Parents across the country say in survey after survey that one of their top parenting worries is teaching their kids about how to handle money.
Rachel Lindop, a mother of three in Fort Mill, S.C., said that talking about family finances has been “a worse taboo than sex,” and studies actually support that. For Joe Sebik, a teacher and father of two who lives in New Hill, N.C., the concern is how to arm his kids with ways to navigate a “consumerist” culture.
Both are awaiting the arrival Tuesday of a new book, “Smart Money Smart Kids,” by author and money-oriented radio show host Dave Ramsey and his daughter, Rachel Cruze. The book is focused on helping parents raise “the next generation to win with money.”
In an interview, Ramsey and Cruze said parents should not feel overwhelmed or ill-prepared to instill crucial money habits in their children. Much of what’s needed is common sense and, if followed, will lead to lasting results into adulthood, they say. Their concepts include making sure children work for money, avoid debt, save and spend their cash wisely, and that they share or give to their church or charities.
They advocate avoiding student loans for college and, in the book, offer ideas for a debt-free degree.
They also write about how to foster “contentment” instead of entitlement in children.
Parents who think they haven’t done well with money can still make a difference in their children, said Ramsey, who drew an audience of more than 2,500 to hear him speak on handling money last week in North Carolina.
“There are no perfect parents,” he said. “How do you teach your kid about marriage when your marriage isn’t perfect? How do you teach your kid about grades when your grades weren’t perfect? You not being perfect does not disqualify you from being a great mom or dad.”
Ramsey and Cruze join other authors, school administrators, nonprofit organizations, a range of businesses and even billionaire Warren Buffett in increasingly concerted efforts to provide children as young as kindergarten with more and better personal finance and money handling information and skills.
Seventeen states now require personal finance to be taught in high school. Six states — Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Michigan, Missouri and Texas — now mandate testing on the subject, according to a survey by the Council for Economic Education.
“What we know is that we must start younger — you really need to start in elementary school in teaching financial concepts,” said William Cheeks, eastern regional director for the Jump Start Coalition, which focuses on financial literacy and has published a guide on raising “money smart” kids.
Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway and one of the world’s richest men, is on board. He has been working with Amy Heyward, president of kid-focused Genius Brands International, on a series of animated episodes with money messages that have been made into a curriculum-based program for use in schools. It’s targeted at 6- to 11-year-olds.
The program, “Secret Millionaires Club,” features kids navigating problems and adventures with money and business. They are shown on the Hub Network (formerly Discovery Kids) and are available as shorter webisodes online, where parent guides with tips are free. Buffett voices himself and appears in each of the 26 completed episodes.
Buffett sprinkles his philosophy throughout the shows. Examples: Debt can be a racket; save your money; never cut corners; show discipline. More episodes are in the works, Heyward said.
Heyward said she was having breakfast with Buffett a few years ago and he recounted that one of his granddaughters had turned 18, received a flurry of credit card applications, signed up for one and then “rang up a bill.”
Buffett thought it was “crazy” that his own family “was falling for it,” she said.
“It led to this discussion about financial literacy and just understanding how it all works,” Heyward said. “It’s really not a part of many kids’ upbringing. … Really, you develop your habits early in life and his feeling, which we shared, was to teach kids and help them understand kind of how the world works, how the business of life works and develop healthy habits from an early age.”
PERSONAL FINANCE IN THE SCHOOLS:
The Council for Economic Education this year tracked a growing trend among states in requiring personal finance education in the schools. These 17 states now require high school students to take a personal finance course, up from one state in 2002: