Could The Money Savvy Pig Save The World?

By Justin Dullum

From The Financial Review, November, 2002

Susan Beacham admits her vision sounds crazy. She plans to help cure society's ills with a plastic pig. What may be even crazier is that she's doing it.

The "Money Savvy Pig" is an old fashioned piggy bank with a twist. Its blue transparent plastic is divided into four labeled compartments: save, spend, donate and invest. Each compartment has its own slot on top and plug at the bottom. Beacham recently stumped for the pig at the North Dakota Bankers Association consumer education conference. "There was a motivational speaker who presented after me. I was long gone. The speaker told NDBA Education Director Dorthy Huber she was teaching at a center for women who were about to re-enter the work force," said Beacham. "The speaker told Dorothy they were teaching women how to manage money and were using the greatest tool. She put her hand in her bag and pulled out the Money Savvy Pig."

This is not an isolated incident. A shelter in Philadelphia is using the pig to teach teen mothers about personal finance. The psychology department at a Florida prison is using the pig to teach financial literacy to inmates. "Their research indicates that one of the reasons people are in and out of prison is that they lack good financial skills," said Beacham. "Suddenly the Money Savvy Pig is a little crime fighter."

The pig didn't start out as a crime fighter. Originally, it was part of a curriculum designed to teach kindergarten kids through second graders personal finance concepts. Beacham, who worked in personal finance for 20 years developed the curriculum over four years. The birth of her two daughters inspired her to focus on financial education. "I would advise adults on what to do with their money," she explained. "I wouldn't see women until spouses had died or they were replaced. It was carnage. I had one woman who suddenly had a big mortgage and three kids under 10 asking me 'now what do I do?'"

She approached teachers, who she discovered were unwilling to teach subjects in which they lacked expertise. Her curriculum, therefore, evolved into an authoritative script that accompanies 109 pictures. Each picture is its own lesson. A workbook provides two activities that relate to each lesson. "People wonder if children understand the concept of say, donation. The fact that you're getting them to ask a question about it is the key," Beacham said.

Before the four chambered pig, children using the curriculum used to tie four paper cups together. Beacham found these disposable contraptions seldom made it past the bus ride home. "I wanted to come up with something that would seem valuable and transcend the items that get thrown out of a child's bedroom," said Beacham. "One night I had a dream and I dreamt of this piggy bank-- it had four tummies. I woke up and told my husband 'I think I've got it.'" A year later, the pigs were ready.

The curriculum is spreading throughout the country and its proliferation is due in no small part to the popularity of the Money Savvy Pig. Beacham thinks banks are prime candidates to jump on the bandwagon. She said sponsoring the curriculum in schools satisfies a bank's Community Reinvestment Act requirements. "Traditionally banks have satisfied their CRA requirements with loans to low income neighborhoods. But if they want to distinguish themselves and really do something different, and take care of the present and the future, they should consider the Money Savvy Pig." The pig and its accompanying curriculum can be silk screened with a bank's logo. "Teachers, parents and grandparents will all be exposed to what a bank is doing with the Money Savvy Pig. It reaches adults today while taking care of the future."

"Be it in turbulent economic times or not, we believe this may be the educational toy of the year," wrote Parents' Choice which awarded the pig a 2002 Parents' Choice Gold Award.

Money Savvy Generation, Beacham's Lake Forest, Illinois company that promotes the pig and the curriculum, offers volume discounts for banks looking to get involved. The NDBA was convinced and has partnered with the company, offering packages to its member banks. Several individual banks around the country have also sponsored the curriculum. Who knows, maybe this pig will save the world. "I had this fantasy that I could cure social ills. That I could teach prostitutes how to manage the money in their life so that they could get out sooner," said Beacham. "It was a fleeting fantasy. But when the bureau of prisons called me and I started hearing from teen moms and shelters for abused women, I began to think it's possible."