MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but maybe you just need a few Mocha Moms. We visit with members of this mother support group each week for their comments and some savvy parenting advice. Today, we are talking about money and kids. Does the current credit crisis make this a good time for parents to educate their kids about smart money management?
For this Mocha Moms conversation, we decided to invite a special guest, somebody you know, our money coach Alvin Hall, who regularly offers financial advice and insight on this program. He has a new book, "Show Me the Money." It's about teaching kids the basics of finance and money management. Also with us are our regular Mocha Moms - Jolene Ivey, Cheli English-Figaro, and Asra Nomani. They've read the book and they're ready to talk about it. Hello ladies, moms, and Alvin.
Ms. JOLENE IVEY: Hey, Michel.
Ms. CHELI ENGLISH-FIGARO: Hi, Michel.
Ms. ASRA NOMANI: Hi.
Mr. ALVIN HALL (Author, "Show Me the Money"): Hello.
MARTIN: Well, Alvin, can you say timely, assuming we have any money left, of course, to buy books, what a timely venture here - what led you to this idea to write a book aimed at kids, young kids particularly?
Mr. HALL: I can't hear anything - I can hardly hear, sorry.
MARTIN: OK. Jolene, I'm sorry. I'm having trouble hearing Alvin.
Ms. IVEY: Well...
MARTIN: Alvin, first of all - Jolene, tell me, when did you start talking to your kids about money?
Ms. IVEY: Well, I don't really know exactly when. It's just one of those things that happens as a normal matter of course. One of my kids actually earns a significant amount of money, and, you know, as an actor, and so, what we've done with him, for the most part, we just put all his money in the bank so he can go to college one day. But we've recently allowed him to take 10 percent of his earnings so that he can actually get to enjoy some of the fruits of his labor.
MARTIN: What about talking to him about it though, his earnings and - the other thing I'm also curious about, are kids - are the kids nervous about what they're seeing in the papers? Because I know that you talk to the kids about what's going on in the news. Jolene?
Ms. IVEY: We do talk to them about it, but to tell you the truth, they haven't been alarmed because it hasn't affected them in a direct way at this point. They hear lots of things on the news, but they still have a roof over their head, they still get three meals a day, they still buy - get new tennis shoes, for example. So, they're not directly impacted. They're not as worried about this as the average person or average adult certainly is. I'm certainly worried about it. I think that this book does a great job of breaking down some of the complicated things we're hearing on the news, and to - easy to understand things. Even my 11 year old went through this book, and he just really got a kick out of it.
MARTIN: OK. I understand that Alvin might be back with us. Hello, Alvin. Are you?
Mr. HALL: Hello. How are you?
MARTIN: Are you with us?
Mr. HALL: Yes, I am.
MARTIN: OK, I'm having a little trouble hearing you. Maybe somebody could help me with that. So, Alvin, what gave you the idea for this book?
Mr. HALL: Many of my friends' children would come to me when I was at their homes for dinner and ask me about money issues that they wouldn't ask their parents. And then a lot of parents started asking me, how can I teach my kids about money? So, I sat down and came up with this idea. And then one night, I was out to dinner in New York with a lady who works as a publisher for Dorling Kindersley, and I told her about the idea, and she said we should do it together. And so, we sat down and worked up this idea, dividing it into four sections, one on the story of money, how money came about, the second on what's in your pocket, looking at money as it relates to individual children. And then backing out, looking at the more global scale, what is economics, and then how to get a business going. So, it's designed to be a, sort of, primer on these areas for children.
MARTIN: What made you think that there are kids this age, young kids, who are ready to talk about money? A lot of people would say, you know what? It's kind of better to protect kids from, you know, all this stuff at a young age. Just keep it simple, like the allowance and all that other stuff. You obviously don't agree.
Mr. HALL: Well, I worked with a child-development psychologist on this book, and he made me very much aware that kids are actually thinking about money long before parents actually realize it. When you go to the store, they started noticing what they can buy with money. They started to think, how can I get this money out of my parents, or get this thing that I want? The parents are often in denial about this, and kids are also much more aware of relative value, especially because they start looking at what their friends have. So, I think this book will give the parents a way to open the door to those discussions, but also hopefully be interesting for the parents.
MARTIN: Asra, what about you? When did Shibley (ph) start talking - when did you start talking to Shibley about money? And when do you think he started thinking about money?
Ms. NOMANI: Yeah, I think kids definitely think about money early on. I mean, Shibley was so excited every time we would go to the grocery store and I'd hand over $20, right? And we'd get money back. He thought we were making money, not spending it. And so, we had to have interesting conversations about no, actually, it's disappearing, and we're losing our money as we buy all this little stuff, the Hot Wheel toys that you want to get. And you know, it's...
MARTIN: That's kind of dire. What do you mean, it's disappearing?
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: Oh, no. That's kind of rough.
Ms. NOMANI: Hey, you know, you've got to be black and white sometimes about this stuff, especially when you got a mom like me because I was, you know, raised by very frugal immigrants, and they did things, like, old school ways. You never lived beyond your means, but I didn't learn the lessons. They weren't embedded inside of me, and so, when I became an earner myself, I didn't use any of these practices that you write about in the book. And so, I'm having to school myself as I school my child. And so, six months ago, I literally put these words in our vocabulary, instant gratification, as in, we can't go for it all the time, Shibley.
And it was me speaking to myself as much as to Shibley because, you know, Target is basically my hell. I mean, everything is red and cute, and you know, I don't have all that money to throw around on all that cute stuff, and I don't want it filling my house. But all of a sudden, you come back home with those little plastic bags with dots on them. And so, this is as much about teaching me as a parent as him, and we're having the conversation, started the savings account this summer, big $25 in it. I went to the bank manager and I was, like, do we get one of those little passbooks, you know? He was like, what? What are you talking about? Because he is all of 25 years old and doesn't remember.
MARTIN: Well, you know, it works as long as there's some money in it.
Ms. NOMANI: Right.
MARTIN: Cheli - I want to bring Cheli in. Cheli, what about you? You've got three kids, who are...
Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: Yeah, I have three kids.
MARTIN: Who are three, eight and 15. How - when did you start talking to your kids about money, and when do you think they started thinking about money?
Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: Well, I remember I had to explain to my children that the plastic cards that we use, it's money. Because they seemed to think that the plastic cards just magically create money out of these plastic cards. I'd go to the ATM machine and they'd watch me. And I remember, several years ago, having to explain no, no, we have to put money in the machine in order to get the money out, since they had no concept, really, several years ago, that that money that's in the ATM machine, it's really ours that we had to work for, and we just can't take enormous amounts out without enormous amounts being in there. But that's what really happened. I guess my oldest might have been, I guess eight or so when I started having to explain to him that, you know, we're not an endless, endless pool of money here. But I think...
MARTIN: Can you believe that you're saying the same things your parents said? Money doesn't grow on trees. Can you believe that? How did it happen?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: It's funny, though. But it's hit home for us. Well, not us particularly, like Jolene said, we still have a roof over our head, we still eat, you know, we still have cable TV and cell phones. But just the other day I was talking to my son who's 15, and he goes to a private school, and the tuition went up, significantly last year, and a lot of his friends left and went to public school. And I was telling him, look, you know, look how your class size has diminished. It's because the economy is bad, and people can't afford to send their children to private schools. And so...
MARTIN: Well, Cheli, what about that? Are the kids worried? Are they worried about what they're seeing in - on the news and hearing in the headlines?
Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: I think we try to shelter our children. We don't want them to worry. But when you connect the dots for them in that way it gives them some reality to look at. So, I think it sort of depends on the age of the child. I said that to my 15 year old. I didn't say it to my three year old. She wouldn't have gotten it.
Ms. IVEY: You know - Michel, you know...
MARTIN: OK. Hold on a second, please, I just have to jump in to say, if you're just joining us, you're listening to Tell Me More from NPR News. I'm talking with the Mocha Moms, and our money coach Alvin Hall about his new book, "Show Me the Money." It's about teaching financial responsibility and the basics of economics to kids. We'd like to pose the question to you, our listeners, what do you teach your kids about money? Go to npr.org/tellmemore to post your thoughts. And Alvin, could you just give us some of the basic concepts of, what do you think the biggest mistakes that you see people making trying to teach their kids about money? What are some of the basics that you think they should be teaching kids about money?
Mr. HALL: I think they should give kids an allowance because I think, by handling money, kids really come to know what it feels like to have it dissipate out of their hands. So, I think that parents should set up an allowance, and it should be attached to something like grades, good behavior, or something that the kids can understand. I think that's really important. I think parents do their kids a great disservice, often, by going into a store like Target and just buying them whatever they want to keep them happy while they're in Target.
Kids need to understand limits on how far money can go. Also, I think they need to make part of learning about money a game. And this could be a savings game, or how far can you make this money go game in terms of teaching kids about spending. I think those are very useful lessons. But also, I think the ultimate lesson is, understand that money has limits, it cannot buy everything for you, and that you need to teach children how to prioritize their desires.
MARTIN: How do you that, though?
Mr. HALL: Well, I think some parents really are very good about that. When they give their kids an allowance and say, now we're going to go out, but you can only buy something you can afford. I was recently down in Maryland and attending a conference, and this guy I was having dinner with down there, at one of those big conference tables, told a great story about his twins. They were in the store with the mother and they bought these candy bars up to the checkout area, and they said mama, we want these.
And the mother looked over them and said, but can you afford them? These were eight-, nine-year-old kids. Everybody in the line expected the kids to explode, well, no, why can't we have this? The brothers looked at each other, they counted their money, shook their heads, went back, and then they bought something they could actually afford. It was a simple lesson, but it was about organizing priorities, choosing something that would make you happy that is within your budget. That's one way you can do it.
Ms. IVEY: Well, the state of Maryland passed a bill last year, I'm happy to say I was a co-sponsor. And it's a task force to study how to improve financial literacy in the state, and it targets high school kids. We assessed what do they already know, what do we teach them in school already, and what should we be teaching them? And also looks at people who've already graduated from high school to see where they are. Because what we've found so far is that four out of 10 Americans admitted that they're living beyond their means because of their misuse and their misunderstanding of credit. And so, it's something that the state has taken a lead on, and the report is due in December, so I'm looking forward to seeing how we're going to move forward.
MARTIN: And Asra, what about that, though? I mean, do you think that - you mentioned that, you know, budgeting is something that you've had some difficulty with. Is it because you didn't have an example? I mean, your mom owned a small business. You saw that they were, sort of, very frugal in the way they handled their finances. They were also very dedicated to, sort of, giving money to charity. I know that they built the mosque back in your hometown.
Ms. NOMANI: Yes.
MARTIN: So, what do you think - where do you think you sort of fell off the rails? Was it just, kind of, just the fun of having your own money, and being on your own, and...
Ms. NOMANI: Yeah, I think I'm a product of this consumer society. I mean, I don't play the victim on this because I take responsibility. But I enjoyed last week. OK, fine. The credit cards had expired, and I had to cut them up. But I had my son cut them up, and this is exactly, sort of, the acts that I want us to be doing because this is what I haven't been doing, and I've been as indulgent as most of America, unfortunately, and spending beyond my means. Not like crazy, but enough that it causes stress, and I think that that's what troubles me the most, is how much we are allowing ourselves to accept this assumption of spending that is part of our consumer society.
And I know it now because I have my child, you know, just where his sense of happiness is also linked to the McDonald's Happy Meal toy. And it's sick. I really, like, it kills me as a parent to see that happening, and I want to stop it. And I think to myself every day that we're making choices as consumers that feed the assumption that happiness and contentment come with goods, and that's something that is not my ancestry. It's not my parents' morality, and I realize that I've allowed myself to just get sucked in to all this consumerism.
MARTIN: Let me get Alvin in here. And Alvin, if you feel that you've gone down this road, and I'm sure that a lot of Americans think that they have, where they've, kind of, been partying, you know, for the last, sort of, little while, and would like to...
Mr. HALL: Oh, yes. We all did it to a greater or lesser degree, absolutely.
MARTIN: And they want to both set a better example for their children and employ better, sort of, money-management techniques themselves.
Mr. HALL: Yes.
MARTIN: How would you recommend that they start? As quickly as you can.
Mr. HALL: I think they need to sit down and have a family discussion about this. The mother, the father, sit down at a table and talk about the family's money, and where you're going to start making some cutbacks or reduction in spending, how much money you have, what are the family's long-term goals. And get everybody on the same page so the same - so everyone is working towards this goal. I have a friend in New York City, Carl Weber (ph). And Carl and his family - he has three kids, when they come up for the summer holiday, they sit down and plan it, and then everyone has to make a sacrifice towards that goal over time. So, it makes it a family effort. As long as you're working together, you can succeed at these goals.
MARTIN: Let me bring Cheli back in here.
Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: Yeah.
MARTIN: Cheli, you manage your family's business.
Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: Yes.
MARTIN: Are there ways that you are teaching your, sort of, financial management techniques while you are doing that business, which you, I think, operate from home?
Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: I do. I'm the CFO for our family business, and my children see me balancing the check register. I do - I don't - I'm not an electronic whiz. I have not gone into the 20th century in that. So, I do everything the old fashioned, the old school way. And so they see me balancing our budget, those books for the business and for the personal side of things. I've also sent my child, my teenager, to money management courses at the local community centers in my neighborhood because I want him to not only see me, and learn by my example, but actually be instructed as to how to manage his money. I want him to - I want someone to teach him about debt, about credit cards. So, I figured, you know what, if I'm not going to really teach him, if I'm not going to have that family meeting, I'm sending him to a, you know, eight-week-long class and he's going to learn it. And guess what? He really did.
MARTIN: A final thought from you, Alvin. What I'm hearing you say is that many of us grew up with this idea that money is not something to be discussed with children.
Mr. HALL: Yes.
MARTIN: This is grown folks' business, and what you're saying is, change that, and don't be afraid to talk about money with the kids, and set an example, and be as open about talking about money, as perhaps we have learned to be in teaching kids about things like sex.
Mr. HALL: Exactly. In fact, it's just like sex. People - children are thinking about sex long before their parents even are aware of it, the same way they are thinking about money. So, sit down, begin the discussion in simple ways, and use books like this one to help you open the door to that discussion. But one of the most important chapters for me, personally, in the book, is the one that talks about the things you can get for free. While the book is about money, I really - the publisher and I really worked hard to put in the section all those things that will make you happy and feel fulfilled that do not involve spending money or acquiring material objects.
MARTIN: Well, we appreciate that. Although, what - I do want my Christmas gift from you, let's not - don't get confused.
Mr. HALL: OK. I understand.
Mr. HALL: Some things are obligations.
MARTIN: That's right. Jolene Ivey, Cheli English-Figaro, and Asra Nomani, our Mocha Moms. They joined us from our studios in Washington. Alvin Hall is our money coach. He joined us from our New York bureau. "Show Me the Money" is his latest book. It's a financial primer aimed at kids. It's available in most major bookstores now. Moms, Alvin, thank you so much.
Ms. IVEY: Thanks, Michel.
Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: Thanks, Michel.
Ms. NOMANI: Thank you.
Mr. HALL: You're welcome.
MARTIN: And that's our program for today. Our thanks to WRNI in Providence, Rhode Island, for hosting us today. We are back in Washington tomorrow. I'm Michel Martin, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow from Washington.
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