Unimpressive Financial Literacy Theater

I consider myself a personal finance nerd. I have always been a hard worker, a saver, an investor who thirsts for knowledge on all money matters. I am an advocate for personal finance education, no matter what age. I have volunteered with adults at community centers, and I always encourage parents to set their kids up for success from birth, whether it is by setting up a savings account, gifting them with bonds rather than cheap trinkets they will outgrow within months, or talking to them about the household finances in age appropriate terms. However, I am completely turned off by some social media shenanigans that I can only characterize as financial literacy theater, and of course, as expected it is mostly coming from black people.

I dubbed it “theater” because that’s what it is. It’s a performance for ‘likes’ that does little to teach kids about true financial empowerment, and frankly, while not at all surprised, I am unimpressed. We have always been performative and love to put on a good show; that’s part of what makes us successful in the entertainment industry. This color-coded schedule, paycheck and mini-mart is another form of performance art. This mom gets an A for effort and initiative, but a big fat F for execution and the struggle mentality that it continues to perpetuate on our children, particularly on young black girls. It is simplistic and a burden to kids that young. Black children, particularly black girls, are not allowed to be kids.
This child has a schedule that has her working 7 days a week, including 2 weekend days of overtime. In my opinion, this is disgraceful and not age appropriate. We are already raised to be worker bees in service and helping jobs (industries that often require overtime) because this is what we see being modeled, and we are dying because of it. Despite our melanin’s role in keeping us looking young on the outside, our quality of life is wreaking havoc on our internal organs, subjecting us to life-threatening illnesses like heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, that send us to a premature grave.
A child who is not old enough to work (she looked to be about 7 or 8 years old) shouldn’t be subjected to that level of complication in her life. Where does she find time to concentrate on just being a child? How about on reading or participating in STEM activities which could help set her on the path to have a lucrative career where she won’t have to work OT to make ends meet? Why isn’t she reading about history, a subject that may help her develop a deep understanding of society and nurture an interest in law where she could go into public office and be the representation that we so often complain that we lack? Why must everything be about the struggle, the extra shifts, the least efficient way to reach the summit?
Charging your daughter for snacks in her own house? Sure, snacks are not a nutritional requirement (they honestly didn’t look all that healthy anyway so maybe mom is doing her health a bigger favor than her wallet), but they are still an inherent part of childhood. It’s one thing to refuse to reach into your pocket every time you hear the ice cream truck music. It is another story to charge the child for something that is already bought and paid for and stocked in the house.
Children should get good grades because they are expected to. Because we don’t ask anything else of them but to go to school and learn. Because we are providing a nurturing environment conducive to learning. Children should do (age-appropriate) chores because they live there and they should not be rewarded for doing their part. This is why men get married and think loading the dishwasher earns them a sexual reward. This is why they think taking care of their own children is “babysitting” or “helping” their wife, rather than being part of their responsibilities as members of a household. Of course, the other side of the coin is that your children should get allowances because you brought them into this world and thus are required to provide for them. Both their needs and their wants (within reason).
Somehow, other races of this country, both the white majority and “model” minorities like people of Asian descent manage to find success and keep wealth within their families without charging their children for electricity and snacks. Instead, they expose their children to a variety of subjects, set high expectations and help them achieve age-appropriate financial milestones. Despite these social media performances, we continue to regress, living out the expectation of most effort for the least favorable outcome.

Here are some better ways to set your children up for success:

Before they are born – Make sure that YOU are financially stable. The greatest gift you can give your kids is to ensure that they do not have to worry about you as they try to get their own lives started. Throughout their lives, save for retirement, pay off your mortgage, do not accumulate debt.
When they are born – Have life insurance. I’m sick and tired of seeing crowd funding campaigns for people whose families can’t afford to bury them. What kind of future are you leaving for your children if the executors of your estate can’t even afford to give you a funeral?
0 to 18 years old – Save money for them in a Uniform Gifts to Minors Account or a college savings plan. Within your means and not to your own detriment.
13+ – Be open about money, how the household finances work, how credit works, and the function of taxes and the government to their learning capacity. This is an ongoing lesson to teach and you should always be a resource for information or referral as their most trusted friend because no one has their best interest in mind the way you do.
15 to 18 – Make them get part time jobs with schedules that do not interfere with their study. Have them open a Roth IRA. They are now paying social security taxes and that is a perfect opportunity to introduce retirement, medicare and your own future retirement plans into the conversation. This is a perfect time to shift some small financial responsibility to them, like their cellphones, eating out money, gas for the car if they will be driving it, leisure activities with their friends. In my opinion, it is never appropriate to charge rent to a child who is not working full-time. How will they ever start a nest egg if they are forced to contribute to your household in a significant capacity? If you need your high schooler to make rent, maybe you need to look at your own money behavior and see what your’e doing wrong. They are not a spouse and should not be helping carry the household.
16 to 18 – Guide them in their degree and college choices so they aren’t leaving school with astronomical debt and low earning potential. You want to be a social worker making $30k/year? Fine. Perhaps you should start at a community college and finish at a state school because Duke or Notre Dame price tags are unjustifiable unless they are offering full scholarships. Help them establish credit by adding them to your credit card and monitoring their spending.
18 to 22 – Encourage them to get jobs in their line of study. Help them polish their resume and teach them the importance of networking. Introduce them to your own contacts and create opportunities for them to meet potential mentors and get internships that may lead to their desired careers.
Post college – Reinforce the importance of insurance (health, life and property), managing their credit, participating in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, investing wisely, career planning and continued networking. Make them active participants in your retirement plans, which will teach them about estate planning for their own benefit and prevent them from getting lost if you fall ill or pass away without warning.
That other stuff for the ‘book and the ‘gram? Nonsense.

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