Money is a fact of life, and just like those other facts of life, some of us struggle with what to tell our children about it. Fortunately, once kids make the connection between the green pieces of paper in your wallet and the things you can trade them for at the store, they’re often eager to learn. Here are some basic guidelines about what to teach your children about money and when.

Young children (ages 4 to 7)

By age 4, most kids are beginning to learn their numbers. Counting coins is one way to help them. They’ll also start to recognize the different coins and understand their relative value, such as 10 pennies equals a dime.

When you read to your kids, or they begin to read by themselves, include some books with a money-related theme. There are many to choose from, including some with popular children’s characters, such as The Berenstain Bears' Trouble with Money by Stan and Jan Berenstain, Bunny Money by Rosemary Wells and Clifford Gets a Job by Norman Bridwell.

The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPG) suggests trying to teach kids these simple concepts by age 5 or so:

  • “You need money to buy things.”
  • “You earn money by working.”
  • “You may have to wait before you can buy something you want.”
  • “There's a difference between things you want and things you need.”

This is also the stage when you might consider giving your child an allowance. As with many things in parenting, experts differ on when an allowance should begin, how much it should be and whether a child should be expected to do chores in return.

For example, Mari Adam, a certified financial planner in Boca Raton, Florida, says, “With my kids I never tied the allowance to chores. I felt they should be doing chores simply because they are a part of the family.”

A 2012 survey by the American Institute of CPAs found that 61 percent of parents gave their kids an allowance, a majority starting by age 8. The average amount was about $15 a week, although that varied by age.

School age (ages 8 to 12)

If you plan to give your child an allowance but haven’t started yet, now is probably the time. Many experts say it’s fine to offer some gentle guidance on how to handle money, but otherwise, give your child the freedom to make some mistakes. A kid who loses track of her money or squanders it on a purchase he later comes to regret will learn a life lesson far more valuable than the few dollars that might be involved. Better now than at age 40.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation suggests that age 8 is a good time to open a savings account for your child at a local bank. Children with their own accounts learn how banks work and see their money earn interest and grow. With any luck, they’ll also get in the habit of saving a portion of their allowance, birthday money or other cash. One way to encourage that is to match the money your child puts in the bank, dollar for dollar.

Teens (age 13 and up)

By the time kids enter their teenage years, the CFPB says, they need to know that:

  • “You should save at least a dime for every dollar you receive.”
  • “Entering personal information, like a bank or credit card number, online is risky because someone could steal it.”
  • “The sooner you save, the faster your money can grow from compound interest.”
  • “Using a credit card is like taking out a loan; if you don't pay your bill in full every month, you'll be charged interest and owe more than you originally spent.”

Some wise parental advice on credit cards can be especially important, even if your child isn’t going to have one for a while. Although credit cards can be a great convenience in today’s world, they’re also an easy way for young people (or any of us) to get into financial trouble fast. A 2011 survey by the investment firm Charles Schwab & Co., found that only 32 percent of 18-year-olds said they understood how the interest rates and fees on credit cards work.

The teen years also provide an opportunity to learn some of the fundamentals of investing. Parents can help by opening a custodial account at a brokerage or mutual fund company. “Kids can watch their money grow — or learn all about losses!” says Adam, the financial planner. “They can also learn the difference between stocks and bonds, understand what dividends are and start practicing good savings routines.”

Babysitting, dog waking, yard work or any kind of part-time job is another excellent way for teens to gain an appreciation for the value of money. What’s more, they can put a portion of their pay into a custodial Roth IRA to save for retirement. Although retirement probably seems light years away to them, the sooner they get in the habit of saving for it, the better.

Whatever your kids’ ages, perhaps the most important way to teach them is through your own example. In the supermarket, show them how you compare prices and look for the best values. When you buy a car or make another large purchase, tell them how you saved up for it. By seeing you work for your money, spend it carefully and save for the future, they’ll be learning lessons that will pay off for years to come. 

Greg Daugherty is a longtime personal-finance writer and a former senior editor of Money magazine.