Turn Your Kids Into Personal Finance Champs

by Manisha Thakor

Do your children think you are a walking ATM?

If you are tired of “must-have-that-toy-right-now” tantrums as you walk down the aisles of Target or Toys “R” Us, go straight to your nearest bookstore and buy Alisa T. Weinstein’s new book, EARN IT, LEARN IT.  Alisa tosses the old allowance-based system of teaching your kids about money and replaces it with: J.O.B.S.  But not in the way you might think…

Innovative learning lessons can transform a child’s life. When I was growing up one of my pivotal memories was sitting down with my dad who showed me how to calculate how much money I’d have in my IRA down the road if I contributed my babysitting and lawn mowing money to it and it grew at 6%, 8%, 10%, etc.  Yeesh. Once I saw that if I saved $2,000 a year (the annual max contribution back then) for 50 years and earned 8% average annual returns I’d have over $1,000,000 – I was hooked. It changed my attitude about money forever. Learning to be responsible with money became fun. Now most kids aren’t as wonky as I was so punching the keys of an HP12C financial calculator might not do it for them, but I have a strong hunch Alisa’s unique approach will.

How did you come up with this concept of using jobs to teach kids about money?

I credit my daughter completely. She wanted “one more lip balm Mommy!” and I thought 13 lip balms were plenty for a four-year-old (a four-year-old!). In my exasperation I told her to “get a job.” As soon as I said it, I just knew that was how she was going to earn her allowance: by test-driving real jobs.

How does EARN IT, LEARN IT work?

For the book, I interviewed 49 people with 49 different careers. I then translated their day-to-day responsibilities into kid-friendly tasks, many of which take 15 minutes. So when Mia was a Toy Designer, she cut out a paper version of her favorite stuffed toy and we talked about things like hard costs (which she apparently doesn’t have because “Mom, I don’t pay for [that stuff]. You do!”)

What is the most surprising reaction you’ve had so far from a child?

I say this with a big smile: the most surprising reactions don’t come from kids. The real surprise reactions are from parents, who didn’t realize it could be so easy, and take so little time, to get their kids engaged in something totally worthwhile.

What is the most common challenge parents have today when teaching their children about money?

It has to be just getting started. Talking about money makes people uncomfortable. On top of this, the traditional methods (paying for chores, odd jobs, or no strings attached) aren’t much fun. Since we’re all so busy, it would seem easier to avoid the subject altogether. But then you end up with a kid who thinks the world exists to provide her with another lip balm.

What have you personally learned about money while writing this book?

I was lucky. My parents taught me early on that what we do to earn money can be even more valuable than the money itself. Which means being more open to finding a career that simply makes us feel good. And this not only makes life richer, it makes living with (and learning about) money a lot more fun. [You can follow Alisa on Twitter at @EarnMyKeep]

What experiences have you had teaching your kids about money?

[Want more financial love? You can follow Women’s Financial Literacy Initiative founder, Manisha Thakor, on Twitter at @ManishaThakor or on Facebook at /MThakor.]

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