Paycheck Chronicles

6 Steps to Financially Strong Military Kids


How do you raise strong military kids?

I know a big stack of cash doesn’t translate to strength or happiness. But it’s certainly part of the equation.

That’s why when I started thinking about raising strong military kids, my thoughts gravitated toward money. Okay, it could have been that I’m a financial planner and I’m writing a money column, but you get it, right? There’s a connection.

Preparing and equipping our kids to be independent, strong and happy means making them money-savvy and stacking the financial cards in their favor. Here are six fundamental ways you can work those two tasks:

  1. Don’t give in. There’s nothing like a bit of delayed gratification to put a little “real” in your child’s world. They’re not always going to get what they want, when they want it. I still remember “candy Saturdays.” When I was a preschooler my brother and I were only allowed to buy candy every other Saturday. We could hardly wait to march down to the local drug store and purchase our favorite treat. If we ran out before the next trip, we were out of luck. I’ve never asked my parents why they chose this approach (our teeth?), but accidental or not, the seeds of delayed gratification — and yes, maybe even budgeting (our candy) — were planted.  
  2. Incent them to save. My wife and I didn’t use the candy program with our kids, but we did follow my parents’ example when it came to saving money. In our family’s own version of an employee match, when our kids put money into a savings account that they could not touch until they graduated from high school, we matched it. You should have seen the smirk of superiority on their faces when they informed us to go ahead and put that birthday check from grandma in savings. Again, we planted seeds that are sowing fruit today.  
  3. Put them to work. Besides creating a source of taxable compensation to fund Roth IRAs (yes, consider it!), work can be a good thing for your kids. Heck, just the benefit of navigating the interpersonal challenges of any workplace, gaining customer service abilities and honing communication techniques provide your kids life skills required to be successful. My mom still brags about dragging my whining teenage self out of bed in the morning and hauling me and the lawnmower away to cut other people’s grass. I don’t remember the whining, but I fondly remember the cash haul and like to think my work ethic today began to take form back then.  
  4. Do college right. If you still have time, this means saving money on a regular or consistent basis. A 529 college savings plan can be a fantastic tool. But that’s not a panacea. You can also help your kids avoid graduating from college with huge student debt by guiding them to make smart decisions about how and where they get their education.  
  5. Show them. Have you ever heard that saying, “Do as I say, not as I do?” It’s a crock. Demonstrating purposeful financial decision-making, a willingness to buck the trend and ignore the Joneses, and the ability to put off purchasing stuff today to create the opportunity for choices in the future will go a lot further than talking a good game and failing to lead by example.    
  6. Help them differentiate between needs and wants. The other day at dinner my oldest daughter let us know that she “needed” an $850 crib for our second grandchild. My head about exploded. Clearly, parenting is a never-ending process. But if you can help your kids figure out the difference between those two four-letter words — need and want — you’ll go a long way toward helping them become strong.

Are you doing what it takes to raise kids with money sense? If you are, pat yourself on the back; if not, it’s never too late to get started.

J. J. Montanero is a Certified Financial Planner professional with USAA's Military Advocacy Group.

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