Put Santa's elves on a budget

By Jennifer Barrett, Money Magazine

(Money Magazine) -- Want to give your teens and preteens a gift they'll use long after they've outgrown Guitar Hero and Hannah Montana? Use the holiday shopping season to teach them some real-life budgeting skills they can apply now and throughout their lives. (Bonus: If you get them to stretch their own dollars, less has to come out of your pockets.) Both giving and receiving can be teachable moments, if you follow this advice:

All I want for Christmas

Your teen tells you she must have everything on her list. Easy for her to say. "Most kids have no concept of how much things really cost," says financial behavior researcher Ted Klontz.

Make it clear that Mom and Dad -- unlike Santa -- have finite resources. Tell your teens how much you plan to spend on them; then ask them to research the prices of the things on their lists and prioritize their wants based on the budget. If the top pick exceeds your limit, offer to let the child make up the difference, either by doing extra chores or chipping in some cash.

For B-list wishes, suggest teens set aside future earnings and buy the items themselves. This helps them associate saving money and making sacrifices with getting things they want , says University of Washington finance professor Lewis Mandell.

'Tis better to give ...

If your teens will be giving presents, ask them to list the people they want to remember. Help them figure out how much they can save from an allowance or other earnings to cover gifts (and decide if you'll pitch in).

Assist them in divvying up that money among those on their list. Try giving your kids envelopes with each recipient's name to carry cash for that person's gift, says Shannon Medisky, author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Stretching Your Dollar." This will reduce the temptation to over-spend. Also, show them how to get more for less by clipping coupons, seeking sales, and shopping discount stores.

Remind teens that what they lack in funds they can make up for with "time and talent," says Susan Beacham of Money Savvy Generation, a financial literacy organization. For example, they can bake cookies to give as gifts. This underlines another important lesson: Generosity is about more than just money.  To top of page

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