Sunday Conversation with … Tracy Tanner

Teaching kids good money habits may help build wealth

We want our kids to grow up to be financially responsible and secure, but do we show them how to get there? Wealthy Habits does. The program is the creation of the Jonathan D. Rosen Family Foundation, started in 2011 to teach children to be financially literate. The free program taught during two-day sessions at its location near Perimeter Mall tackles money management, investing, credit, insurance and other topics. Sounds exciting? Apparently, middle and high schoolers think so. “When we first started, we were practically begging kids to come,” said Tracy Tanner, executive director of Wealthy Habits. This year, the program is on target for 37 classes with 600 students and plans to expand to college campuses in the near future.

Q: Describe the program?

A: The kids arrive at 10 a.m. and generally aren’t thrilled to be here because their parents just explained to them that they are going to be learning financial literacy for six hours. Within the first half hour, the kids realize that they are here to learn how to develop the right money habits and to have fun while learning. We play a lot of games to encourage interaction and simulate life experiences.

Q: What do you focus on?

A: The importance of delayed gratification and that saving early and saving often can make a huge difference in their financial future. Too often, our kids are taught the steps of good personal finance but they aren’t taught why. We want kids to change how they feel about saving money. We give them the steps and the why.

Q: What is one thing you teach kids?

A: We have kids give us a dollar amount they could save in one year by not buying the stuff they “waste” money on. We then use the rule of 72 to show them how much they could have at retirement. Basically, it calculates how long it takes to double your money at a set interest rate and is one of the eye-opening concepts we teach the kids.

Q: Is the goal of Wealthy Habits to make kids wealthy?

A: Our goal is not to say, “This is the career you need to make a lot of money.” There are tons of people who make a lot of money and still have poor money habits. We are focused on changing the mindset of kids. We want them to ask, “Is this going to put money in my pocket or just take money out of my pocket?”

Q: Who are the kids you work with?

A: We target any student regardless of income or background. Many nonprofits focus on one group, low-income kids, but every kid needs the education.

Q: Are today’s kids different than when we grew up?

A: When we were kids, we got a few toys and we seemed happy with them. We learned how to make choices. Now it seems like parents don’t want their kids to go without, but telling a kid “no” is not a bad thing.

Q: What’s next for Wealthy Habits?

A: We are adding more classes for 2015 for high school and middle school and are looking to offer our program on local college campuses. We are also trying to find other spaces around the area to offer the classes so they will be more convenient to more families.

Q: Have you learned anything from Wealthy Habits?

A: I thought I was good with money — I always pay my bills on time, I have good credit. When I got hired on, I took the teacher training and realized how much I really didn’t know. Since then, I have been putting away as much as I can in my retirement account and buying assets. I am a single parent with two teenagers so it isn’t always easy but it is doable.

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