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Teaching money smarts to your kids.

It’s never too early to learn fiscal responsibility.

It’s up to you to teach your kids how to manage money. No matter how old they are, kids can always benefit from a better understanding of how money and budgets work. And in today’s challenging economy, these lessons are more important than ever.

One way to get started is by discussing spending habits with your kids when you do your day-to-day errands, such as filling up the car with gas or dropping clothes off at the dry cleaners.

Start with a trip to the gas station.

Given high gas prices, this may be the perfect opportunity to talk to your kids about how you might save a few dollars. For example, use self-service rather than full or show them how to find a service station with slightly cheaper gas, showing them where the prices are posted. Those pennies add up. If you prefer full service, explain why, such as the extras you might get along with it, such as an oil check or a window wash. Also, some gas stations charge less if you pay with cash rather than with a credit card. Explain why it costs a business more when customers use credit cards.

For your older children, it’s important to discuss who’s responsible for paying for gas. Have your teens calculate how many trips a week they take, where they go, and how much gas they’ll need. If you ask them to run an errand or drop off the younger siblings somewhere, let them know that you’ll pay the cost of that trip. Also, decide on a maximum amount of gas you are willing to pay for weekly, such as a half tank or perhaps a fill up. Then set the rule that they must pay for any additional gas they need. Suggest some “gas-saving” strategies, such as carpooling with their friends and rotating cars they use. Or, if your child is the only one with a car, it’s perfectly fair to ask their friends to chip in for fuel costs.

When it comes to dry cleaning expenses, estimate how much your time is worth if you laundered and pressed the shirts yourself vs. taking them to the dry cleaners. Depending on the number of shirts and time needed to clean and press them, spending $4 per shirt at the dry cleaner might win out. However, there will be occasions when you have to use the cleaners for certain fabrics. Explain this to your children as the reason you’re spending the extra money. The same might be true for things like a shoeshine, a manicure, or a haircut.

However, explain that sometimes it’s acceptable to spend a little extra money for higher-quality items (like clothing or food) or for a cause, such as buying American-made products. Whatever the reasons, if it strongly influences your buying decisions over all other considerations, you may want to explain your reasoning to your children.

Whatever your buying values are, share these consumer lessons with your children so they become fiscally fit.