John Loper: “Don’t Spend It If You Don’t Have It”
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, John Loper, certified financial planner and managing director of professional practice for CFP Board, tells Renick some of his childhood money memories and shares advice for teaching kids about money.
Childhood Money Lessons
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 the impact it has had on you throughout your life.
John Loper: The most important money habit I learned as a child was “Don’t spend it if you don’t have it.” My family took modest vacations and rarely went out to eat, and we packed our lunches.
Further Reading: “Making an Affordable Family Vacation Can Actually Add to the Fun”
The Most Important Money Lesson to Teach Kids
Renick: If you could teach a child only one money habit, what would it be? Please explain why.
Loper: Save! Teaching a child to save — even if it’s a little bit — establishes good habits. Americans have historically been bad savers, so it’s good to develop the saving habit at a young age.
Renick: What was your biggest money mistake as a child or teenager?
Loper: The biggest mistake I made as a teenager was to have my income exactly meet my expenses. That is, after paying for my car, gas, and insurance, and spending the little that was left over on having fun, I wasn’t able to save. When you put away money first and make it a priority, saving happens.
Smart Money Decisions
Renick: What was one of the smartest money decisions you made as a child or a teenager?
Loper: One of the smartest things I did when I was young was to start reading about personal finance. I read everything I could get my hands on and started to research my decisions as they related to personal finance.
Teaching Kids About Money
Renick: A variety of surveys indicate that it’s a challenge for parents to talk to kids about money. What would you say are one or two of the primary reasons that parents find teaching kids about money to be difficult? And if you have a suggestion as to how they can overcome the obstacle, please share that, as well.
Loper: Parents don’t talk to children about money because they aren’t happy with their own decisions or they think their finances are private and don’t want to share the information.
My best suggestion to parents is to start talking to kids about money at a young age.
The younger you start the conversation, the easier it is to continue the conversation.
Personal Finance in Schools
Renick: Why do you believe there isn’t more personal finance being taught in schools? Do you think personal finance should be taught in schools? Why or why not?
Loper: Because it’s personal finance, most schools think parents are teaching it at home. And some parents think it’s being covered in school. For some children, it’s not being taught in either place. Personal finance should absolutely be taught in schools, and everyone should learn the basics — for example, checking and savings accounts, budgeting, and so on.
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 mes” set in? What does this mean for families, schools, and the financial education industry?
Loper: If the research is wrong, it means that teaching personal finance in the schools becomes even more imperative. As with a lot of other things, money habits and behaviors are often modeled by adults. Sometimes the modeling is good, other times not so good. Children need to be taught the right ways to save, budget, and plan. Sometimes the person at home is not the best teacher.
Make a deposit to your savings account and have your kids do the same.
Discover more about John Loper on LinkedIn.