Finance curriculum teaches kids about money so bankruptcy won't

By Ted Fish

From The Albuquerque Tribune, July 29, 2002

She's transparent, with an adorable snout and a curly tail, and she just might be the most valuable gift you could ever give to your child. I'm not speaking about some fantasic new creation dreamed up by the likes of Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling. I'm refering to a new, smarter piggy bank invented by Chicago entrepreneur Susan Beacham. The pigs looks somewhat like the one you probably had when you were young. Execpt in this case, there are four separate slots, each one connected to a different chamber. On the front of each are words that form the foundation for a life of financial savvy: save, spend, donate and invest.

When children learn what these words mean, and develop the habit of making intelligent money choices, then, according to Beacham, they build the foundation for financial success. "The best time to reach children is when they're young," she told me in a recent conversation. "Then their minds are open, and they're eager to learn. Plus, they havent yet formed any habits."

According to Beacham, our country has a big problem when it comes to teaching kids about money. Statistics recently printed in US News and World Report, and in Money magazine, support her claim. Twelve percent of all children between the ages of 13 and 19 have a credit card in their own name, and 16- and 17-year olds spend an average of $153 per week. Where does all that ambitious spending lead? In 1999, reports the Chicago Tribune, 460,000 people age 35 and under filed for bankruptcy in America.

"Money is exactly like sex," says Beacham. "A lot of parents ask why teach kids about money when they're so young. But I tell them to go look at the picture of the credit card in the window of the toy cash register they probably have, or the Visa card in the hand of the Shopping Barbie doll. If parents don't teach them, someone else will."

Beacham was not always focused on educating youth. For 20 years she worked as a financial consultant, most recently as a senior vice president at Bank of America. She began to see the need for financial literacy in her contact with newly divorced or widowed women. When she broached the subject of investments these clients would "blanche."

"These women were clearly uncomfortable about what they did now know," she said. "Managing money should be second nature, a basic skill like adding and subtracting. I decided I wanted a different scenario for my daughters." She approached her daughter's classroom teacher, who encouraged her to write a curriculum. She complied, and over the course of eight weeks, 20 first-graders learned the basics of financial literacy.

The concepts were surprisingly sophisticated. The children learned abut the four uses of money: save, spend, donate and invest. But they also discussed ideas like risk vs. return, the time horizons for investing and stocks. One child bemoaned the fact that his favorite toy store had gone out of business because they just couldn't earn enough "profit." Another offered this gem, which appears on Beacham's Web site: "Investing means you put money in a company. When a company has profits, they share them with you. I want to do that when I am older and share in the fun."

The course, which takes ten 45-minute sessions to cover, and follows a script that makes learning fun for kids and anxiety-free for adults, was tested with more than 800 children, parents and families. After recent exposure on "Oprah," the "Today Show" and in magazines like Time and Money, the number of graduates is beginning to swell. Money Savvy Pigs and the accompanying curriculum are beginning to ship all over the globe.

"I wanted to change the world for my daughters," Beacham said. She may be on her way. For further information about these products you can visit www.MoneySavvyGeneration.com.

Ted Fish is the co-founder of Philos School in Santa Fe, NM. He is working on a book titled "School Is A Verb."

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