Teaching common cents

Grants Pass dad Larry Bolint has a checklist of what to teach his kids before they leave for college: good study habits; defensive driving; community service and financial health.

“We have to try to give our kids all the tools they need to become functioning, independent adults who have the financial wherewithal to be successful,” the retired engineer says.

The Money Mammals

The Money Mammals have a problem. Joe The Monkey and Piggs the Bank spent their allowance on a coveted trading card instead of saving it to buy a birthday present for Clara Camel. They find a solution by returning the trading cards to the store and buying a red straw hat for their friend.

“I love the sound of saving money, don’t you?” the pig puppet says as the coins enter his belly.

Animals telling stories that encourage children to save, share and spend wisely is what creator John Lanza calls The Money Mammals. He brought his puppet show to Kids Unlimited in Medford recently for the launch of a new kids savings club at Rogue Federal Credit Union. The event drew 148 kids and 60 parents.

“We’re using the same entertainment used by Disney and Nickelodeon to teach kids about the value of money,” says the Los Angeles producer and director. “I’d rather have our kids running around the house singing songs about ‘saving, sharing and spending smart’ than singing goofy songs they hear on television.”

Jacksonville mother Nancy Shields brought her three sons ages 3, 4 and 8 to see The Money Mammals to help reinforce a message she teaches at home.

“We give our 8-year-old an allowance and encourage him to save it, which he does until we go to Target and he sees something he wants,” Shields says. “It’s such a challenge for adults too, saving instead of spending. I struggle to know how to explain this concept to my children.”

Gene Pelham, RFCU president and CEO, wishes The Money Mammals would have been around when he was a young parent.

“John Lanza has a great way of teaching his two daughters to save and spend wisely,” Pelham says. “I read his newsletter for parents and I wish it would have been around when my kids were little.”

Lanza says he and his wife, Eileen, were inspired while driving to Southern California’s Big Bear Lake with their first baby. They talked about wanting to teach their children to be financially healthy, but they couldn’t find resources. So they decided to create their own.

Using his background as producer and director of the Emmy Award-winning television show “Life With Louie,” Lanza worked with his brother Mark and songwriter friend Randall Crissman to invent The Money Mammals. Besides the traveling puppet show, there’s a DVD with eight songs, including “I’m Frugal” and “Saving Money Really Rules.” There’s also a Web site with games, music, crafts and more.

“It doesn’t matter how old you are. It’s never too late to learn the message of saving, sharing and spending smart,” Lanza says.

The Money Mammals DVDs are available at Amazon.com, Net Flicks or on the Web site www.clubmoneymammals.com. 

More resources for parents:

Parents can find free teaching resources at www.jumpstart.org/search.cfm;

Young people can find help with jobs, budgets, cars, rents and more at www.choicenerds.com.

Before he sent daughter Amanda, 19, to the University of Portland, he signed her up for classes at Rogue Federal Credit Union in Medford. He did the same with son Bryan, 18, to teach him about managing checking accounts, credit, savings plans and identity theft.
“Our kids got the theory of personal finance at school, but not the nuts and bolts, the street knowledge they needed to help protect them from debt or identity theft predators,” Bolint says.

Busy families sometimes neglect teaching kids about money management. But in Southern Oregon, parents have many resources, says Kerri Davis, RFCU community and education outreach coordinator.

“We teach our kids how to earn a paycheck, but we don’t teach them what to do with the paycheck once they get it,” Davis says. “The three messages of financial education are saving, sharing and wise spending.”

Parents can start teaching their children about healthy finances early with Web site games. At www.usmint.gov, kids can play Dollar Drive, for example, to collect the correct change and prevent an attack of a sea monster. At www.clubmoneymammals.com, kids can learn the difference between need and want from Joe the Monkey.

Another money-teaching tool for children is “The Money Mammal” DVD created by John Lanza of Los Angeles. Lanza and Davis developed a kids’ club for credit unions based on the DVD characters. RFCU launched its chapter of the club in February.
“It is never too early to start,” says Davis, who teaches financial seminars to children, teens and young adults in the Rogue Valley.

By the time kids reach middle-school, they are ready to learn about earning power, goal setting, smart shopping, budgeting and credit, Davis says.

One student in a seminar Davis teaches for 12-to-14 year olds caught on quickly and started saving for an Xbox game console.
“I almost have enough money to buy it,” says 13-year-old Kyle Zerger of Eagle Point, son of Karen and Chad Zerger. “I learned if you start now, even if it’s little, you can save for something bigger. My long-term goal is saving for a small truck that gets good gas mileage.”

For high-school students, Davis teaches checking account basics, electronic services, a simple spending plan and credit and credit reports. In a follow-up program for young adults aged 19-24, she adds a session about identity theft. Her older students get a credit or debit card so they can learn responsible use under their parents’ supervision.

“On your first day of college, you will be inundated with credit card companies everywhere trying to sign you up,” Davis says. “Credit card companies are not necessarily your friends in college.”

Do financial classes make a difference? Yes, according to a recent RFCU report. Since Davis started teaching classes in 2004, one out of 350 students had uncollectible debt in the amount of $1,264. But of the 2,600 young customers who have not taken Davis’ class, 51 had uncollectible debts totaling $200,000.

Davis is motivated to teach money management to young people partly because she spent 13 years of her banking career trying to collect and recover negative accounts. She offered financial counseling to many families.

“We’ve seen a rise in young people getting into financial trouble,” she says. “Parents are not real knowledgeable about finances so that leads to their children not getting enough information.”

And sometimes parental advice sticks with teenagers only after they hear it from someone else.

“When my daughter took driver’s education, they assigned a project about financing a car,” says Bolint, the Grants Pass dad. “So Amanda went to Rogue Federal Credit Union for the research and they opened up our credit report and said, ‘You should follow your parents because they are doing something right.’ We liked hearing that so we signed her up for the classes. It helped prepare her for college.”