Sam X Renick has led financial education experiences with hundreds of thousands of kids over the last three decades. Perhaps no one has more in-person experience teaching preschool and elementary age children the basics of money than the award-winning author and financial educator. After attending one of his Sammy Rabbit, interactive story, song and skit sessions, Kiplinger editor and kids and money expert Janet Bodnar wrote in the magazine:
“Talk about a hard sell. Trying to persuade a group of 7-year-old children that saving money is fun ranks right up there with trying to make them believe that peas are a dessert food.
Anyone who's ever had that problem should invite Sam Renick for dinner. Renick can whip a gym full of elementary-school kids into a frenzy of enthusiasm for saving money minutes after bounding into the room.”
We invited Sam to share some tips with the SmartyPig audience on lessons they might use with the children and grandchildren in their lives.
Q. Do you have any guidance for SmartyPig parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc., on what they should know or be aware of when it comes to teaching kids, especially young kids, about money?
A. Absolutely. Here are five critical things to know.
- Kids are going to learn about money, regardless of whether adults choose to consciously teach them about it. This happens for several reasons. One, kids are “24-7” learning and mimicking machines. They are observing, listening to and absorbing clues from birth and possibly before birth, while in the womb. All they see and hear, right or wrong, they use to form feelings, attitudes and habits about everything, including money. One gets the first inkling of this phenomenon at around age 3 or 4, when magically, a child utters the words, “Mama, Dad-da give me or buy me this or that.”
- What parents need to decide is if they are going to take charge of their child’s financial education. Begin to consciously teach them about money or just let whatever is seeded into their kids mental and feeling circuitry happen unsupervised. Seeds emanate from a variety of sources including parents themselves, family members, friends, consumer product advertisers, etc.
- Education is a process. Mastery requires repetition. Start a child’s financial education early, before bad habits take root. A University of Cambridge study reflects adult money habits and attitudes are set by age 7!
- Kids seem to learn best by doing. So, provide them as much opportunity as possible to participate in the learning process as opposed to employing a lecture, listen and learn strategy.
- Stress habit formation.
Q. What should parents teach young kids about money?
A. You want to introduce kids to and teach them the basics. The basics will lay a stable foundation that will set kids up for sustained success throughout their lives. The basics include: saving, earning, spending smart, giving and compound interest. Build from there. You want them to develop planning, goal setting, choice-making, prioritizing, tracking and measuring skills (budgeting). Then keep adding topics like inflation, investing, taxes, credit, insurance and so on.
That said, by far the most important money lesson an adult can teach a child is to make a habit of saving. Learning to make a habit of saving money has multiple benefits. Saving teaches the following and more:
- Delayed gratification
- Planning of money choices
- Goal setting
Additionally, saving builds confidence and self-esteem. Saving is something kids can and should do starting with pennies, nickels, and dimes!
Q. Do you have any tips for parents on how to teach kids about money?
A. Yes. Here are six Sammy Rabbit “Gold Karat” tips.
- Start by investing time in writing down and defining the money values you want to teach and instill in kids. Minimally, develop one sentence statements on saving, investing, spending, earning and giving. They can be as simple as “The Lee’s love to save money.” “The Lee’s invest every chance they get.” “The Lee’s are smart spenders.” “The Lee’s give wisely.” “The Lee’s love to work and earn money.”
Keep your statements simple and easy to understand. Live your money values. Be the best role model you can be. And, even if you are not a good role model, muscle up and share your money values generously anyway.
- Help and have kids get in the habit of saving money! Put a transparent savings jar in their room. Place it somewhere visible. Make deposits to it regularly. Have kids participate in the process. Have them decorate and personalize their savings jar. The process can start with pennies. Celebrate saving. Periodically shake that savings bank. Do a happy dance. Give your kid a high-five. Routinize and ritualize the process. And when the savings reaches a set amount, be sure to deposit the savings together in a SmartyPig account.
- Have a family savings jar. Perhaps use a large water bottle. Implement some of the same techniques described above in two. Have a monthly family meeting where you separate and count your family savings as well as discuss plans and goals on how to use the savings.
- Involve kids in activities like grocery shopping. Have kids make lists. Have kids cut coupons. Have kid’s comparison shop. Have kids assist making payments as long as it does not inconvenience others. Have kids keep and organize receipts.
- Read storybooks, sing songs, play games, listen to television, radio and online programs about money together. Have discussions about all of them.
- Give your kids plenty of earning opportunities. Have them organize papers or coupons. Have them wash cars. Help them walk and/or wash neighbors’ pets. Inject enthusiasm and the Sammy Rabbit “earning money is fun to do” spirit into the process. My dad helped me establish a lawn cutting route and often worked with me mowing the lawns. Those are memories I cherish to this day. Your kids will too.
Q. In your experience, what gets kids excited about learning about money?
A. Authenticity. Enthusiasm. Effort. Incentives – rewards. Challenges. Contests. Arousing learners’ curiosity. Questions. Interaction – learning by doing!
Q. Do you have any resources on your website that families should check out?
A. Yes. The SmartyPig audience and everyone are welcome to visit SammyRabbit.com. There they will find a wealth of Sammyriffic resources, free and low cost, that include storybooks, activities, songs, services and experiences. Everyone, at a minimum, should definitely listen to our signature song with the kids in their lives. It is titled: Get in the Habit! It is filled with joy and knowledge. And, it will definitely get stuck in everyone’s heads and hearts!
About Sam X Renick
Sam X Renick is an award-winning financial educator and the driving force behind SammyRabbit.com. For over 20 years, Sam has been dedicated to improving children’s financial literacy. He has read and sung off-key with over a quarter million children around the world, encouraging them to get in the habit of saving money as well as daring them to dream and do big one step at a time. In the process Sam has created the world’s largest collection of music on money habits and developed an enormous library of activities and resources to make it easy for parents, educators and community leaders to teach kids great money habits beginning as early as age three. If you have met, read or experienced his creations you know his boundless enthusiasm and expertise regarding the subject matter! Contact with Sam at his website or via email at contact@SammyRabbit.com
Please note, Sam X Renick was compensated by Sallie Mae for this article but the views and opinions expressed herein are his own.