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, Paul Curley, director of college savings research at Strategic Insight, tells Renick a money lesson he learned as a child and shares advice 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 tell us about impact it has had on you throughout your life.

Paul Curley: My grandparents used to own and manage the Sea Shell Motel, near Misquamicut Beach in Westerly, Rhode Island. Growing up, my brother Joe and I would go there most summers for a month or two at a time. In Westerly, several arcades, ice cream shops, and beach stores and a go-kart racetrack gave us plenty of ways to spend money.

My grandmother taught us to love working and helping the family by giving us quarters to do errands.

Therefore, the most important habit that I learned was to work hard to create opportunities to live a great life. As a result, I have a growth mentality and a strong work ethic that helps my family live the life that we want.

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.

Curley: Spend less than you earn. The most important financial lesson is to live happily within your means. All too often we lose sight of how much we make and end up spending more than that. Living within your means was easier years ago. Of course, when I was a child, I was using quarters from actual piggy banks to play arcade games. Today, people use online banks and credit cards to buy from online stores, which has resulted in an all-time high in U.S. household debt. Therefore, be mindful and don’t spend more than you make.

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 me’s” set in? What does this mean for families, schools, and the financial education industry?

Curley: Culture, family, and a person’s surroundings are important factors in determining financial awareness and understanding. The sooner we all understand this concept, the earlier we can start to help children get on the right track to financial independence, wellness, and freedom. As such, schools need to provide programs and training to help instill financial education and understanding as early as possible. And the financial-education industry needs to create, implement, and/or support these types of crucial programs as well.

Discover more about Paul at Strategic Insight.