July 28, 2008 -- 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.
"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."
"It may be at 15, it may be at 18," Henske said. "At some point in their lives, they're gonna need to know how to manage finances."
The results are eye opening. And who knows, the best financial advisor might just be your very own kid.
"My generation, we weren't taught anything. It took me my whole life to learn about money. This is like a baby MBA program," said Amin Suliaman.
Here are some finance camp programs that may exist in your area:
And here are some tips to keep your kids on sound financial feet, whether or not they go to finance camp:
Money lessons should continue at home.
Starting simple conversations about money is a step in the right direction. Henske advises parents to look for the "coaching" opportunities available in everyday life. For example, when dining out at restaurants, parents can offer to pay kids the difference in savings if their child chooses to order water instead of soda or juice. "It seems like a little thing, a dollar here, a dollar there, but that means a lot to the child," Henske said. "And the lesson there is that they have a choice."
Create a united family front when it comes to financial matters.
Couples should try to be on the same page when it comes to their values about money. Henske said, "Kids are very smart and they sense when there's a little bit of weakness on the subject." You don't have to have the same values, but at least have an open dialogue about the values that are most important on a family and individual level.
Make managing money fun.
Just like that instrument that you really wanted Johnny to play, if you over-urge your child to get involved in finances, she or he may push back. Make learning fun and challenging, not drudgery. Pilon said, "kids love to play grown up and that extends to personal finance. 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."
Don't clam up when it comes to cash.
"we love to talk about our money in broad terms, but when it comes to what's in our own wallets, we tense up, get apprehensive," Pilon said. Talk to your children about where their allowance comes from and ask them how they are managing it. If they see that you have to manage your money, they'll realize that they should, too.
Remember the four-chambered piggy bank.
"Those chambers are save, spend, invest and donate," said Henske, who uses this technique with his clients. "My belief is if you can teach your kids about saving investing and donating, they'll be ahead of 99.9 percent of all the other children that are out there who don't have that solid foundation."