Managing money is one of the most important lessons we can teach our kids. 

But many Canadian parents aren't doing that, potentially setting up their children for a harsh wake-up call later in the life.

CBC News visited a university campus in downtown Toronto. Almost everyone surveyed has at least one credit card, often with a $500 limit.

Most say they have the cards for emergencies only, but a few admitted they used credit cards to buy items they didn't really need.

"Mostly food, 'cause I'm really hungry all the time," said one student, who didn't give his name.

"I look back at everything I bought, and it's McDonald's, sushi, McDonald's, McDonald's," laughed another. "All of a sudden you have $400 spent just on food."

Student at U of T

This student from the University of Toronto, who didn't give his name, said he spends most of his money on food.

Personal finance expert Bruce Sellery calls that a recipe for disaster.

"Young people who are making mistakes that may cost them long term over time," said Sellery, a host on CBC's The Exchange. "Like running a big credit card bill. That can affect your credit score and make it hard for you to buy a house." 

Lee Helkie, a Toronto-based personal finance advisor, says many young people often aren't learning about money until it's too late.

Children see, children do

She believes parents should lead by example.

"What are they learning from us? If we accumulate debt and then we're passing those traits down to them, that's the challenge for them," said Helkie. "They really learn more from what they see, than what they hear from  us."

Aly Hirji is on a mission to teach money smarts to his students.

"Budgets, needs and wants, debt, credit," said Hirji, who teaches grade 10 and 11 at Toronto's Sir Wilfrid Laurier Collegiate. "Things are becoming more and more expensive. It's tougher and tougher to make decisions to save money.... few dollars a day, or for college and university."

Lee Helkie, a Toronto-based personal finance advisor

Lee Helkie, a Toronto-based personal finance advisor, believes parents should lead my example and teach their children how to manage money.

Instead of just asking students what they want to be when they grow up, Hirji asks if they know how much it will cost to achieve that. How are they going to save for school? And what can they be doing right now to get started?

"I put it on myself to make sure my students are learning from my own stories and my own experiences, so they are  better prepared for what lies ahead in their future," says Hirji.

And it appears to be paying off.

"I knew life would be expensive and I stressed about that," says Waasi Ehsan, 15. "But Mr. Hirji is helping us deal with that stress."

Maduo Pathmaraj plans to share what she learned in the classroom at home.

"I would want to cook at home and my parents would say, 'Let's buy take out.' So I want to inform them a little more about saving."

With files from Shana Cohen