When is it too soon to start learning about the value of dollars and cents? Girls as young as six are being introduced to basic money concepts in The Girls Inc. economic literacy program, which aims to grow a generation of smart, empowered female investors. Girls Inc. is a non-profit organization with locations throughout the U.S., as well as a handful in Ontario and Alberta. To find a location, click here.
It's a goal good as gold, considering research shows that while adult women make the majority of household spending decisions, they tend to take a backseat when it comes to investing, letting someone else - an employer, financial adviser or spouse - make those decisions. This study comparing high-income men and women found that women are less likely than men to be regular or involved investors or to describe themselves as being confident or knowledgeable about investing.
Girls in the program range in age from six to 18 and learn in stages. They start with the basics - how to distinguish needs from wants, why money is important - and move on to the more advanced - rent versus own, equal pay for equal work and, of course, investing.
Let's face it. With all its acronyms and abbreviations, investing can be an area of personal finance that seems complicated, confusing, and - if you're not tied to what's happening - boring. That's why selected U.S. cities with Girls Inc. programs recently launched an investment challenge (still in its pilot stage) that helps girls feel more invested in their moneymaking and management decisions.
Participating teams of girls, aged 12 to 18, get hands-on investing experience as they build and manage diversified, real-time portfolios. Each group starts a virtual portfolio worth $20,000. Besides scoring knowledge and confidence, the budding investors get to keep the gains in the form of college scholarships.
Your kids could also test out stock simulators at sites like www.investopedia.com. On this site your kids can play a variety of games to suit their investment levels and interests. To spark interest, try having your children select stocks in their favourite stores, places or restaurants.
For more online learning, girls 9 to 14 years old can - with some help from mom or dad - create their own profiles online at www.Girlsinc-online.org . The website lets them take part in interactive money games that exemplify how to start a business, save money and make their dough grow.
Lyn Thompson-Alcock, executive director of Girls Inc., York Region, Ontario, says supporting girls and reinforcing that they really can be in charge of their own lives - whether that's saving up for a Barbie convertible, achieving post-secondary education or going after the career of their choice - starts at an early age and with little lessons.
"If we go on a field trip and the girls are given $5, it's amazing how many ask you to hang onto it for them, mostly because that's what their parents would do so they won't spend it on something silly. Then they have to come and ask if they can buy this or that," says Thompson-Alcock. "We tell all of the girls to hang onto their money and it's wonderful to see the look on their faces when they realize that you trust them with it."
It seems it's all about providing money life lessons without the lecture.
At Camp Millionaire - a summer camp in the U.S. and Canada designed to make financial literacy "engaging, effective and entertaining" for kids and teens - nearly every major money concept is tied to a fun activity. The lesson on trading time and energy, for example, involves a role-playing game where one child plays the employer and another the employee. The latter must do everything the employer says for a $1,000 paycheque - $600 after taxes and deductions in U.S. dollars (the camp likes to keep things real). At the end of the game the kids discuss who has the better job: employer or employee?
As an extension of the same game, participants are given the option to put some of their earnings into assets that earn extra income. This is a start to their lesson in passive income and learning the language of money.
While 70 to 80 per cent of campers are male, Camp Millionaire founder Elisabeth Donati recently started separating the boys from the girls. She says this makes for a better learning experience, primarily because the boys are generally more competitive while the girls like to co-operate with each other. "When the kids are together the girls tend to sink into the background and feel like they have to monitor what they say and how they say it," she says.
Jorge Ramos, President of Financial Intelligence Inc, brought Camp Millionaire to Canada in 2008. He said one of the most popular parts of the camp is when the kids get to build dream boards. Mr. Ramos believes this is something any parent could do with their children. You start talking to them about the kind of lifestyle they want, their dreams, and then create a visual image for them to get excited about.
Does your daughter, for example, want to attend a particular school? Take a picture of her in a school sweatshirt and let her attach it to her dream board. Does she dream of travelling to a certain place? Grab a brochure from a travel agency and let her cut pictures from it for her board. Let her dream, then work with her to make a plan to make those dreams reality.
While Girls Inc. and Camp Millionaire encourage communication between moms, dads and their kids as much as possible, both organizations say it can be hard for parents who may either not have the knowledge themselves or aren't sure how to discuss the subject of money and finances with their children.
Girls Inc. provides a list of suggested reading material for parents covering such topics as talking to your kids about money and raising financially fit girls. A great mix of books about money for girls of all ages can also be found on the website.
Ms. Donati even suggests paying your kids to read books related to personal finances and do mini book reports about what they've learned. A small up-front investment could translate into a financially-savvy child. That's a pretty good ROI.