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Our Experts Answer Financial Questions on Budgeting, Paying Down Debt, Saving, and Teaching Children About Money

For many different reasons, sometimes people do not feel comfortable discussing money and finances. In fact, for a lot of people, it’s considered impolite and even rude to do so. We believe that talking about money is important. If you don’t talk about money and ask questions, you’ll be much more likely to be confused or lacking important information. This can make managing your finances more difficult.

Talking about finances and asking questions about money is the best way to learn and develop strategies for building a stronger financial future. That’s why, every month, our experts answer questions about money, debt and finances. If you have a question for our team, ask us online on Facebook, Twitter or through our website.

Please keep in mind that the questions here have been condensed or rewritten for clarity and simplicity.

I’m trying to put together a budget. What items should I include?

Creating a budget is important and everyone should have one, so good for you for creating one. As for what you need to include, you should start by adding up your essential expenses. These can be fixed expenses (ones that you can’t easily change) such as mortgage payments or rent, car payments, and student loan payments, as well as those that you have some control over, such as savings, utilities, cell phone bills, food, child care, transportation, clothing, etc.

Think of everything that you need to spend money on to get through the month and write it down. Remember that emergency savings are very important. Be sure to include this item in your budget. Your emergency fund will help you avoid debt trouble if something unexpected comes up.

Then you’ll want to add up expenses that aren’t critical, but ones that are important to you. This includes entertainment, gifts, travel, etc.

What’s more important? Saving money or paying down my debt?

The reality is that both of these goals are important. As mentioned, saving for emergencies is very critical as you never know when an unexpected expense will show up. Saving for retirement is also important as there will eventually be a day when you’ll be unable to work, but you’ll still have expenses.

However, paying off debt is also a big deal, especially because debts tend to have high interest rates that go up faster than you’re able to save. If you have debts with very high interest rates, it tends to be in your best interest to place a priority on paying down your debt.

I have two kids, ages five and seven. What should I teach them about money and budgeting?

Teaching children about money is important. If kids are given financial lessons when they’re young, they’re more likely to be prepared and responsible when they’re old enough to actually earn, save, and spend money.

What you teach your children about money will depend on their ages. A five-year-old will enjoy clipping coupons and helping you come up with a grocery list. This will teach them the importance of shopping from a list as well as how you save money. When you have your list at the store, your child can help you find then items on the list and put them in your cart. You can also let your child hand the coupons and money to the cashier at the store. Not only will they enjoy participating, but they’ll get a good understanding of how commerce works.

An older child, such as a seven-year-old, will benefit from learning how to save. Give them an allowance and explain to them that they can either spend the money when they receive it, or that they can save up for a larger purchase. For example, if you give your child five dollars a week as an allowance, they can spend $5 on a snack once per week, or they can save up for five weeks and buy a toy for $25. Of course, these amounts are just for demonstration. The actual amount you give as an allowance will be up to you. No matter how much you decide to give, giving an allowance and teaching your child about saving is a helpful way to explain spending and saving to them.