Show Them the Money

Teaching kids at an early age how to manage money could be one of life’s best lessons.

By Ron Epstein

Kid Saving His MoneyI had a roommate in college who worked as a teacher’s aide, and every other Friday when he got paid he would cash his check, come back to our dorm and say, “Who’s going to help me spend this?”

This went on throughout the semester, and I finally asked him why he didn’t invest his money or, at the very least, just stick in a bank account. He looked at me, thought for a second and said, “I don’t know. In my family, we’ve just always spent our money.”

That’s a dangerous habit. Even in the best economic times, it’s prudent to save at least a portion of the money you earn.

Financial planning can put you and your family on more secure footing as you look to the years ahead. Money habits are formed early, according to financial-planning experts, who offer tips and tools to help you start your kids on a path of financial stability.

How and when do you start that teaching process?

Yvette Meneses, a Tuition Field Consultant with TIAA-CREF Tuition Financing, which manages the popular ScholarShare program that offers a variety of financial services for families, says that children are ready to grasp financial concepts beginning in the second or third grade.

“It’s important to their growth,” she says from her office in Pasadena. “Teach the concept of compound interest – having your money work for you. It’ll open a door to have children become future investors. Not just how to spend it, but how to save it, and save it wisely.”

Here’s an easy way to start: Take your child to the bank. Bank of America, Bank of the West, Chase, Citibank, Union Bank, Wells Fargo and most credit unions have programs to help kids understand the value of money. So show your kids around. Explain what goes on at the bank, and even introduce them to the tellers and a financial advisor.

If you do your banking online, have your kids sit with you and show them the website you use. Explain to them what you’re doing, be it paying bills or tracking your investments.

Pierre Habis, Senior Executive Vice President, Head of Community Banking at Union Bank, sees the value in sharing the banking experience with children.

“It’s extremely important for a lot of reasons,” he says, “Like any activity a parent passes along to their children, it stays with them. Money discipline will stay with them as they get older. The problem we have in this country is that we don’t have that, and it’s difficult for kids to catch up.”

Union Bank, which donated $250 savings bonds to each of the three winners of L.A. Parent’s 2013 Shooting Stars Cover Kids Contest, offers piggy banks to families that visit one of its 69 branches in Los Angeles County, and recently debuted a free financial planning app that, Habis says, is an ideal way for parents and kids to share the financial experience.

It allows children to get an allowance for selected activities,” he says. “Parents create a wish list using the app, children see the wish list, and parents assign a value to whatever item or activity they feel is appropriate.”

More Cool Tools

In a physical piggy bank or a virtual one, saving is a good practice.

Oink ( is an e-commerce site that enables kids to manage their money within a parent-controlled environment. The company is based in Hermosa Beach, and its program works like this: A family signs up for the website, creating profiles for each child. Parents can add credit cards, approve spending limits or specific retailers, and set a goal for charitable contributions or savings. When the child goes to a parent-approved online retailer, he or she can pay by clicking on the Oink button on the checkout screen. The parent receives an alert – via email or mobile device – allowing them knowledge of the purchase and final approval.

“Oink tries to make it easy and fun,” says Joanne Wong, Vice President of Marketing for Oink. “We really built it to be flexible. Parents have different styles of parenting and levels of comfort, so we made it very flexible to choose their level of (financial) restraint.”

Meneses says grandparents can play a big role, too.

“A lot of our clients are grandparents (who open accounts for grandchildren), and they have a copy of the statement sent to the child,” she says. “It’s really a good idea.”

Teach the Basics

Kids love to get mail, so receiving a statement from the bank with their name on it may not only interest them, but open the door for you to teach them what the statement means.

“It’s always good to know how to manage your money,” Meneses says. “We are what our credit score is. That’s how we’re valued in America. Being able to understand that value at an early age will allow this child to go a long way in their future.”

She adds, “I really wish it was something they taught in elementary school (and on into high school). You need to know how to write a check, balance an account. And not just one time.”


Ron Epstein is Publisher of L.A. Parent.


Money Management Websites

Spend a few minutes online and you’ll find some excellent websites (in addition to the business referenced above) that make understanding the value of money easy. Free sites such as, and, and the subscription site are objective – meaning not supported by one particular financial institution.

You’ll also find helpful (and free), but note that it’s owned by Northwest Mutual Insurance Company.

Then there’s this one: Money Munchkids, a financial literacy course aimed at 5-8-year-olds that teaches children about basic financial terms and principles. It was founded earlier this year by L.A. resident Victoria May Khaze, who put together an eight-hour interactive, child-oriented course spread over four to eight weeks, offered at area schools and other locations. The curriculum covers checking and saving accounts, debit and credit cards, deposits and withdrawals, budgeting, income and expenses, and the fee for the series is $200. Visit for details.


Union Bank Group at SchoolLAUSD and Union Bank Open Student-Run Branches

Union Bank is taking financial literacy to a new level.

The bank, in partnership with the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education, will open two Los Angeles student-run branches – one at Crenshaw High School and one at Abraham Lincoln High School – later this year as part of a program designed to provide students with financial education and work experience.

Union Bank opened its first student-run branch in 2011 in Fresno at McLane High School. Thirty student bankers have graduated from the program and four are currently employed by Union Bank in the Central Valley.

Located on the schools’ campuses, the full-service branches will be staffed by student bankers, who will have an opportunity to acquire financial skills and the hands-on experience of working in a bank. Traditional banking products and services will be available to students, school staff, school administrators and teachers, and Union Bank will establish a parents’ academy at each school that will offer financial education, in English and Spanish, for parents and guardians of the students at each high school.

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