From basic morals to a proper work ethic, parents teach their children daily life lessons to help establish a foundation to build upon throughout their lives. An important part of that is an understanding of money and financial matters, says Terri Kraham, senior advancement manager for Junior Achievement of Greater St. Louis. “We need to make sure children are prepared, and it’s our job as parents and role models to guide them down the right path toward the future.”

That financial foundation should be started “as soon as your child can count and start understanding how money works,” says Commerce Bank executive VP Darryl Collins.At that age, the lessons are easy and mostly done through parents leading by example. “You can teach them simple concepts like an allowance, shopping with coupons or saving for a purchase—those early impressions are valuable later on,” Collins says.

Parents also can start a custodial savings account at the bank as soon as the child has a Social Security number. While the parents are the only ones who can withdraw money, their children can accompany them on trips to the bank, fill out deposit slips and learn how the process works. “The child gets to play an active role early on in saving,” says Regions Bank VP Jackie Snyder. “You try to send the message that it’s not about how much someone makes, it’s about how much they save.”

Open communication is key to parents properly educating their children about financial matters. “It’s a really good idea for parents to include their children on how money comes in and out of the household, so they know what to expect,” Snyder says.

Junior Achievement also provides hands-on opportunities for young people to learn about financial responsibility. The courses are offered at schools for grades K through 12, and teach children about “entrepreneurship, work readiness and financial literacy,” Kraham explains. “We also have programs in our facility that let them become little consumers and realize what it’s like in the real world. The ATM only gives out what you put into it—there’s not a money tree in the backyard.”

Regions and Commerce also send volunteers to various schools to give presentations and educate students on various issues, like protecting their credit and the ever-increasing danger of online fraud. “It’s important for kids to understand that they can’t just trust everything they see and hear,” Collins says. “A lot of young people don’t understand how making a bad decision when they’re young can stick with them for a long time.”

As children age, the financial lessons that parents need to convey will change. For instance, Snyder recommends that parents help their child open a checking account at age 16, instead of waiting until 18. “If you wait until 18, it’s right before they go off to college. You’re giving them this huge responsibility and then sending them far away,” she notes. “At 16, you have a couple years to teach them how the account works and the right way to use it.”

In addition, the newer technology of text and online banking allows both children and parents to easily track their spending. “It’s a safe avenue for kids, and parents can see what their child is doing,” Snyder explains.

While young people will still make purchasing mistakes, proper education at an early age can keep them on a path to financial responsibility. “You have to give kids credit and start teaching them young,” Collins says. “If you can count, you can start to learn how you can accumulate things, whether they are jelly beans or dollars.”