Last week during a Target trip with my 8-year-old son, I began to question our future generation’s perception of money. As I was thinking (out loud) if I really needed everything we tossed into our red cart, my son responded, “Mommy, you can get everything you want, just use your card.” Quickly and dramatically I then ditched 90% of what was in our cart (well I did need a few things) and explained right then and there how many hours of work each necessity would “cost my card.” NOT using my inside voice I shrieked “This small lamp? Converts to 1.5 hours of my pay. This Lego birthday present for your friend? Yep, that’s another half hour! These super cute file folders and Star Wars shirt? Totally going back!!” His eyes were rolling and mine were bulging. How had I done such a poor job of laying a foundation with my son for sound financial decision making?
Queue the Wealthy Habits course offered by the Jonathon D. Rosen Family Foundation. The program for children teaching wise money management was founded right here, and Rosen has deep ties to our community. Jonathan Rosen is CEO of Entaire Global Companies Inc. in Dunwoody. Former Dunwoody mayor, Mike Davis serves on Wealthy Habits’ board of trustees. “I met Jonathan early in my term as mayor. He was one of the corporate leaders I met with daily in my effort to better understand why all these companies have settled in Dunwoody and what as a city we can do to keep them here,” says Davis. “Jonathan and I immediately hit it off and shared stories of all the people we have known who weren’t making the effort to save for retirement. It’s frightening to realize how many adults don’t take even minimum advantage of their employers 401k plans.”
Executive Director Tracy Tanner was kind enough to tell me more.
Tanner explains that the goal of the Wealthy Habits program is to help build financial awareness and responsibilities within middle and high school aged students in a FUN and interactive manner. Fresh off my Target showdown that was anything but “fun,” I ask her how they make this exciting for the kids. Her friendly smile lights up with my question, and she tells me about one of the games kids play where they are given a salary and then have to decide what they will spend it on. She goes on to tell me at first the kids think, “Whoah $45,000 a year,” but quickly realize how fast it goes (especially the percentage straight to taxes!).
Offering one- to five-day programs, both during the week and weekends predominantly in the summer, local families are lining up to help their kids. Rosen Foundation day camps routinely have waiting lists because at camp, get kids into cool conversations at even cooler destinations like the Federal Reserve building. With nominal fees, The Rosen Family Foundation, with the support of corporate and personal donors, is trying to make the program affordable. Scholarships are offered, too.
Topics range from earning money and paying expenses to budgeting, saving, credit and debt to owning your own business, and paying taxes. The course actively plays out every situation and requires the students to create their own financial scenarios, such as coming up with a budget and calculating 20.9% interest on a $10,000 credit card balance. By the end of the course it’s crystal clear to graduates exactly how the financial choices they make will impact their future.
Besides the week and weekend programs during the summer, Wealthy Habits also partners with schools and universities, and is on a mission to educate teachers so that they can use the curriculum into schools.
Wealthy Habits is definitely working to change one student at a time, giving them tools and knowledge for handing their money. “I’m a huge believer in the need for financial literacy and have been dismayed at how little people understand the basic concepts of saving and compound interest. Starting early with teenagers is the right time to learn these truths,” says Mike Davis.
As for my son, I’ll be the first in line when it’s time for him to learn to shop…I mean, manage his finances.