Learning to Launch: Talking to Your Child About Investing

May 26, 2020
Relationship Manager Laura Salibello and Analyst Maddy Pellow define the basic principles of investing and share how parents can incorporate them into preliminary conversations with aspiring young investors.

Investing is a broad topic that can be overwhelming and take many years to learn, so it is important to start these conversations early. But where do you start? Below, we have outlined some basic information that parents can share with their children to help navigate that first discussion about investing. This is only meant to touch the surface, as we hope conversations continue throughout their transition into adulthood.

Below is an example of how we might answer children’s initial investing questions:

  • What is investing? Investing is the act of exchanging your capital, or money, for investment vehicles, or assets, with the hope your capital will appreciate, or grow, over time.
  • What can you invest in? You can invest in many things: cars, art, real estate, sports memorabilia and more. For this guide, we will explore the basics of two main asset classes: public stocks and bonds.
  • Why do people invest? As previously stated, people invest with the hopes of their assets growing in value over time. For example, you might buy a pack of baseball cards with an up-and-coming player inside. You can choose to either sell the card to your friend right away or hold on to it. If next season, the player is named MVP or wins the World Series, the card’s value will rise. As a result, it can be sold for a higher price, allowing you to profit.


  • What are they? Stocks represent ownership in a company and can be bought and sold on stock exchanges. Each share signifies partial ownership of a corporation, representing a claim to part of the corporation’s assets and earnings. Think about what you use frequently. For example, the toothpaste you use every day might be a product of Colgate-Palmolive, a publicly traded company that you can purchase shares of.
  • How do they work? Companies will issue, or sell, stock to raise their own liquid, or spendable, capital to fund projects. Your shares can appreciate or depreciate based on the company’s performance. For example, if “Frozen 2” is a box office hit, the Disney stock price may increase. 
  • Why invest in stocks? Historically, stocks have had higher returns over the long run than most other investments. Stocks have the ability to continuously rise in price if demand remains strong, which creates this opportunity for high returns. This does not mean that all stocks are created equal; not all stocks will deliver high returns! A company may go out of business or underperform, and your investments can lose money. Returning to the previous example, this would be the equivalent of the baseball player becoming seriously injured, lowering the card’s value.


  • What are they? Typically, bonds are categorized as fixed income, since they can produce a steady stream of income to the investor who loans money to the issuer. An issuer can be a company, a government or a municipality, but for this discussion, we will only focus on companies that issue bonds, also known as corporate bonds.
  • How do they work? Bonds, like stocks, are issued to the public as a way for the company to generate capital. Continuing with a previous example, Colgate-Palmolive could be an issuer of bonds. If you, the lender, purchase those bonds, you are lending Colgate-Palmolive money, with the promise of repayment at a predetermined time in the future, along with interest payments, called coupons, each year.
  • Why invest in bonds? Depending on the issuer, bonds can be lower-risk, stable investments that offer some investment income. But like stocks, bonds are not all created equal and depend on the company. Some companies are less stable than others. It is possible that a company could go bankrupt and you would not be repaid.

How can I start investing?

There are three potential methods for beginning investing: buying an individual stock or bond, a mutual fund or exchange-traded funds (ETFs).

  • Individual stocks or bonds: a direct investment in a public company or organization. There may be a small brokerage fee to execute the trade to purchase it, but the investment can be any size, depending on the price of the stock or bond.
  • Mutual funds: pool money from investors to invest in a basket of equities and/or fixed income. These funds typically are actively managed, require a minimum investment, have a management fee and are priced only once daily. The benefit of a mutual fund is that you will have access to many securities instead of having to buy each one individually. For example, Amazon costs $2,000 per share. Instead of spending $2,000 to purchase one share of Amazon, you could buy $2,000 worth of a mutual fund that owns Amazon, but also has other stocks in its portfolio.
  • ETFs: a marketable security that tracks an index. For example, if you purchased an S&P 500 ETF, these ETF shares would track all the companies listed in the S&P 500 stock market index. ETFs are passively managed, are priced constantly throughout the day and have high daily liquidity and generally lower fees than mutual funds.

Why should I start investing early?

Investing earlier in life allows you the opportunity to benefit from the power of compounding. Compounding occurs when positive returns build on each other over time to create even greater returns. One way to visualize this is to map out a penny doubled for a month. After 10 days, the value is only $5.12, but by day 31, its value reaches $10,737,418. Therefore, if you invest earlier in life, you allow ample time to grow your wealth with the help of compounding. This key concept is critical when thinking about savings. For example, if you have the opportunity to invest in your 20s vs. in your 30s, you are able to grow your money much more.

There is nothing like learning from real-life experiences. To help your child grow her interest in investing, you may start by helping her buy one stock and one bond. She can track her investments and watch them fluctuate with the markets. This process can help open up the opportunity for more in-depth conversations about investing.

This guide is just a start, and at Brown Brothers Harriman, we have helped countless families start talking about investing and educating the next generation on financial topics. Please reach out to your relationship manager to continue the conversation.

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