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, Mercedes Eggleton-Garcia, vice president of global community relations for Mastercard, tells Renick her childhood money memories and shares advice on teaching kids about money.
Sam X Renick: What is the most important money habit you learned as a child? Please share how you learned the habit and what impact it's had on you throughout your life.
Mercedes Eggleton-Garcia: The habits we learn are not always necessary good habits. Bad habits can also teach you. What I learned was that you have to work hard to have money. Money was usually limited at home. I now believe that it’s not only about working hard, but also about being smart with your money and making the best of it by using all the tools available to you.
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Renick: If you could teach a child only one money habit, what would it be? Please explain why.
Eggleton-Garcia: I’d teach him or her to look at all the alternatives that are available to protect and grow your money.
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Renick: What was your biggest money mistake as a child or a teenager?
Eggleton-Garcia: It was a mistake for me to be content with the weekly allowance I received from my father and not explore other sources of income.
Renick: What was one of the smartest money decisions you made as a child or a teenager?
Eggleton-Garcia: I started to work early, at the same time I was studying and learning new things — for instance, other languages — that would help me make more money in the future.
Renick: A variety of surveys indicate that teaching kids about money is a challenge for parents. What would you say are one or two of the primary reasons parents find it difficult to talk personal finance with their children?
Eggleton-Garcia: First, I think mothers and fathers underestimate children’s understanding of money and the responsibilities that go with it. Second, parents might not really understand those things themselves. Therefore, they may be making tons of mistakes in the way they handle the family’s budget.
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Renick: Do you have a suggestion about how they can overcome that challenge?
Eggleton-Garcia: Parents need to realize that children are a great resource for improving the family’s finances. Have kids take responsibility; understand their role as part of the family — being careful with expenses, helping to save money, turning off lights, and so on; and find opportunities to bring more money into the family.
Money matters have been a taboo topic for a long time. The father used to be in charge of the family finances, and nobody could question how things were being managed or know how much was coming in and going out. That needs to change. All the members of a family need to be involved and have a role in the family’s financial success.
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?
Eggleton-Garcia: I absolutely agree with the research. Children are a lot smarter than we think and get things right away. The earlier they learn, the better.
Renick: What does this mean for families, schools, and the financial education industry?
Eggleton-Garcia: Financial education should be a critical part of education in general, just as any other traditional subject is.
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