When you’re the parent, you’re supposed to know a few things. How to change unspeakably dirty diapers. How to weather toddler tantrums. How to play yet another game of Candy Land without losing your mind. These things can be hard. But, perhaps most confusing of all, we’re also supposed to know how to give our child a financial education.
Beth Kobliner’s new book, “Make Your Kid A Money Genius (Even If You’re Not): A Parents’ Guide for Kids 3 to 23” can help. Broken down by topic, and by different ages, it’s easy to find the section that will help you guide your kids on money matters in their current developmental stage. Even better, it’s friendly, approachable, and manages to simplify complex topics without ever talking down to us. This is a book to keep on your bookshelf — you’ll take it down to reference again and again, as your kids (and you) graduate to each new stage of their money education.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down and ask Kobliner about her new book, money, and parents and kids.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: You’ve previously written the best-selling “Get A Financial Life: Personal Finance in Your Twenties and Thirties.” Tell me why you decided to write a book that suggests financial education as early as the preschool years.
A: I was on President Obama’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Young Americans, and I became really interested in children — it’s so important that kids learn money basics. The research and information was out there for parents but it was all over the place. We developed a website called Money As You Grow a about what kids need to know, and [it went viral on social media]. There was a huge hunger for this kind of information. Also, as a mom, I’ve spent a lot of time on playgrounds, in classrooms, and on college campuses talking to other moms about their fear or concern, or their desire to understand money. I talk to people across the country with such a range of financial parenting questions that I realized this was really needed.
Q: You write in such an approachable way that is easy to read and enjoyable. Do you think people are intimidated by financial topics, and did that affect the way you wanted to convey your messages?
A: Finance is a word that can really send a shiver up people’s spines. I see it as I talk to people about it. My experience has always been some people really gravitate toward learning more and some people say, “I just can’t handle that. It’s emotionally overwhelming and it’s scary and I’m not good at math.” And I think a huge number of people feel that way. Since it’s not taught to us pretty much ever in school — which is really, really unfortunate — it can be very intimidating.
For “Make Your Kid A Money Genius,” I wanted it to feel engaging and fun. I believe very strongly that you don’t have to be great at math to be great at money and I also know that parents want to make their children’s lives financially secure. It’s not as difficult as people think it is.
Q: Reading your book, I can feel the influence of your own upbringing throughout. How did your childhood experiences affect your decision to write a financial book from the parenting perspective?
A: I was brought up in Queens, New York. My dad was a teacher, and then a principal, and then worked for something called the Board of Examiners for the city, which is the agency that makes tests for teachers and principals. My mom was a chemistry teacher, but by the time I was born she was a stay-at-home mom. We didn’t have a lot of money at all. I was blessed, though, because my parents were both born in the Depression, so they were born into a mentality of being very frugal and how do you get the most for your dollar. So that was a part of my childhood. I feel like I’m teaching the secrets that my mother and father were just really good at — thinking about it all and being wise about money without it being at all oppressive.
Q: Money and parenting are two of the hottest button issues affecting marriages. Do you have any advice for parents who aren’t on the same page when it comes to values around money?
A: I think it’s important to acknowledge that, in all aspects of parenting, but particularly when it comes to money, parents have such different attitudes. One study found when it comes to college students who report that their parents fought about money, those kids are three times more likely to have credit card debt of $500 or more than those whose parents don’t fight about money. I think the idea of presenting a unified front to kids is important. Fighting in front of kids is not only very stressful, but according to this research, it can also influence their behaviors. Whether you’re married or divorced or separated or whatever your personal issues, you really have to say, “Okay, as much as possible, when it comes to money, we will present a united front and not argue about it.” Kids, as we know, are very smart and they can play parents off each other. That is never good for a child and in terms of money, as this study shows, it can lead to more debt.
Q: Most parents value raising kind, generous kids. How does that fit together with raising a “money genius”?
A: From very young ages, you can give children a jar for spending, a jar for saving, and a jar for giving. Research shows that people who give are happier, so even if you’re looking at it from a self-interested perspective, there’s rationale for giving. But more importantly, people realize that giving of time and giving of money gives kids context. If you go with your kids to a soup kitchen, or a children’s hospital, or whatever the local organization, somehow them complaining, “Why aren’t we going to this fancy place for vacation like our neighbors?” suddenly makes it clear what their needs are and what their wants are. Children being aware of the world around them is so important and even at young ages kids can have a great deal of empathy. And sometimes they don’t. We also shouldn’t be too hard on them — kids don’t always understand that giving something away means that they can still have some of whatever it is too.
Q: How would you advise parents who are struggling financially — maybe paying down their own debt, and not being able to give allowances or save much (or anything) for college? Is your book for them, too?
A: Yes, hopefully they can get it from the library! If you can’t give your kids an allowance, don’t worry about it. I looked at about two dozen reports on allowance and the bottom line is you’re not a better money parent if you give allowance. One study found kids getting allowance were more entitled and another showed the allowance kids were hard-working. Bottom line, it was all over the board — so you don’t have to give a regular allowance to your kid to make them smart about money. When it comes to college, the most interesting research is that when parents tell children they have saved for them for college, those kids are three times more likely to actually go to college, regardless of how much money is actually in the account. The idea is just by saving and telling a child you’re saving, the expectation is made clear. I have a whole chapter on the paying for college and all the options — it can be overwhelming when you hear it costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, but there are ways to make it easier.
Q: If you had to choose one, what would be the No 1 money lesson you’d like kids to learn from their parents?
A: I have two. A credit card is a loan, so be careful. Second, waiting. You wait for the swings, you wait for your birthday. I still remember waiting for “The Wizard of Oz” to come on TV once a year. You need to wait and save up for something you want. Waiting and being able to delay gratification is one of the most important lessons kids can learn about money and in life.
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