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Grandparents Have More Power Than They Know in Money Talks

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Here's a statistic you may not have seen before: Grandparents lead 37% of all U.S. households, a total of 44 million households, according to Grandparents.com.

There are millions of kids in each of those homes, and each can learn a lot from an older family member about money, budgeting, debt and savings.

But only 8% of grandparents say they would start a conversation with their grandchildren about money management, despite the fact that 85% of young adults (under 18 years old) say they want such a discussion to happen -- and the sooner the better, according to TIAA-CREF.

Why the disparity?

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TIAA-CREF says only three in 10 U.S. grandparents believe they have influence over how their grandchildren view and spend money, while 73% of grandchildren say they "are influenced" by the spending and savings habits of older family members.

Grandparents' advantage: They have a long track record of managing money and a natural platform to share money memories and experiences. One of the best ways to do that is to use personal stories to get a point across about money management -- such as how they opened a bank account or held a paper route. Those stories resonate with children, experts say.

 "Young adults are surprisingly open to talking with their grandparents about money, regardless of the generation gap," says Joseph Coughlin, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab, which collaborated with TIAA-CREF on the study. "When it comes to saving for college, most young adults feel unprepared, and grandparents aren't fully aware of how they can help. Conversations about money over time could help young adults more than their grandparents realize."

Read More: Young Americans Prefer Bank Investments, Not Stock Market

The earlier you start those conversations, the better. "When you empower children to understand financial decisions, they develop a lifelong sense of confidence and trust in themselves, helping them become successful adults," Coughlin says.

Grandparents can get involved by studying up on key issues, such as the average cost of attending college (TIAA-CREF says 46% of elderly Americans seriously underestimate the cost of college.) They also encourage their grandkids to spend some of their own money on big-ticket issues, including college.

"In our focus groups, we found grandparents are willing to help their grandchildren financially, but they want some assurance that their grandchildren have skin in the game," Coughlin says. "Grandparents need to know their grandchildren are serious about achieving future success through advanced education by using their own money to help pay for at least part of it."

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