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, Brett Whysel, entrepreneur and founder of the financial-wellness company Decision Fish, tells Renick the most important money lesson he 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.

Brett Whysel: In elementary school, kids were asked to raise money for the PTA by selling greeting cards door-to-door in our leafy suburban neighborhood. While I may have been a reasonably cute 9-year-old, there was still plenty of rejection and unanswered doorbells.

But there was also the thrill of making a sale, knowing that I was contributing to my school. Ever since then, I’ve maintained a habit of looking to create value as an entrepreneur — both independently and within companies.

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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.

Whysel: The most important habit that I teach my children is to spend intentionally, skeptically, and mindfully — not automatically.

We are bombarded by ever more sophisticated and persuasive marketing messages whose truth is unknown.

The messages and the media over that get delivered are engineered and optimized by Ph.D data and behavioral scientists for maximum profitability — not necessarily for the consumers’ benefit. So I hope my kids are learning to do their own research and buy what they can afford, deliberately and thoughtfully.

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A 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?

Whysel: Insofar as money habits are learned earlier, parents, schools, and the financial education industry will need to apply age-appropriate methods to teaching good money habits. For very young children, reading and other activities will need to reflect their cognitive and emotional development.

Parents in particular ought to start demonstrating good money habits even before their children are born. This will help them provide for their children and authentically teach good habits as soon as their kids are able to learn them.

Discover more about Brett Whysel at the Decision Fish website.