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. The husband-and-wife authors of America’s Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money, Steve and Annette Economides, tell Renick the most important money lessons they learned as children and share a tip for financial education for kids.

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.

Annette Economides: The most important money habit I learned as a child was to take any job that comes your way. Consequently, I did a lot of babysitting, delivered Avon products for a neighbor, and worked a phone bank for a political campaign. I also learned that unwanted, used items could be sold, and I made a lot of money doing that.

Steve Economides: I learned to work with my dad. He owned a commercial photo studio. I worked there on some weekends during the school year and during the summers. He created a savings matching program I called a 401(dad) plan. He would match dollar for dollar anything I put in the bank.

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By saving consistently, I was able to afford to go to a top-rated gymnastics camp the summer of my sophomore year in high school. The next year, I worked at the camp and received the training for free. Those two summers of gymnastics camp earned me a college scholarship to a Division 1 school.

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.

Annette: Teaching a child to have a strong work ethic. To look for things that can be done and to be insightful about what needs to be done. The harder you work, the more valuable you become. When our kids were working in their teenage years, they were the first ones to be called by their employer when a shift needed to be filled. They were reliable and hard workers.

Steve: To know that working hard and working smart are invaluable skills. When you start off, you get paid for what you do, but if you do more than you’re paid for, eventually you’ll be paid for more than you do!

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?

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Annette: Kids do learn entitlement from a very early age. It’s important to help your children know that the world does not revolve around them, but that they are very important contributors to it. Kids need to learn delayed gratification, starting in the toddler stage. Children are very smart and can grasp these types of concepts more readily than we think they can.

Steve: We started teaching our kids the connection between working and earning and saving and spending at the age of three. We created a family economy that consisted of earning points each day. It included:

  • Morning point: Get dressed, make your bed, and eat breakfast without complaining.
  • Chore point: Do your assigned chore (selected from our family chore chart). Do it well and with a good attitude.
  • School point: Do your homework (or home-school work) well and without complaining.
  • Roundup point: At the end of the day, go through the house and pick up anything you’ve left laying around.

On Sunday we did “Payday.” The kids would total the points they earned for the week, and we would pay them a predetermined amount per point.

As they got older, the amount per point increased, but so did their financial responsibilities.

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Sometime between ages 9 and 11, they received a raise but needed to start buying their own clothes. Then, as they earned more, they started paying for their sports and recreational activities. Eventually, when they got their first job and started driving, they paid for their own auto insurance.

Our goal was to prepare them to live financially independently from us. And it worked. Our kids went to college and paid for it with money they saved and scholarships they earned. They paid for their own cars, cell phones, and computers.

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Their sense of accomplishment is unrivaled among their peers. They have a financial confidence that we didn’t have when we were growing up.

Discover more about Steve and Annette Economides at Money Smart Family.