Start young to teach children about money

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Money and kidsIt might look like loose change to most kids, but to 13-year-old Justin Connally, pennies, dimes, nickels and quarters add up to major savings.

He keeps big jars at his grandma’s house that they toss change into. His grandmother, Ann Connally, started the practice when Justin was a toddler. He began adding to it when he was a preschooler.

When he emptied one of the banks for the first time last year, Justin was surprised to discover he had $300.

“Little things add up,” he says. “I learned that saving the smallest amount eventually can go far.”

That’s just one of the lessons Justin has learned from his grandma and his parents, Jody and LaTonya Connally of Detroit.

He learned even more by taking money management classes taught by Gail Perry-Mason, co-author of “Girl, Make Your Money Grow!” (Harlem Moon, $12.95), and from Money Matters for Kids, a nonprofit initiative to teach children about money.

Perry-Mason of Grosse Pointe, Mich., a mom herself, and other experts believe that teaching financial literacy to children is just as important as teaching them to read.

“We live in a society that encourages buy, buy, buy,” Perry-Mason says. “But if kids learn good habits early on, they won’t make the same mistakes we’ve made. I tell my kids learn to save your money and it’ll save you later in life. Too many people work for money rather than learning to make their money work for them.”

Erica Tobe agrees.

Tobe ? program leader for youth financial education at Michigan State University’s Extension Service ? says, “You can start teaching children at 4 and 5 years old how to recognize coins. We educate youth in a lot of different areas. This is one of the most critical areas for them to learn so when they get out of on their own they know how to manage their money.”

Starting with banks at home helps children see their money grow. As they get older, they should have their own savings accounts. Shop with your child for banks and credit unions that offer the best deals. Some credit unions, in particular, offer giveaways and teaching tools for young people.

Budgeting is another essential lesson, Tobe and Perry-Mason say.

“When children see how bills are paid month to month, they understand there are limits and money doesn’t grow on trees,” Tobe says.

“Some kids think parents are their personal stimulus package or a bailout plan,” Perry-Mason says.

Tobe advises parents to periodically talk with their children as they are paying the bills.

During Perry-Mason’s Money Matters for Kids camp, children spend a day in a make-believe scenario designed to dramatize the importance of budgeting. They get a set amount of money and have to pay the mortgage, utility bills, car insurance, groceries and other bills.

“It was difficult because we had to pay bills and at the end of the session we couldn’t have a negative balance,” Justin recalls. “It taught me what my parents go through on a regular basis in terms of paying bills.”

Budgeting is another essential lesson, Tobe and Perry-Mason say.

“When children see how bills are paid month to month, they understand there are limits and money doesn’t grow on trees,” Tobe says.

“Some kids think parents are their personal stimulus package or a bailout plan,” Perry-Mason says.

Tobe advises parents to periodically talk with their children as they are paying the bills.

During Perry-Mason’s Money Matters for Kids camp, children spend a day in a make-believe scenario designed to dramatize the importance of budgeting. They get a set amount of money and have to pay the mortgage, utility bills, car insurance, groceries and other bills.

“It was difficult because we had to pay bills and at the end of the session we couldn’t have a negative balance,” Justin recalls. “It taught me what my parents go through on a regular basis in terms of paying bills.”

Several Web sites offer guides to helping kids learn about money

? Jumpstart Coalition, a national personal finance coalition, www.jumpstart.org, has free and low-cost resources to teach financial education searchable by topic and age. The Michigan branch is at mijumpstartcoalition.org

?The National Endowment for Financial Education’s Web site aims at improving the financial literacy of middle and high school students. It offers information for teachers and parents as well. www.hsfpp.nefe.org

? The Canadian Foundation for Economic Education created a site for youth, parents and teachers in English and French: www.moneyandyouth.cfee.org.

? Young Investor teaches young people about investing. www.younginvestor.com

? The Girl Scouts of America offers workshops and a Web site, Money Smarts, www.girlscouts.org/moneysmarts.

? Young Money is aimed at older teens, college students and young adults. www.youngmoney.com

? The Stock Market Game makes learning fun by helping kids invest a large hypothetical amount of money. www.smg2000.org/index.html

? Junior Achievement Student Center has a section, run by the Goldman Sachs Foundation, to help students learn about money management: www.ja.org/studentcenter

? Money Matters for Kids, an online curriculum at www.moneymatters4kids.com.

? The Credit Union National Association offers a program to help preschoolers called Thrive By 5. Available in both Spanish and English, it’s at www.creditunion.coop/thriveby5

(c) 2009, Detroit Free Press. Source: McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.