When Should Kids Start Investing?
Do you talk to your kids about money? When it comes to teaching kids about money, I belong in the “early and often” school of thought. Many behavioral habits get started at a young age, and I would prefer my kids form good habits around money and saving before they become adults.
But when should kids start investing?
I think it’s important to start early — when it comes to investing, time matters a lot. Invested money compounds over time, and the longer the money compounds the better off they’ll be.
Experience is also a factor in successful investing, and knowing how to respond to different market conditions helps a lot. Building that experience takes time. Guidance from adults can also help here.
While there is no “right” or “wrong” way to raise kids, opinions vary significantly. I imagine plenty of people will disagree with how we’re raising our kids to be financially astute, but I don’t mind…
Starting With A Piggy Bank
Mrs. Tako and I have two kids, ages 4 and 2. We started them on the path to financial education using piggy banks to learn about saving.
Tako Jr. #1 (our oldest) already understand what money is. He can count small amounts and knows that money can be used to “buy stuff”.
Whenever Tako Jr. #1 asks me to buy a ridiculous toy or candy, I tell him, “I won’t buy that for you, but you can if you have enough money saved. Then you can choose to buy it.”
I’m trying to instill the lesson that money gives them the power to do what they want in life. Instead of just saying “no”, I leave the opportunity open for them to choose.
My kids are already learning that money gives them control, and saving is necessary to gain that control.
That First Bank Account
Piggy banks are a good place to start saving, but introducing concepts like interest is the next step.
In the United States and Canada there is no minimum age for a child to open a bank account, but some banks do have minimums before an account can be opened — usually in the $100 range. Our bank (Chase) requires a minimum of $25 to open a savings account and will waive any service fees for children under 18.
We’ll open a bank account once they’ve saved enough to reach the minimums. While most banks don’t pay much in interest these days, some online banks do have slightly higher rates.
I have a debate going with myself if it makes any sense to teach kids about physical banking. Teaching kids how to fill out deposit/withdrawal slips and how to interact with a bank teller might be a total waste of time. Should I even bother?
On one hand, most adults already do most of their banking online. I rarely step into a bank branch today. I do most of my banking online.
By the time Tako Jr. #1 and #2 are old enough to do any serious banking, I wonder if physical bank branches will still exist anymore.
Baby’s First Brokerage Account
Piggy banks and savings accounts are of course just practice for the “real deal” when it comes to investing — A brokerage account.
Back when I was a kid, I had absolutely no idea what a brokerage account was. All the adults I knew either didn’t talk to kids about investing, OR they simply didn’t know about investing in stocks. I’m almost certain my parents fell into the latter category. I doubt they even had a brokerage account when I was a kid.
In the United States, the minimum age to open a solo brokerage account varies by state. In some states the minimum age is 18 years old, and in other states it’s 21 years old. In Canada, the minimum seems to be 18 years.
However, a child and an adult can open what’s called a custodial brokerage account (also called a UGMA/UTMA account) when they’re under the local minimum age. This is the kind of account we’ll open for our kids when they’re able to save up the brokerage account minimums, which are more significant than bank accounts.
Vanguard has a minimum of $3000 to open a account, and Fidelity has a minimum of $2500. Smaller brokerage firms like TD Ameritrade and Merril Edge have no account minimums, but the trading fees are higher ($6.95) and some mutual funds transactions come with commissions ($49.95 for TD and $19.95 for Merril).
TD Ameritrade has a number of no-transaction fee mutual funds as does Merril Edge. Sadly, no low cost Vanguard or Fidelity funds exist in those published lists.
Those transaction fees are a lot of money for a kid, and it might be worth waiting until they can save up enough to open a Fidelity or Vanguard account. (Maybe I’ll help with this)
Opening a custodial brokerage account will be a big first step. It will be the first time they’ll have the access to make real investments — stocks, bonds, money market accounts, ETFs, and of course index funds. It’s a really important first step, and I intend to be there to help them with their first investments (We’ll invest in some kind of low cost index fund).
What About An IRA?
While taxable brokerage accounts are good place to start, tax advantaged accounts are even better. In the U.S. this means an IRA.
Roth IRA’s are very flexible tax-advantaged accounts that can even be used to pay for college. Companies like Fidelity offer no-minimum Roth IRA’s for Kids.
(Note: Yes, our kids have 529 college savings accounts. I don’t actually think they’re the best tax advantaged account for kids. Roth IRAs are better!)
While there is no minimum age at which a Roth IRA can be opened, there are child labor laws which restrict a child from working and producing the “earned income” that is legally required contribute to a IRA. The IRS requires that earned income be from a legitimate work situation. Household chores probably don’t qualify, but working at a family owned business is allowed.
At the federal level, the minimum age a child can work is age 14 unless the child works for his or her parents in the family business. Some jobs like delivering news papers, acting or modeling, and babysitting also have legal exceptions.
Children also have restricted work hours at the federal level until they reach age 16.
Some states have stricter regulations, so it’s important to check your local laws. This Department of Labor page has links to all the U.S. state labor offices and various state child labor laws. It’s a good resource.
Allowance or No Allowance?
Investing money is one thing, but how do young kids earn money?
Getting an allowance seems pretty popular. This is a lot like receiving a salary from a job. In some families allowances come with the requirement of doing chores, in other families that same allowance comes without the expectation of work.
We don’t currently give our kids an allowance, and Mrs. Tako and I have a “open debate” about this topic.
Neither one of us received allowances when we were kids, which has us generally set against them. In my case however, I was allowed to earn money by doing chores for my parents.
Instead of hanging out with my friends on the weekend, I was usually chopping wood, painting fences, or shoveling dirt to earn money (at considerable less than minimum wage). It was like being a day laborer. If I didn’t work that day, I didn’t earn any money.
I want our kids to have opportunities to earn money by trading their time (just like adults do). Until they’re old enough to hold a part-time job in their teenage years, the opportunities for kids to earn money are really limited.
We haven’t decided what to do.
Mrs. Tako generally believes that helping around the house is something our kids shouldn’t be paid for doing. They should help around the house without monetary compensation. I can totally see her point – everybody in the household should contribute.
Maybe I can convince Mrs. Tako to go with a hybrid model — some chores are going to be required as part of living in the house, and others will be optional. Those optional chores would be opportunities for the kids to earn some money. It would be more of a contractor model instead of a salary allowance system.
I want to setup our kids for financial success, and that means exposing them to money and personal finance as soon as possible. I didn’t grow-up in a family that talked about money openly, and this is something I really want to change now that I have my own family.
We’ve started talking with our kids about money, and they already understand that saving gives them power. The more they save, the more the doors of the world will open up to them.
Some families try to isolate children from the stress and difficulties of managing finances, but I think this is a HUGE mistake. Money doesn’t have to be stressful — the additional time and experience that starting early brings can only improve a child’s chances of financial success.
Adults (like myself) need to get our future generations setup for financial success. It’s more important now than ever.
How old were you when you first started investing? Did an adult help you get started?
[Image Credit: Flickr]
53 thoughts on “When Should Kids Start Investing?”
Even though we didn’t have much money growing up my Mom encouraged the right things. My piggy bank wasn’t a piggy, but I do remember stashing coins away in a bank. And when I had enough we would roll them up in those paper coin roller things and cash out at the local bank – it was exciting!
The biggest thing for me was what you listed second – the first savings account. I had a ledger book and every time I went the bank teller would put it in this machine that would print out the updated balance and interest on the page. To me it was like magic! I loved going just to see what the new number was going to be. My Mom didn’t know it at the time but she was planting the seeds of success in me.
Awesome story AF! I think each of us in the FIRE community must have had someone like you mom — a helping hand to guide the way! 🙂
That piggy looks pensive by the window! I used to have a piggy bank when I was little too. I loved it! I think I will buy our kids one too.
We will probably give them a couple of pennies and/or dollars here and there when they behave well or do well in school and tell them to save up. I used to sell empty cans and bottles for pocket money. I rarely used it and saved it up over the years. It trained me to be frugal hehe.
Same here! Those pennies and dollars really added up for me.
I hope my kids “get” the message too!
My kids are now adults. For me the allowance I gave was about their financial education. (And my freedom)
I started at KG, and increased thru high school.
In elementary school it was primarily for snacks, junk toys, and other small items. It became their decision not mine.
By middle school it was increased and included a seperate budget for clothing. At this point they were responsible for their music, any meals or movies with friends, their buying snacks or items on vacations, and gifts for their friends and family.
In high school it maxed out and started coming only once a month. They were responsible for their own gas, and if working half the car insurance.
The same in college, they received their personal expenses monthly, and when living off campus their rent and food money monthly as well.
The two largest benefits were that they learned gradually how to budget, make choices, apply their values, and learn from mistakes.
And I was freed from those hundreds of choices and not having to be involved in every decision of whether to buy music or clothes or gas or……
We still didn’t figure out how to get them to do chores well.
We had a similar experience to yours.
I grew up getting an allowance without having to do any chores to earn it. My parents did ask that I get good grades and to focus on learning.
We did something similar for our – now adult – children. I think this helped them learn how to manage money – how to save, delayed gratification, earning interest in bank account, etc.. When they got to High School I gave them both a $500 in a stock account and advised them on which mutual funds to invest in. They are now both very responsible with money (no debt) and one has already saved six figures at the age of 25.
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Thanks for sharing your experience Stephen, there’s definitely some wisdom here! 🙂
Started saving when I was in single digits, I had an Abbey National account with a little blue book. First paid job at 13 (newspaper round – very stereotypical, I know). Started investing at some point in time between the ages of 18 and 21 – when I finally decided it was time to graduate from pure saving to a stock and shares ISA (British tax deferred investing account).
It’s never too early to start my opinion!
Agreed! The more time kids have, the better.
I had a passbook savings account starting at about age 6. I have fond memories of having it stamped at the bank and getting a lollipop. (Also, back then savings account earned 5-6%, can you imagine?) I didn’t do any investing until getting my first post-college job and learning about IRAs.
At age 7, we created a free subaccount in our online savings account under her name. Sometimes she chooses to direct all or some of her allowance or tooth-fairy money to the online account “to get the interest.” She knows it’s only a few cents. And she knows that when she makes a purchase she needs “an extra dime per dollar” for sales tax (which is 9.5% in these parts). That’s as far as we’ve gotten.
Cool idea Frieda. I didn’t know subaccounts were a thing. I’ll look into it!
I made my first investment when I was twelve. I bought 15 shares of Tucson Electric power for $15 each using money from my savings account. In this case, we actually just bought the shares through my father’s broker and got a certificate, which I kept in my dresser for years before finally putting it in a safe deposit box.
Do you still have those shares today? Great story btw!
Long story short, no.
Long story long, the shares went up to about $75 per share over about five years and spun off another company, but then it was revealed that there was allegations of fraud at the company, which crashed the shares down to $4, and eventually to $2 when they diluted the shares to stay out of bankruptcy. (Note, all of this is really odd for a utility, which usually would be really boring.) I was actually living in Tucson at the time while I was in college, so I got to go to the special shareholders meeting to discuss the dilution, which was tense at times.
I just held on (no point in selling $2 shares), and many years later they actually started paying a dividend again and growing a bit. Eventually they were bought out, which forced me to sell, but I think I made my money back and quite a bit more before all was said and done. I had planned to hold forever, largely because with some dividend reinvesting and sending in money through the DRIP plan to buy more shares I had no idea what my cost basis was, but in the end I just had to sell and use a $0 cost basis. (This sort of thing is a big reason I lobby for adoption of the Fair Tax (see https://smallivy.com/2017/10/13/how-to-fund-everything-without-filling-out-tax-forms/)
Our kid has $300 saved up in the safe. I tried to teach him about the bank, but he’s not interested yet. He’d rather have his money at home. I guess he doesn’t trust the bank.
He wants to buy a somewhat expensive LEGO set, but we asked him to wait a month. He just got one as a gift recently.
All these things are tough to learn. We’ll probably start allowance in a couple of years. Right now, he doesn’t really need cash. I’d like to get him started with the Roth IRA soon too.
The Roth is a great investment vehicle, but I think my kids might end up being like yours — too interested in the spending part of money.
They’ve got years to grow up of course, and every kid is different.
Great article, and it highlights there are lots of shades of gray in this area.
We decided on an allowance so the kids will learn the manage a stream of money, but it is way below market so they’ll need to earn extra from the “contractor” model if they want to buy lots of stuff.
One thing we have done (throwback from my childhood) is require them both to keep a running ledger of all activity – all of the ins and outs. It gives them a solid sense of their growing piles and makes them think about any purchases. We even do a cash to book reconciliation from time to time, and somehow they think this is fun (future accountants, perhaps).
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Teaching children early on about money and investments is wise. And the sooner they start the better. Piggy banks, savings accounts, and IRAs when they get older and earn some money are all great teaching and saving vehicles.
Another thing to possibly consider in addition to brokerage accounts is dividend reinvestment plans (DRIPs). They are available for individual stocks as well as select mutual funds and ETFs. UTMA/UGMA accounts can be created and funded with relatively small minimum amounts. The fees are also generally lower than many brokerage accounts.
Thanks for the tips Wise Money. 😉
My first investment account was at 17. I struggle with some of the same questions you do. It’s a balancing act. You want kids to be kids and enjoy a youth that only happens once. On the other hand you need to prepare them. I prefer to make a lot of those things you mentioned into a game. That helps to keep them light hearted but teach a message.
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Games are a great way to teach! Good idea FTF! I’ll have to think of ways to “gamify” some lessons for my own kids.
Great article! Very timely for me as well. I also have a 4 yo and a 2 yo. The oldest has figured out the piggy bank and is starting to save up for certain toys, etc. I see some teachable moments approaching…
We started them off with custodian brokerage accounts and 529s as soon as we could. Like you said, the earlier the better. My parents put a small amount in a mutual fund for me as a kid. Watching that grow through the years was a great financial learning tool for me and so we wanted the same for our kiddos.
I completely agree with you that regular chores should not warrant an allowance, but that there should be some opportunities to earn one from going above and beyond or for special projects.
Couldn’t agree more Mr. Heartland! 🙂
My kids do a weekly paper route (that I help them with) and we let them use 2/3 of the money they earn and have them contribute 1/3 to a Roth IRA. We match the rest with our money or money gifted from their grandparents up to the amount that they earn that year. It is invested in Vanguard index funds.
We want them to see their money grow. Roths are great b/c even though you can take the principal out before age 59.5, when you realize you miss out on tax free gains it become more difficult.
My kids have to pay for ‘unnecessary’ clothes, electronics and most of the gas they use. They are better with money now. Over the summer we volunteered at a local thrift store with friends. My kids have found great deals here. (I have too!) I recently decided to deduct $5 when they don’t do their one 10 minute chore/ week that helps the family so I don’t have to keep nagging them. They get one pleasant reminder and that’s it!
I like the $5 deduction idea SAHM! Your comments and ideas are always appreciated! Domo! 🙂
These are some really great thoughts on kids and money. I’ve continue to struggle to implement anything meaningful with educating my kids. I like the chore model of earning money and while we aren’t as consistent as we should be, we’ve agreed that certain chores are part of family functioning (general clean up of common spaces, their bedroom and bathroom is their responsibility), while other chores above and beyond (deep clean of common spaces, cleaning other bathrooms, etc) would earn money.
To weigh in on the brick and mortar bank, for my oldest I wanted him to have the experience of filling out the paperwork and interacting with the bank staff, so I took him to our local bank to get this experience. Everything was done on the computer, so he didn’t fill out any paperwork. The staff didn’t really acknowledge him, but rather spoke to me. Plus the interest rate was laughable. I closed his account out a couple weeks later and opened on online (with the bank I was already using). Now he gets to see the interest he earns each month.
The other thing I do to encourage my kids to save their money is to give them 10% of whatever they have in their savings account at the end of the year. It’s a precursor to teaching more about investing and compound interest and it makes them think twice about spending their money.
Some great ideas in your comments here My Sons Father! I like the idea of the additional 10% compounding. Will have to think about that one more!
Also, thanks for the feedback on the online bank! 🙂
Our daughter is almost three and we are starting to talk about money buying things. She has a piggy bank that she likes putting coins in. We need to start coming up with ideas on how to educate her further because we really aren’t that far away from her being able to grasp the idea of money. Good tips!
No prob! Thanks for reading! Be sure to read the comments too — lots of parents who read these pages have great financial education tips!
The picture of your son at the restaurant is priceless!
I remember having a savings account along with the little passbook you had that the banker updated when you would deposit money… man am I old! I also remember my grandfather getting me (and all his other grandchildren) shares of a few companies when we were young. I still have most of them.
Pushing my daughter to learn saving and investing is high on my priority list. She does a great job of giving me half of whatever she gets to go into an online savings account. I’m doing the “daddy match” with whatever she gives me to deposit. We review her account with every deposit so she can see how it’s growing.
I haven’t started her investing at a brokerage yet, but I do plan to do that soon.
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Other people have suggested the “daddy match” or some kind of artificial compounding to help kids see compounding at work in this low interest rate environment.
I really like the idea.
Would you say those shares your grandfather bought for you set the seeds of your investing future?
She likes that she’s getting the match – with the low interest rates, it actually lets her see her money grow faster. Sometimes she’ll give me even more money than the half to deposit just because she knows she’ll get more in the bank.
As far as the shares I got from my grandfather, it was definitely the first I even knew about the stock market. He was a very smart investor and was able to retire in his mid forties, which was relatively unheard of back then.
Unfortunately, I don’t think I was really interested in understanding investing until later in the game. In my mid twenties, though, I became more interested in how he was able to retire so early. That’s what actually drove my desire to learn more about investing.
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Some good questions Mr Tako.
My kids (11 and 5) both have bank accounts and tax advantages brokerage accounts. We pay them pocket money for set chores (no work, no money), directly to their account. There is an “autoinvest” function that sweeps money over a certain balance into a low cost global tracker.
The reason the money goes directly into the bank was my older boy requested it. He is terrible with cash, inevitably used to spend it on Lego and sweets. He recognised that, and this was his work around. The younger one is pretty good at savings, regularly shakes me down for pocket change to put in his money box.
My main concern with the arrangement is the accounts automatically become theirs on their 18th birthday. Will likely be a tidy sum by then. If they are smart they will keep it invested, or use it to fund their university education. If not then they could potentially get themselves in some real trouble. Either way my job is to teach them to make good decisions and think for themselves, then get out of their way while they do so.
Your comment about your son “shaking you down for change” had me cracking up! It seems like you’ve got things pretty well under control SlowDad!
Who do you have your “kid” brokerage accounts with?
In the UK we have Individual Saving Accounts (ISAs), the US equivalent would be a Roth IRA.
For kids there is a Junior ISA, with a lower annual contribution limit than the adult version, but the limit is still higher than either of my kids is likely to earn in pocket money each year.
The accounts are with AJ Bell, but your UK readers should do their own research based on their individual circumstances. The Monevator broker comparison table may help with that exercise.
This post really opens up interesting thoughts in my mind.
I totally agree with children having to earn their money, and in a recent book that I read – I believe that this was “Think & Grow Rich” but would have to check my facts – the author spoke about “weakening” children by giving money to them, and “strengthening” other children by not.
Certainly a topic that will invoke debate.
Many thanks Mr. Tako!
I’m surprised I didn’t get more people telling me I’m “neglecting” my kids by not handing them money all the time.
I was expecting much worse! 🙂
Children’s investments count much more against college financial aid than parents’, at least in the us.
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Interesting! I hadn’t heard this before…
Really enjoyed this post 🙂 I have 3 kids (ages 14,12 and 9) and I often debate exactly the same issues with my husband.
1. Re chores I agree with Mrs Tako. The chores are their contribution to family life. They shouldn’t be paid for them.
2. However I also agree with you 😉 they could earn money if they go ‘above and beyond’ their chores.
3. My kids have ETFs. Every birthday and Christmas they get cash gifts from various family members. We then ‘negotiate’ how much is invested and how much they keep to spend. When they were younger it was 100% invested but nowadays it’s more like 50/50.
Every family is different but if I were you I would not worry too much. Children observe our behaviour and learn from us. If the parents are wise about money, the kids will probably be too 🙂
No pressure, right? Parenting is a tough job, and I’m trying to do the best I can to set a good example.
Hopefully some of it rubs off on the kiddos!
Kids and finance bring many complexities, and I don’t know if there’s a single right answer. We’ve struggled with the allowance question too, and we’ve landed on (what we hope is) a tailored solution – we pay an under market allowance to get them used to savings and managing a stream of “income”, while we incent them to do more with your contractor model. Time will tell if it works.
I do think you and your wife favoring the model that worked for you is wise – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and your own experience will help pass the lessons to another generation.
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The only “investing” lesson I remember from school was a mock stock market in grade 7, where they had it set up like the NY stock exchange and people had designated roles to hand out shares of individual stocks. Not sure if that provided the right lesson. All I remember was kids running around like nuts and yelling prices out loud. I just remember thinking “boy, investing is hectic. No thanks.”
Would be nice if schools taught more about index investing, why debt is bad, the power of compounding.
Love that you’re teaching your kids to earn money on their own rather than having an allowance. My parents were poor so I never got one, it’s one of the reasons why I’m able to figure out how to stand on my own two feet.
I guess you could call it the “less is more” school of education! 😉
Great post – failing to teach your kids about saving and investing could counteract all of the financial discipline you yourself show!
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I learned about compound interest in the 2nd grade. I became a life long saver at that point. I didn’t have any stocks/bonds until my first full time job though. I had tIRAs invested in bank CDs. Commissions were just too high for low balances until deep in the internet revolution. Kids today have it a lot better.
Also, I am human or cephalopod and have checked the appropriate box.
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I love the hybrid model approach, and thinks this is something we’ll institute in our house re: chores. Some stuff is just what we do as members of the family (setting up for dinner, cleaning up dishes after dinner, folding the clothes we wear). Other things are more optional and could earn the kid money: like yardwork.
Anyway, I’m sure we’ll figure it out as we go.
I’d love to have our kids have Roths but it sounds like they’ll have to wait until high school! Until then, custodian account it is. Thanks for this tip! We’re keeping the article bookmarked. Great stuff as always.
Big fan of giving kids an allowance and making them “work” for money. Guess it’s not a bad thing to start them early on investing (even with fake money), good to get some exposure!
Miss CF has a investment account also, simple index funds! Hope it gives her some money to study or travel the world, it will be up to her what to do with it.
I didn’t get any allowance when I was growing up. But when it was time to teach our kids about money, both my husband and I felt it would be a useful tool.
If they behaved well and contributed to the family life (set the table, help with dishes…) during the week , they would get a set amount. And then they could earn extra by doing extra chores. We felt it was important to make a difference so they knew when you do extra, you can earn extra. And also that you don’t get rewarded if you don’t participate at all. I did write a post about it if you are ever interested. My kids are now 21, 19 and 16 and I think they have a pretty good understanding of the value of money now…most of the time!
I didn’t get allowance but I got $20 a week in highschool for cleaning my dad’s rental office when I was 14. This included cleaning off pubic hairs on the toilet haha. But it paid pretty well since I was out of there within 1.5 hours.
Our baby is 6 months old right now but we plan on not giving an allowance for things he is expected to do but to give money if he does ‘over and above’ type chores. Humans work on incentives after all 🙂
I was 20 years old when I traded my first stock but I had no idea what I was doing! (Dangerous I know!)
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For our kids (3 and 6), their “big” present at birthday and Christmas is a share of stock in something they can identify with – Disney, hasbro, tootsie roll, etc. I’m hoping this will get them used to “spending” extra money on stocks, not stuff. I wish I had 18 years of stocks rather than a pile of plastic :). Also, they qualify for $0 trades in their UTMA accounts at vanguard since our family has flagship status – you should see if it’s the same for Takos.
Great idea! I might just try to replicate this strategy!
Three kids here – one junior in college, one starting college, and one in HS. No allowance. We give money as we see fit and they all got jobs in Junior year in high school. In college -we pay for tuition/board – that’s all. Two private tuition college bills here – almost $70,000/child !! My kids pay for fun (ie. booze and restaurants), clothes, books, and transportation. It’s worked out really well. They learn to buy used college text books and take buses/public transport versus brand new $200.00 books and taxis. They also have learned to buy their airline tickets home early versus waiting last minute. It also keeps their materialistic needs in check, knowing that they have to pay for it.