Good parenting

By including your youngsters in discussions about money and how to pay the bills, you might discover that your oldest teenager might have a suggestion or two. (Photo by Chicago Tribune/Darrell Goemaat)

Parents who are facing the prospect of a layoff, salary cut or health-care squeeze may be in no mood to share that information with their children.

Children may have picked up on the fear and nervousness in the household but are afraid to express their anxiety about the economic downturn.

Thus, the family avoids starting grown-up conversations about family finances and how to stretch every dollar to make ends meet during these perilous times.

But what if you took an entirely different approach?

By including your youngsters in discussions about money and how to pay the bills, you might discover that your oldest teenager -- the one who goes through money like there's no tomorrow -- might have a suggestion or two on how she can earn more money by baby-sitting or manning the cash register at the grocery store. Or your seventh-grader who has a taste for designer styles might offer really good tips on living more frugally.

In that vein, I recently asked students in a Kansas City-area high school economics class that I regularly visit as a Junior Achievement volunteer to share some ideas on how they'd help their family manage the household budget better during this recession.

Some of the Raytown South High School students said they've already opted to cut back on entertainment and clothing expenses. Others said they are not driving as much to save on gasoline, while several said they are actively looking for a job that will pay more than the minimum wage.

"I am trying to limit things I want to buy instead of going crazy and buying anything that's appealing," said Margo Murray, who seemed to sum up the thoughts of several of her classmates.

Anthony Ward said he also is trying to watch his spending, whether it's $10 or 10 cents. "I would stay in the house more because every time I leave I tend to spend money," he said.

For Racheal Ward, the focus is on landing a higher-paying job. "Along with the job I would open a bank account and after paying taxes, I would take a portion of my check and put that money into a savings account," she said. Moreover, she is trying to be a more disciplined shopper by "leaving money at home so I won't have the temptation of spending it all at the mall like I always do."

Jessica Evans said using a debit card has helped manage her spending because she can only spend what she has available in her checking account. Tiffany Hylton is working on budgeting, and Nicole Lynch is baby-sitting and doing other things to make a few extra dollars.

"With the money that I get, I try to save it in case something comes up and I really need it," said Lynch. "I am trying to get a new job that makes a little more money, so I can help my parents out with things that need to be bought around the house and try to be a little more independent."

Several students said that these past few months have prompted them to think more about wants and needs.

"I have not been complaining about the types of clothes I am wearing, and about my cell phone and how much I want a new one," said Jessica Gerstner. "I have learned to do without things such as candy, pop, some makeup products, new shoes and new clothes because I know that those are some of the things that I don't have to have right now. I have enough clothes to cover my back for every day of the week and a pair of shoes to cover my feet, and food to fill my stomach."

Don't underestimate the ability of young minds to problem-solve. When it comes to money, many do get "it," and they're more than willing to drive less, cut back on trips to the mall, eliminate the nightly fast-food runs and make other sacrifices to help the family deal with the daily economic pressures.

(c) 2009 Tribune Media Services, Inc.