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 (creator of Sammy Rabbit) on a series of short interviews, videos, and tips. In this installment, Jonathan Clements — financial writer and former director of financial education for Citi Personal Wealth Management — tells Renick the most important money lesson he learned as a child, as well as a tip for teaching kids about money.
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.
Jonathan Clements: My two brothers, my sister, and I are all careful with money. I trace this to a story we heard repeatedly as children.
Storytelling is a great way to pass values down through the generations, and our family’s story was a whopper.
My maternal grandfather, along with his four siblings, inherited what today would be millions of dollars. All of them ran through the money they received. My grandfather spent his inheritance on one financially unsuccessful farm after another.
As grandchildren, we all saw the result. In retirement, they lived in a house they couldn't afford to keep up, and their lack of money was a constant topic of conversation. The message was loud and clear: Be careful with your money, or this is how you'll end up.
Renick: If you could teach a child only one money habit, what would it be? Briefly explain why.
Clements: Without a doubt, the most important lesson a child can learn is the ability to delay gratification. If you don't have the discipline to say no to every immediate pleasure or offer, your struggles won't only concern limiting your spending. A lack of self-control is also associated with difficulties in school, career struggles, obesity, and addiction.
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?
Clements: This is a tough one because so much of our behavior is driven by hardwired instincts. In an effort to counteract those instincts, I believe it's important to encourage children to make financial choices from an early age.
When we are kids, everything is bought for us, so everything appears to be free.
To overcome this, I constantly pushed my children to make financial choices. I would give them $5 to spend on the school field trip but tell them that if they didn't spend the $5 at the nature center's gift shop, they could spend it on something else when they got home.
I also used the soda game. When we went out to eat, I'd give them a choice: You can order a soda, or you can drink water and have $1. Suddenly, my children weren't spending my money but their own, and that made them much more conscious about the financial tradeoff involved in every expenditure.
Invest one evening in a family reading or game night, when your TV, phones, and other digital devices are all turned off for a four-hour period.
Did you know? Research from Annie Murphy Paul’s “marshmallow test” found that kids were quickly and easily distracted from tasks even though they were being watched. Texting and social media were two of the main sources of distraction.
Discover more about Jonathan Clements at the HumbleDollar.