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How grandparents can help raise money savvy kids

Trivia Game

My granddad showed me Black Beauty, the “piggy bank” from when he was a child. I asked him when he started saving in Black Beauty. He stared at me for a second and replied, “You know, I can’t recall ever NOT saving in her.”

Talk about the greatest generation. His depression era roots have never left him, but somewhere along the way, the attention to saving and living within our means seems to have left many of us.

I think this is where the grandparents can play a key role. Much has been said of the baby boomers, that they are the generation that lost its way from a financial literacy perspective – spending and consuming into the teeth of the Great Recession.

What hasn’t been said as much, is the potential for this generation to help the youngest generation in our society potentially avoid the financial issues that so many parents and grandparents now face.

One big key is communication between grandparents and parents. When we had kids, we talked with my mom about curtailing the endless trail of gifts that grandparents often bestow upon unwitting grandkids (and parents). We told her – and the rest of the family – that we’d like to turn the focus away from ‘stuff’ and onto ‘quality’. My mom quickly responded by working within the structure of the three-jar system we setup with our kids.

When our kids receive their weekly allowance, for example, they are required to divvy it up. Our seven-year-old gets seven dollars, with two going into her Save Jar, one into her Share Jar and the rest to be sorted at her discretion – the Spend Smart Jar, for immediate purchases or the other two jars.

We even incentivize, something I learned from youth finance expert, grandfather and author of Allowance Magic, David McCurrach. For every dollar they drop into the Save jar, we pay them an additional quarter. They learn that money saved can grow. The overall system helps build good habits early by impressing upon them the need to make smart money choices each time they handle money.

So now my mom sends cards with money that is sorted and labeled to tell her grandkids into which jar the amounts should go. She actually breaks hers into thirds so she’s probably emphasizing the importance of saving and sharing better than we are.

I created The Money Mammals program to take a dry subject, financial literacy, and make it exciting for kids. We help “prime the pump” for further money learning with, for example, an allowance. Grandparents can also embrace this approach. Share your stories, successes and failures alike, with your grandkids. Open up a dialogue. Communicate with them about money.

It’s so important that we all work to break the taboos that surround open discussion of money within the family. Help your grandkids become “money comfortable.” Grandparents can even help reluctant parents – delicately, of course – address the subject.

I’m hopeful that grandparents can also fess up to mistakes that they may have made with doling out allowance to their kids.

Despite the fact that most money experts disagree with the approach, most parents still tie allowance to chores – because that’s how they were given an allowance. It’s understandable because parents don’t like to give out money for nothing.

When parents realize, though, that allowance is a tool to teach kids about making smart money choices, they realize that it’s not money for nothing. It’s an investment in financial education. Therein lies the opportunity for grandparents – to reeducate their kids. If they provided an allowance that was tied to chores, they can talk to their kids about a new and better approach they’ve learned.

Grandparents can also be very influential in helping kids to better use their Share jar money. Our allowance program calls for money in the Share jar to be donated to charity. Without a meaningful connection to a charity, kids very often would rather channel that money into a goal for which they are saving or, of course, into the Spend Smart jar to engage in some immediate gratification.

Many seniors are heavily involved in very meaningful charities, many at the local level. Talk to your grandkids about what you do and encourage them to find a charity that is personally meaningful. Take them with you when you’re engaging in charitable endeavors. Show them a check you might be writing to a favorite cause.

If we all work together – grandparents, parents and grandkids – perhaps we can help raise a money smart, “money comfortable” generation of kids. My Granddad (the one who couldn’t remember NOT saving money) gave me some sage advice after I graduated college. “Live beneath your means.” Can’t we all imagine a world with less focus on conspicuous consumption? A world in which financial illiteracy is abnormal… If we work together and heed my grandfather’s advice, I can.•

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John Lanza is the Chief Mammal at Snigglezoo Entertainment, Creator of the Dr. Toy award-winning ‘Money Mammals’ DVD & book, ‘Joe the Monkey Saves for a Goal’ that helps kids learn to ‘Share & Save & Spend Smart Too.’ His newest book, ‘Joe the Monkey Learns to Share’, was just published. John also runs ‘The Money Mammals, Saving Money Is Fun Kids Club’ for credit unions nationwide and blogs, tweets and writes often about youth financial literacy. Find out more at

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