The value of a dollar is something that is becoming harder and harder to convey to young people. With all the great advances in payment technology many teenagers would not even be able to tell you how much money they spent in a given day because they are using cards to pay for everything.

The tried and true way to impart the value of a dollar is to give your kids an allowance. Let them know that, of course, you will continue to provide them with all the basics – but if they want anything that could be considered unnecessary or frivolous, it will have to come out of their allowance. Magically, their math skills will surpass Newton’s as they figure out the days, hours and minutes until they have enough money to buy the latest fad.

Another way is to give your kids some seed money for them to start their own charitable giving. Let them identify a few charities they like and watch as they figure out a budget. They may not know they are making a budget, but when they have a fixed amount of money to spread around three or four different charities, that is exactly what they are doing. Will they choose to give an equal amount to every one of their causes, or will they see that by making a larger gift they can make a bigger impact?

Of course not all charitable contributions – and not all lessons about the value of a dollar – have to be made with cash, check or credit card. Time is money. The gift of time is something that my family and I love to donate each summer to a pretty special place called Camp Happy Times. Sponsored by the Valerie Fund, this week-long respite for kids who have or have had cancer does not seem like work because it is so much fun.

The program requires that once the campers graduate from high school, they also graduate camp. Though always welcome, they are not be eligible to return and participate as Leaders in Training until they take a year off to mature a little. A transformation occurs during this summer off; these young people have lived as adults and they know the value of a dollar. Even so, they are eager to volunteer a week of their valuable time.

And while charitable giving is something that makes our country and our society stronger, let’s not lose sight of the goal of parenting; when you teach your kids fiscal responsibility, you are giving them an advantage in life. It’s like giving them the gift of a car, graduate school and a house all at the same time.

It’s never too early to teach your kids to be philanthropic. Whether it’s with dollars or time, the return on investment speaks volumes.

Judith Heft

Judith Heft, Principal, Judith Heft & Associates is a personal financial concierge with offices in Greenwich and Stamford. She can be contacted via email at or by phone 203-978-1858.