Wall Street Journal: Teaching Children the Basics of Investing

Wall Street Journal: Teaching Children the Basics of Investing

So says adviser Jorie Johnson, who, in her free time, teaches financial basics to elementary school children.

The Manasquan, N.J., certified financial planner was partly inspired to teach the fundamentals of saving and investing to kids after seeing how many of her clients’ bad financial habits were learned in early childhood.

If a child learns she can spend her whole allowance on an ice cream sundae and that her parents will still give her more to buy a bracelet, she may assume there’s an endless supply of money. While that belief sounds harmless when she’s 6, the cycle of spending without consequence can create real problems later on, Johnson said.

“Ideally, you’re supposed to evolve and learn to delay instant gratification, but that doesn’t always happen with clients,” she said. And she sees it when a client can’t reign in his love for expensive boats or cars when he really should be saving more for retirement.

Johnson, who is also a mother of an 8- and 10-year-old, doesn’t have any formal training in education or psychology. But running her own practice since 2001 has given her plenty of insight.

When she recently spoke to her daughter’s second-grade class at nearby Allenwood Elementary School, Johnson taught the importance of setting short- and long-term goals. Johnson played a game with the students where they each received a “paycheck” of 10 pennies and they had to allocate them between short- and long-term goals of their choosing. They could also decide to allocate a portion to charity.

The exercise helps the children learn that if they want to achieve certain financial goals, trade-offs are necessary, she said. “I want them to learn that if they want something, they need to save for it,” she said.

Johnson also likes to stress the importance of having cash on hand for an emergency. “You never know when your mom is going to unexpectedly stop at Dairy Queen, and you’ll want to have extra money in your pocket,” she tells the students.

Johnson tackles stock-market basics with her son’s fifth grade class, giving them a presentation about how a company goes public and how investors need to understand they can both make and lose money in the market.

By using companies the students recognize, such as Apple (AAPL) and Nike (NKE), she talked about the importance of investing in companies they understand. People can get burned when they invest in something that sounds good but they have no idea how it works, she said. To that end, Johnson says adults should remember a lesson from their school days.

“Do your homework,” she said.

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