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, parenting expert Dr. Denny Coates shares the most important money lesson he learned as a child — as well as a tip for parents and teachers — with Renick.

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.

Dr. Denny Coates: When I was 15, I wanted a set of golf clubs — the best money could buy. In today's money, the clubs would cost several thousand dollars.

I knew I would have to buy them myself, so I saved every penny I earned.

Eventually I was able to buy them.

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.

Coates: The habit is a work ethic — to work to earn money for what you want, not to talk your parents into buying it for you. Why? Because that’s how it works in the adult world.

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 that the “give mes” set in? What does this mean for families, schools, and the financial-education industry?

Coates: It means that financial literacy skills need to be learned experientially, starting as soon as a child is old enough to talk.

Discover more about Dr. Denny Coates at his website.