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, personal finance expert and columnist Cameron Huddleston tells Renick some of 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 the story of how you learned the habit and tell us about the impact it has had on you throughout your life.
Cameron Huddleston: My parents didn’t talk much about money when I was young. In fact, I don’t really remember them teaching me any lessons about money. As a result, I had to learn most of what I know on my own.
However, the fact that they didn’t teach me encouraged me to develop a good habit as an adult: teaching my own kids about money every opportunity I get. I don’t want to send my kids into the real world without personal finance skills, as my parents did with me. So I’ve been trying to teach them good money habits, such as saving, being frugal, and working to earn cash, since they were little.
Renick: At about what age did you realize that “money was money,” or that it had a value? Please share the circumstances or how the realization came about.
Huddleston: I think I started realizing the value of money when my parents started giving me an allowance. I got $1 a week. I wasn’t required to do any chores to get that money. And there weren’t any strings attached to my allowance, such as saving a percentage of it. However, I was really into model horses. So I would save each dollar I got until I had enough to buy the models I wanted at the toy store. Each horse cost about $8, so it took a couple of months to save enough to buy each one.
Renick: If you could teach a child only one money habit, what would it be?
Huddleston: I want my kids to learn to be happy with what they have and not try to keep up with their peers — or the Joneses — when they grow up. Always longing for what others have can lead to overspending, debt, and a slew of other money woes.
I’ve been telling my two oldest children for years that there will always be people who have more — just as there will be people who have less — than they do, and that they should be grateful for what they do have. They seem to get it.
My son, on the other hand, still always wants what other kids have. He’s 6 years old, though, so I’m hoping he’ll improve with age and my constant reminders.
Renick: What was your biggest money mistake as a child or a teenager?
Huddleston: My biggest mistake happened in my late teens. My mom gave me a credit card when I went to college, and I wasn’t responsible with it. She told me it was for emergencies, but I remember using it to buy clothes.
Renick: What was one of the smartest money decisions you made as a child or a teenager?
Huddleston: My dad didn’t want me to get a part-time job when I was in high school because he wanted me to focus on my schoolwork. But that didn’t stop me from finding ways to make my own money. I got babysitting gigs and taught diving lessons at the pool in the summer. Being able to earn money on my own certainly gave me a sense of pride. And it felt good having my own money rather than having to ask my parents for cash.
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 about personal finance with their children? And if you have a suggestion on how they can overcome the obstacle, please share that as well.
Huddleston: I think many parents are uncomfortable talking to their kids about personal finance because they don’t have a good grasp of it themselves.
As a journalist with more than 15 years of experience writing about personal finance, I’ve seen countless surveys showing that a large percentage of Americans don’t manage their finances well. They’re deep in debt and have little to no savings, and many don’t even understand basic money concepts.
It’s important for parents, though, to teach their kids about personal finance because it’s often not taught in school.
Mothers and fathers can start by educating themselves. There are plenty of free websites that are great resources for personal finance advice, such as the one I write for, GoBankingRates. Parents also can check out personal finance books at the public library for free.
Renick: Why do you believe more personal finance isn’t being taught in schools? Do you think personal finance should be taught?
Huddleston: I think more personal finance should be taught in schools. But with three kids in public school, I understand why it’s not being taught. Schools have limited financial resources, so the focus has to be on the core curriculum on which students are tested. There’s just not enough money in most school districts’ budgets to provide funding for personal finance programs.
Renick: Cambridge University research indicates that adult money habits are set by age 7. 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?
Huddleston: For families, it means that parents need to start teaching their kids about good money habits from the time they are very young. This means being willing to say no to your kids so they don’t become spoiled or feel entitled and carry that mindset into adulthood. For schools, that research suggests that financial education should start in kindergarten. It could be as simple as requiring teachers to read aloud a few books, such as It’s a Habit, Sammy Rabbit, throughout the school year to introduce kids to basic money concepts.
Renick: Are there any additional thoughts you would like to share or questions you would like the audience and me to consider?
Huddleston: I’m trying not to repeat the mistakes my parents made with me when it comes to money. I want my children to learn to be financially responsible from a young age. I feel as if I’m off to a good start, but the education is ongoing.
Have a money conversation with your kids and share one great money habit with them.