Start saving, kids!

What’s better than reading a book on the beach? Reading a book on the beach that teaches your kid a thing or two about money while also entertaining. Enter prolific Minneapolis children’s book author Nancy Carlson.

You wrote your recent book Start Saving, Henry! after working with parents and kids about money.
I have been doing workshops with Thrivent Financial for Lutherans to help teach families how to save. They hired me to come because I had this other book out called Loudmouth George Earns His Allowance. I would read my book and teach the kids how to draw a picture. Sitting at these events, I would listen to the financial planner lecture to the parents and children about saving and giving a percentage back and things you have to plan for. It gave me the idea to give a different take on allowance and make it about saving.

So what happens to Henry in the book?
Henry gets an allowance and like most of us, he spends it instantly on dopey things. Kids hear it and laugh because they spend their money on dopey things like giant jawbreakers, giant pencils. Then he starts saving because he wants a Super Robot Dude. He has a lot of downfalls because things happen — he loses a library book and it has to be paid for, his mother’s birthday comes. Finally he gets enough for Super Robot Dude, but Grandma gives it to him. So he treats his family to ice cream. Then he decides he’ll keep saving because you never know when you’ll need it.

What do you do to ensure kids are interested in books with lessons?
You have to make it entertaining. Kids really love to see characters get in trouble. Then there’s Super Robot Dude — he’s funny, engaging. If it were just a truck, it wouldn’t be that interesting. You also have to keep it simple; you don’t want to get it too heavy, be too preachy. I would never end the book saying, “So Henry learned a lesson.” I let them figure it out through the story. Who likes to be lectured? I also pick events they really can relate to, like buying dopey things. Even adults do that: You buy the dress that looks good at the store and never wear it.

You have three kids in their twenties. How did you teach them about money?
You kind of write things after you see how it didn’t work. I actually have one child that’s a pretty good saver, only buys things on sale. The other two not so much.

I tried to do an allowance and sometimes that kind of backfires on you. I don’t know if I’d do that again. Does everything have to be tied to a reward?
I know one thing I would emphasize more with my kids is giving 10 percent back. I just sent off a book to one of my editors about giving back. I wrote it during the Haiti earthquake. It’s not so much about giving money, but giving your time — that you have a lot of power to give back your talents and time.

Kara McGuire is a personal finance writer for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and St. Paul mother of three.

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