For most parents, the end of summer means moving on from pool floaties and popsicles to backpacks and pencil boxes — and a renewed emphasis on learning. You want to teach your kids about money, but between reading logs and art projects, it can be tempting to hope they just pick it up at school.

The reality is that your kids’ financial education is largely up to you. So if you haven’t already, it’s time to add money lessons to the family curriculum. And although it’s best to start early and reinforce often, the good news is that it’s not too late to teach important financial habits that will give your kids a money-savvy edge in life.

Here are four tried-and-true money lessons to teach your kids whether they’re in preschool, grade school, or high school.

1. Money doesn’t grow on trees.

You probably heard this one as a kid — and you’ve probably recited it now as a parent. The value of hard work is at the core of this cliché and it’s an important lesson to learn. Teach your kids that the things they need and want cost money and that people earn money by providing goods and services to others.

Preschool: Children as young as three and four can be given small chores around the house to earn their own allowances. Consider letting them bring their own money to grocery outings or the dollar store to start associating earning and spending.

Grade school: While chores can still be tied to allowances for kids this age, it may be time to consider making different jobs worth more or less, depending on time required or degree of difficulty. You may want to offer “bonus jobs” to encourage kids to proactively seek out earning opportunities.

High school: Teenagers usually yearn for increasing independence from parents. Summer jobs, part-time jobs, and even working for a grandparent or neighbor can help them gain confidence and earn some “real money” of their own. Some teens may even take to entrepreneurship — think: lawncare, setting up a shaved ice stand, window-washing — as a way of earning money with the added bonus of gaining real-life experience about running a small business.

2. It may not grow on trees, but it can grow.

Teach your kids that growing their money is a twofold process that works best when they regularly add to the balance themselves and take advantage of the power of compound interest.

Preschool: At this stage, it’s helpful to teach the lesson of growth by using physical coins and paper dollars. Financial guru Dave Ramsey advocates using a clear jar so your child can literally watch the savings add up.

Grade school: Kids this age may be ready to make the jump from physical to digital currency. Consider opening a savings account or a custodial account that you can sit down and look at together. With each deposit, point out the difference between the balance before and after — and don’t forget to talk about the interest deposits, too. Give your child a task like keeping a running total or calculating interest earnings using a simple online calculator.

High school: If your teenager has a grasp on how savings accounts work, it may be a good idea to start talking about the risks and rewards of investing. While savings accounts are a staple, the reality is that a solid financial portfolio will eventually include what’s known as different asset classes, meaning some high- and some low-risk investments.

Owning some stock in companies kids know (usually within a custodial account) can be a fun, hands-on way to learn about how companies make money, investing only what you can afford to lose, and the ups and downs of the market.

Believe it or not, it’s never too early to talk to teens about taking the long view and saving for retirement. For teens with earned income, a Roth IRA can be a great way to save. Roth IRAs have no age restrictions and funds in your teen’s name have the potential to grow tax-free for decades.

Get your teen interested in (and motivated by) how interest earnings work over time by plugging some numbers in a calculator like this one.

3. Make saving a habit.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a financial expert who doesn’t tout the wisdom of “paying yourself first.” Whether it’s dropping a few coins in a jar after Saturday chores or transferring money from checking to savings every paycheck, the point is to make saving a habit.

Preschool: Every time your child receives his allowance, have him set aside a portion for saving. Stash it in anything from an old-fashioned piggy bank to a shoebox decorated with glitter.

Grade school: Kids this age understand the difference in price between a big Lego set and a pack of gum. Start talking about short- and long-term savings goals that make sense to them. It can be helpful to choose something to “save up” for so they can experience both the process and the payoff of saving.

High school: Talk about the concept of being prepared for unexpected expenses and the importance of having a well-funded emergency fund, especially as your teenagers think about heading into college and beyond. Consider setting up a separate savings account or money market account dedicated to that purpose.

As difficult as it may be, allowing your teenager to experience some safe degree of failure, like not having enough money left to fill their car’s gas tank for a night out, can be an effective learning tool. Since natural consequences often prove to be the best teachers, there’s a chance that having to stay home will prevent your child from making a larger (more expensive) mistake down the road.

4. Live within your means.

If you’ve use this line verbatim with your kids, you may have to explain what “means” means. Teaching them not to spend what they don’t have is a critical life skill. And it’s one that can be more difficult to master because of the widespread availability of credit.

Preschool: Small children can learn to distinguish needs vs. wants. Use everyday experiences to teach children what they can and cannot live without individually and as a family and help them spend their own money in appropriate ways.

Grade school: Children naturally enjoy giving to people they love and causes they are passionate about. Though it may not sound intuitive, teaching children about charitable giving is a great way to motivate them to think more carefully about saving and spending. After all, you can’t give what you don’t have. Encourage your kids to set aside money for things like holiday gifts, church donations, or any of several charities that might strike their fancy.

High school: Help teens manage their money by creating a simple budget with them. There are lots of ways to create a budget, from pen and paper to spreadsheets to budgeting apps. Decide together on a method that fits their personality, resources, and needs. The main idea is to get them to track their spending, make sure income exceeds expenses, and work toward their money goals.

You may want to introduce a debit card tied to their savings or checking account that makes tracking transactions easy and gets them used to using plastic responsibly without the pitfalls of credit-card debt.

Your kids are counting on you.

It goes without saying that a good example goes a long way in teaching your kids about money. Be sure to check your own financial habits against the above advice and fine-tune your actions (and finances) if necessary. And, take heart, talking about money naturally makes it easier to pass lessons on to others, so keep it top-of-mind and you’ll find teaching opportunities abound.

Start your kids’ financial education today! Contact us to find out more about Ally Bank’s Custodial Account options — call 1-877-247-2559 or chat with us online at ally.com.

Discussion questions:

  • Who taught you about money?
  • What is the most valuable money lesson you’ve learned?
  • What’s the one money lesson you wish you had learned as a child, but didn’t?