "When it comes time to make college decisions, help your child evaluate the tuition and other college expenses (travel home, Greek or club dues, entertainment costs, etc.) for each college he/she is considering. Make sure to educate yourself on current student loan lending practices and options and help your child determine a realistic amount of student loan debt he/she can take on."
  • Prepare for life's big purchases. Even for young adults with a responsible mindset, a lack of financial knowledge can be detrimental for large purchases like a car or home. As a parent, you can offset this concern by being open to discuss these things as they grow older and begin managing their own money.
  • Reframe your money mindset. Changing the way you think about money can go a long way to alleviating your financial fears for your children and, at the same time, help your children learn to make smart financial decisions. Runestad's take: "The real question you should ask isn't, 'Can we afford this?' but rather, 'Do we need this, and if so, is this the best deal we can get on it, and should we wait and buy it when we have saved the money for it?' These may seem like small differences, but they aren't. How our children think about money will make a huge difference in their ability to wisely manage it and consequentially will have a huge impact on their quality of life."
Michele Lerner is a Motley Fool contributing writer and has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Citigroup. Try any of our newsletter services free for 30 days. ​

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