"Thrifty" can be a dirty word in families in which the money talk never happens.
So the authors of "Be Thrifty: How to Live Better with Less" (Workman Publishing, 2010) try to ease nerves by offering some tips on teaching children how to save.
"It used to be an American value that was talked about in school and emphasized in the government and at home," said Califia Suntree, co-author of "Be Thrifty."
"That's why we say that you have to have it at home. There's no other way their kids are going to learn it from TV or learn it from their friends."
The "Be Thrifty" book is a collection of savings tips mixed with do-it-yourself diagrams covering everything from canning to haircuts. One section of the book explores several areas in which families can restart thrift education at home -- and it all begins with communication.
"One of the things that you and I have difficulty discussing is finances," said Teresa Hunsaker, family and consumer science educator with the Utah State University Extension in Weber County. "It's a hot button. We feel insufficient in our ability to sometimes provide."
Children need to see how the family handles bills. So pull back the curtain and allow kids to see the process of budgeting.
Suntree said allowing children to understand the intricacies of bills -- how much, what has to be paid for, the cheaper alternatives -- pays off by illustrating good money habits.
Parents don't need to offer full disclosure.
"That is not telling your 3-year-old the details of your mutual fund," Suntree said.
Hunsaker's primary rule is that the parents don't divulge how much they make.
"Include them in on decisions," Suntree said. "Where you give your charity dollars, for instance, is a way for kids to feel involved."
As the children mature, more details and decisions can be shared.
"As the kids get older, I think that it is certainly a good idea to talk out a budget," said Lynn Rilling, director of financial stability programs at United Way of Salt Lake.
Hunsaker holds family finance camps, which focus on teaching money-saving habits to parents and children, several times a year. At one session, she tells the kids to draw a pie chart of what the family budget goes to -- portions that go to housing, entertainment and so on. The parents then show how much of the budget actually goes to each portion.
She said the children, ages 6-16, understand much more by the end of the class.
"It's amazing what this does. Because kids no longer beg for stuff at the supermarket," Hunsaker said.
In order to teach kids how to be thrifty, give them money as a form of homework.
"I can't teach my kids to be thrifty until they have limited resources to be thrifty with," Hunsaker said.
There is a great debate between experts, but it's not whether to provide an allowance. The question is how the stipend is handed out.
The book's authors contend that giving should not be contingent on the chores being done.
"You are not paying for chores. You are a part of the family. Part of the home. You do that just like everybody else," Suntree said. "If you are paying for chores, that implies that it is optional, that it is a paid job."
Rilling has the opposite view, believing that chores should be included in pay. She said some experts say that separating chores from the allowance has flaws.
"The reason why it wasn't effective was that the kids were getting money for doing nothing," Rilling said. "I don't understand how (paying for chores) can be a negative reinforcement at all."
Hunsaker does not recommend paying a child for good grades.
"There needs to be some intruistic value to being good and not attached to funds," Hunsaker said. "At some point, being paid for something loses its momentum. In other words, it no longer becomes an incentive."
All of this should be part of the conversation before an allowance is even distributed -- which means the conversation could happen as early as the child's fourth birthday.
"As soon as you start having the conversation of wants versus needs, that's pretty much the time you can start," Suntree said.
During the initial conversation, clarify what the allowance is for -- entertainment, clothes, and so on.
"So if mom and dad now pay you an allowance ... these are the things that we no longer pay for," Hunsaker said.
Hunsaker said students are entering college with more credit cards and leaving with more credit card debt than ever before.
She asked the kids in her last finance class if they thought credit cards were like extra cash.
"Every single one of them said 'yes,' " Hunsaker said. "They don't understand it."
Suntree actually advocates getting older teenagers a credit card.
"This is an area where it could be a valuable education tool to let your older teen have a credit card," Suntree said. "But this is with vigorous monitoring and education. If you do decide to let your kid have a credit card, sit down with them, maybe with your own credit card bill, and go over how to pay it off and how it affects credit."
Suntree said prepaid credit cards can teach older kids about the credit card process -- and it has a set limit "so they can't go crazy."
Parents should explain their own statements, including interest rates and minimum payments. If the child is mature enough, sign him up.
The goal is to teach them while you can, before they move away from home.
"Then once they go away to college, you don't know what they are going to do anyway. You don't have that control anymore," Suntree said.
"So lay the foundation when they are younger by teaching responsibility and the repercussions and the consequences."
* Have a plan. Determine at what age kids start getting allowances.
* Discuss how allowances fit into your family's finances.
* Set boundaries regarding allowance -- how often, how much, what it is tied to, and what items the kids must now buy for themselves.
* Do not withhold allowance as a punishment for nonrelated bad behavior.
* Typically, it is best not to tie grades in school to allowance.
Source: Teresa Hunsaker, family and consumer science educator at Utah State University Extension in Weber County