By Michelle Singletary
Sunday, April 5, 2009
Beware parents, your children are under attack.
The predators -- advertisers, credit card issuers, retailers -- are waging a war, and if they can get to your child early enough, they can do a lot of harm.
So when you're tucking in your young ones at night and reaching for a bedtime story, add to the nightstand a collection of books that will entertain them yet also protect them from those intent on turning them into lifelong debtors and uncontrolled consumers.
And I have just the books -- "The Millionaire Kids Club" series by Susan Beacham and Lynnette Khalfani-Cox (Advantage World Press). These books are my choice for the Color of Money Book Club for April, which is National Financial Literacy Month. The books are available online at Amazon.com, http://www.msgen.com or http://www.themoneycoach.net.
Beacham is chief executive and founder of Money Savvy Generation, a company that develops products to teach children basic personal finance principles. Khalfani-Cox is a personal finance expert and the best-selling author of "Zero Debt."
"The Millionaire Kids Club" books, written for children ages 3 to 12, are about four friends, each with a different money personality. Sandy is a saver. Dennis likes to donate. Stephanie likes to spend, and Isaiah likes to invest. Together, these multiracial friends formed a club to talk about money-related issues.
Before I selected these paperbacks, I wanted to field test the series. Each book is 32 pages with large, colorful illustrations. Without any discussion, I plopped the volumes on the table one evening while my 8-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son were doing their homework. I didn't tell them what the books were about. No lecture. I just asked them to read the three books and let me know what they thought.
They loved them.
Well, my daughter had one criticism. "I thought the kids had big heads," Jillian said.
But she quickly added: "I thought the books were a fun way to learn how to save money."
"I thought they were really awesome," my son, Kevin, said.
Jillian particularly liked volume 2, "Putting the 'Do' in Donate," which has an endearing story line about the kids trying to raise money for a cash-strapped food pantry.
"It was cool how Dennis wanted to donate the $100 he got from his grandfather," my daughter said. "It was thoughtful. And generous, I think. Yes, generous."
Jillian said it just like that. I couldn't grab and hug her for saying something so precious -- she gets embarrassed -- yet I was proud that she picked up the importance of helping people in need.
My son was taken with volume 1, "Garage Sale Riches." Immediately, he began pestering his dad about having a garage sale. He definitely has an entrepreneurial spirit.
Both of my kids were troubled after reading volume 3, "Home Sweet Home." In this story, one of the club members' homes is lost to foreclosure because the father lost his job and the family went through all their savings.
"I thought they were going to die," Jillian said. "At the end, I realized it was okay. I started to calm down. But, Mommy, don't people increase the risk of getting colds when they don't have a house?"
My son added, "When I read the book, I thought we might be losing our house and have to live in the streets."
Their questions and concerns led to a discussion about the housing crisis.
My children get lessons about money all the time, but the books helped sum up my teachings in four simple words.
"I know that you need to save, spend, donate and invest," my son said.
"Kevin, you took that from me," Jillian interrupted, not wanting to be trumped by her big brother. "I learned you have four choices, too. I learned if you are going to spend, spend a little bit."
Although I'm an advocate for providing more financial literacy in our schools and colleges, good money management is best learned at home by having the conversations I have with my kids.
"Parents are looking for a script -- the words they need to learn to talk to their kids about money," Beacham said in an interview. "This April, as we struggle to navigate present-day consequences, we are reminded of just how important that conversation is."
"The Millionaire Kids Club" series will help you start that conversation.
To become a member of the Color of Money Book Club, all you have to do is read the recommended book. Join me for a live discussion with Beacham and Khalfani-Cox at noon on April 23 at http://www.washingtonpost.com. The authors will take your questions about raising money-smart children.
In addition, every month I randomly select readers to receive a copy of the book, donated by the publisher. For a chance to win a copy of one of the books in "The Millionaire Kids Club" series, send an e-mail to email@example.com. Please include your name and an address so we can send you one of the books if you win.
-- By mail: Readers can write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.
-- By e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Comments and questions are welcome, but because of the volume of mail, personal responses are not always possible. Please note that comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.