One of the best parts of my job is actually talking to kids about money. Of course, I conduct my own research with my personal lab rats: my three kids! But it's always a treat to speak at schools, where I can connect with children I don't know and who haven't been inundated with my money mania. So I was thrilled to speak recently to the middle schoolers at The Children's Storefront, an independent, tuition-free school for pre-schoolers through 8th graders in Harlem, New York City.
Upon entering the school -- a converted brownstone with bright blue painted gates -- you immediately sense that it's an extraordinary place. Academically rigorous and creative, the school takes as one of its guiding principles the importance of inspiring kids to believe that if they work hard, they can go to college and be anything they want to be. The students are especially lucky to have wonderful leaders like Michael Williams, the assistant head of school, who hosted the event. He had such a lovely, patient way of speaking that reinforced the school's values and showed the students that he respected each of them.
First, Mr. Williams interviewed me, talk-show style, with lots of questions about my childhood and how I chose my career. I felt like I was on Oprah! He asked about my parents, who were also educators and have been married for 60 years. Mr. Williams said, "Wow! Can we get a round of applause for Beth's parents?" I was "kvelling," as they say. Very proud!
Then came my presentation: The five money lessons every kid from 5th to 8th grade should know:
1. It's important to wait.
As I mentioned in my last post, the ability to delay gratification leads to fewer behavioral problems, lower stress, stronger friendships, and even higher SAT scores!
2. Save, save, save!
Waiting is a lot like saving. We all have things we'd like to buy (like the designer jeans I wanted, but couldn't afford, as a kid), but it's important to prioritize saving. After all, if you saved $1 a day starting at age 15, you'd have $80,000 by age 65 -- that's a lot of money!
3. Don't get into credit card debt -- ever!
Say you buy an iPhone for $200. If you purchase it with a credit card that charges you 18% in interest, and you only pay the minimum, you'll end up paying $225 over nearly a year and a half -- $25 in interest! Maybe that doesn't sound like a whole lot extra, but more is more, and it adds up when there are lots of purchases or more expensive items. It's just not worth it.
4. College is one of the best investments you can make.
As the child of two teachers, I always say education is the ticket to your future. And going to college pays off: People who graduate earn nearly twice as much as people who don't, not to mention you have more choices in your life and can follow a passion. But college is expensive, and it's important to know a school's price tag before choosing it. Look into financial aid, loans, scholarships, and grants at studentaid.ed.gov, and choose a few schools and play with the "net price calculators" on their websites to get an estimate of how much each will cost.
5. Follow your dreams... and unexpected opportunities, too.
My career choice surprised me. I was an English major and had no idea I'd end up being a financial journalist. But my first job working for financial journalist Sylvia Porter was life-changing, and I became hooked instantly. Maybe your child's dream is to be a lawyer or a doctor or a teacher or a writer. Whatever the dream is, encourage your kid to take every opportunity to make it come true. But, if while he or she is working toward that dream, something ELSE comes along that is equally -- or even more -- appealing, tell your young one not to be afraid to see where that path leads, too.
At the end of my presentation, the kids had tons of questions. One boy bravely asked, "You said to save, but what should you do if you really, really want something?" I'm sure every kid in the room was thinking this! And, let's face it, we all face this debate -- especially right now, as the weather warms up and you eye a new spring coat, a brightly colored blouse, or a pretty pair of flats. Priorities, people -- we all need to keep those wants in check!
Do you have a child in 5th to 8th grade? What have they asked you about money or careers?
Beth Kobliner is a personal finance commentator and journalist, the author of the New York Times bestseller Get a Financial Life: Personal Finance in Your Twenties and Thirties, and a member of the President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability. Visit her at bethkobliner.com, follow her on Twitter, and like her on Facebook.
This post was originally published on Mint.com.
© 2012 Beth Kobliner, All Rights Reserved