Give Me Your Lunch Money
When I was in fourth grade, I rented out my erasable pens for $0.25 each as the class transitioned from writing in pencil and in print to writing in script and in pen. By the time I was eleven, I had moved on to peddling posters from Right On magazine for $0.50 and $1.00, for small pictures and pull-out pictures of the then-hottest celebrities, respectively. Farrah Gray, the African-American mogul that become a millionaire by the age of fourteen, started selling home-made lotions door-to-door in the projects of Chicago’s Southside.
We need to teach our children the power of entrepreneurship, money management, and dreaming from an early age. Here are five tips to awaken the financial genius in our children:
1. Watch television and flip through magazines with them to analyze the role that commercials and advertisements play to encourage ‘group-think’ and mass consumption.
Children and young adults in tune with much of pop culture turn a blind eye to the reasons why they buy certain labels at certain times. They honestly believe that they purchase them based on their own volition. If at this stage in their development they profess their individuality and autonomy, why then, do many strive to look, dress, smell, and posture in identical manners to their peers? The manner in which they conform, that is– what they consider worthy of buying, wearing, drinking, saying, and driving –comes from social cues orchestrated and controlled by seemingly innocuous suggestions and subliminal reminders of what should constitute their external identity and internal values.
2. Identify symptoms of impulse buying and implement strategies to thwart its influence.
Many of us, including children and young adults, experience an increase in heart-rate, sweaty hands, and a trance-like state when we are overcome to buy on impulse. While it is important to acknowledge the sensation, it is of greater importance to implement impulse-related rules of engagement to spare your future of financial difficulties: Walk directly out of the store and to your car. Repeat your favorite money mantra. Keep all ATM cards and credit cards in house before you leave the house. Give yourself a 48-hour rule: If there is a purchase over $20 that you want to make, think about for 48 hours. Once you have given physical and mental distance between you and the item, your impulse to buy would have waned or completely died all together.
3. Educate them.
For lower-elementary school students (K-2), books like “It’s a Habit, Sammy Rabbit” celebrates a rabbit that saves its carrots and fosters early savings habits, while books like “All For the Better” follows how a Puerto Rican family in El Barrio consistently saves money to support their extended family in Puerto Rico during the Great Depression is more appropriate for upper-elementary school students, (3-5). Similarly, The Center for Black Business History, Entrepreneurship, and Technology provides information on the four-century tradition of black business activities from slavery to freedom in the United States for more advanced readers.
4. Set financial goals and expectations for them.
Open a saving account with them and have them make bi-monthly contributions. Insist that they pay in full or in-part bills (i.e. cell phone, nails, entertainment, shopping). This instills a sense of responsibility. Having them play an active role in their financial lives will also streamline their priorities and understanding between a “want” and a “need” once they will not be getting it free. If you allot an allowance, maintain strict rules that restrict advances, discourage borrowing, and create incentives to save. (i.e. providing matching funds)
5. Encourage an entrepreneurial spirit.
Our children possess an array of intellectual, artistic, political, and cultural talents, passions, and interests. Allow these predilections to become potential sources of income. If your child the teacher’s pet? Let invaluable skills such as excellent reading, strong organizational skills, reliability, and congeniality be the beginnings of an educational enterprise for her/him. Is your child particularly athletic, fashionable, handy? Allow him/her to train, design, and fix for a fee around the neighborhood.