This special series is part of CentSai’s commitment to financial literacy at every level. We’re collaborating with financial-education advocate Sam X Renick on a series of short interviews, videos, and tips. In this installment, Rebecca Wiggins — the executive director of the Association for Financial Counseling & Planning — tells Renick the most important money lesson she learned as a child and shares a tip for teaching kids about money.

A Childhood Money Lesson

Sam X Renick: What is the most important money habit you learned as a child? Briefly share the story of how you learned the habit and what impact it has had on you throughout your life.

Rebecca Wiggins: As a child, I learned the importance of putting away money little by little to save up for bigger expenses. My parents worked hard to provide for us, and money was tight when we were young. I remember my mom putting money into envelopes so we could buy new clothes and shoes for back-to-school time.

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This taught us the importance of wants versus needs and how to save money.

It also demonstrated moderation and an understanding that there were limits to what we could do or have in order to achieve something greater down the road. Because of my upbringing, I try to be reasonable about purchases, look for sales, and stick with a spending plan that’s aligned with our goals for the future.

The Most Important Money Lesson to Teach Kids

Renick: If you could teach a child only one money habit, what would it be? Briefly explain why.

Wiggins: Restraint in consumerism, understanding value, and prioritizing wants and needs. This may help kids to learn to live simply and with purpose rather than seek fulfillment and meaning in material goods.

Final Thought: What if the Research is Wrong?

Renick: Cambridge University research indicates that adult money habits are set by age seven. What if the research is wrong and adult money habits are formed earlier, perhaps around the age the “give mes” set in? What does this mean for families, schools, and the financial education industry?

Wiggins: It means we have a lot of work to do in the financial services industry to combat marketing messages that tell us we need the next shiny thing; and that as parents, we have to model this behavior and talk about money as early as possible. Without a doubt, personal finance should be taught in K–12 curriculum and should be a mandatory requirement for graduation.

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