Finance Camps Create Young CEOs

In these tough economic times, there's a new type of summer camp for kids.

Forget archery and swimming. No kumbaya here. Instead, talk of stock portfolios and credit card debt are de rigueur.

"It's almost better than sending her off to school," said Amin Suliaman, whose 12-year old daughter, Jasmine, attended a finance camp run by Young Americans Center for Financial Education, a nonprofit based in Colorado.

"You know you're improving their life and their future," Suliaman said in reference to his daughter's camp experience.

And Jasmine agrees. "I get to understand things they're talking about and say I can do it better," she said in reference to her parents' money management.

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"I split my money into three categories: save, spend and share. Usually I try to save my money," Jasmine said.

It's surprising to hear the words "net monthly income" uttered by a 12 year old, but Jasmine brushes it off. "Sometimes [adults] look at you weird like, 'How do you know that?' I like showing off adults. Our generation's gonna be different."

Jasmine is one of a growing number of children -- many of whom are still in grade school -- who take summertime lessons in personal finance at so-called "finance camps." Many of the camps have three- to six-day courses that range in price from $150 to $350 for children from grade-school age to high school.

"I think with current economy the way it is, parents are really seeing need for financial education not only for themselves but for their kids," said Mary Pilon, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal.

And just what are the kids learning? Very grown-up lessons on how to balance a checkbook, lessons on stocks and investing, and how to avoid credit card fees. Budding entrepreneurs can even get ideas on how to start their own business.

For 13-year-old Jalan, who attended Camp Challenge in North Carolina, quotes like "every action has a consequence" help the financial lessons stick, along with learning how to properly fill out checks and other forms.

Jalan's shopping habits leaned toward clothes and video games, but now after having participated in Camp Challenge, he said, "People, they'll buy things only because it looks cool, but it ends up being a rip-off. I know how to spend my money and use it instead of buying everything I see."

With an edge on his future classmates, Jalan knows to avoid credit card offers when he gets to college and to choose debit cards instead. The wise teenager stated, "Debit cards are our money and not the bank's."

"Kids love to play grown-up and that extends to personal finance," Pilon said. "We think of paying bills as a chore, but if you teach kids about broader economic picture and how they fit in, it's really exciting."

Amin Suliaman seemed to agree. He said the camp "runs from 8 in the morning until 4:30. It's like a workday; you think the kids hate it, but they love it. They want to go, they're very excited about it."

Thirteen-year-old Camp Challenge alumna Aneaka Tabb already has her sights set on the future. "Now I can talk to my mom and start saving for college," she said.

"Our philosophy is to be pro-active in having these conversations, because we do know kids are gonna have experience with money as they get older," said Tom Henske, a partner at Lenox Advisors. Although not affiliated with a finance camp, Lenox Advisors offers their adult clients a learning program for their children called "Money Smart Kids."

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