I believe that children live what they learn.
If you want your children to be better money managers, you need to model that behavior in your home. They need to see you saving, spending wisely and using credit sparingly. They need to watch as you make good financial decisions.
A recent Bank of America and USA Today survey of millennials confirmed this parental influence, with 58 percent saying their parents’ advice or their example had an impact on their financial decisions.
When people say we need more financial literacy in schools and colleges, I counter with the need for more parents to be financially literate. Having said that, I also recognize that many children and young adults don’t have parents or guardians who set the right example, for whatever reason.
So where should children who aren’t taught at home get the information they need to become good money managers?
BMO Harris Bank recently released results of its 2015 parenting study on how children are financially educated at home. It found that 68 percent of parents turn to others to talk to and teach their children about money.
Sure, there are a number of financial literacy resources available. But much of the material comes from or is sponsored by financial institutions. That doesn’t mean the information is wrong, but be aware that it might come with an agenda.
Lender-developed financial literacy programs for children and young adults often don’t go far enough for me in sounding the alarm about how dangerous a credit card can be. Instead, the focus is on “managing” debt.
You manage money. You pay debt.
There isn’t enough caution in the curriculum of financial literacy materials. But that’s not the case with courses developed by the FoolProof Foundation, an organization that was created with help from the late CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite, who, I learned, had a passion for financial literacy.
“We have to take financial literacy back from people who make money when we make financial mistakes,” said Remar Sutton, volunteer chairperson of the FoolProof Foundation Walter Cronkite Project. Sutton is also a former Washington Post lifestyle columnist.
Through the Web site foolproofme.com, the foundation offers free online financial literacy lessons for students and individuals of all ages. In addition to the courses, you’ll find useful guides with short videos on various consumer finance topics, such as buying a car or avoiding the latest scams.
On the main site, there’s a video and a series of questions about impulse buying. In one part of the video, an older woman goes to the supermarket to get four items — milk, eggs, bread and cheese. As she’s heading to the back of the store, strategically placed grocery items call out to her. It’s so funny, and so real.
“We are teaching consumers defensive skills on top of money-management skills,” said FoolProof founder Will deHoo.
Now, to be fair, even this project has gotten money from financial institutions; it has accepted funding from community credit unions. But deHoo and Sutton say the funding hasn’t affected the content, which is pretty tough on the use of credit and the tactics used by businesses to get people to spend more than they perhaps should.
“We chose community credit unions as our partners because of their not-for-profit nature, volunteer boards and their focus on community issues,” Sutton said. “No credit union, incidentally, has any input whatsoever in any of FoolProof’s messaging and opinions.”
I like what FoolProof is doing. The curriculum is easy to navigate. When you go to foolproofme.com (be careful and include “me” when you type in the address), click the link for “Education.” You’ll be directed to the sites for individuals and for educators. On “FoolProof Teacher,” there are 18 different modules or lessons. There’s an option to monitor individual students or an entire class, and the software does the grading for you. The instructions feature music, video clips and some nice graphics to drive home certain points. I especially like the lesson about burning money. Love that the section on credit cards is called “Sucker Punch.”
“There’s an edginess about the teaching,” said Jack Gillis, director of public affairs for the Consumer Federation of America, which has endorsed the curriculum. “There’s nothing new there, but what we thought was so impressive was the packaging of the messages.”
This financial literacy initiative delivers just the right amount of caution along with a healthy dose of skepticism and defensive spending techniques that will serve anyone well in his or her financial life. It’s especially a good surrogate for the lectures students might get from financially savvy parents, and these lessons are unlikely to result in eye-rolling.
Readers may write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read previous Color of Money columns, go to wapo.st/michelle-singletary.