As Millennial college graduates begin the next chapter in their lives, their financial literacy (or lack of it) and attitudes toward money and personal finance will be a pivotal factor in whether or not they will succeed and thrive as independent adults. Parents, of course, play a key role in instilling in their children an awareness of responsible money management. But talking to kids about money can be intimidating for those who were never given “the money talk” themselves. Where to begin? When to begin? Is it too late to prepare college grads for the economic challenges ahead?
Smart Money Smart Kids, the bestselling new book by Dave Ramsey, author of the get-out-of-debt bible, Total Money Makeover, and his daughter, Rachel Cruze, was created to empower parents to take on the responsibility of teaching their children about money. “It’s on them,” Cruze told Millionaire Corner in a phone interview. “Many parents think their kids will learn about money in school. Others don’t really know where to start. Tactically and emotionally, money is such a difficult topic for a lot of people. But even if they themselves have made (financial) mistakes and may not be in great financial shape themselves, they can still teach their kids about money.
"Their kids are their do-over, and if they empower them early on in life, it’s an amazing gift to give.”
Affluent households surveyed by Spectrem’s Millionaire Corner place a high premium on their financial knowledge. Nearly nine-in-ten of Millionaires (88 percent) consider financial knowledge to be “extremely important” or “important” to them, compared with eight-in-ten of those with a net worth between $500,000 and $1 million and 74 percent of those with a net worth of less than $100,000.
Where do they get this knowledge? America’s schools are investing more in their students’ financial literacy, according to the 2014 Survey of the States report on the state of K-12 economic and financial education in the United States issued by the Council for Economic Education. For the first time, all 50 states and the District of Columbia include economics in the K-12 standards. But no improvement has been seen in the number of states requiring students to take an economics course as a high school graduation requirement (22, unchanged since 2011).
Seventeen states, an improvement of four, require students to take a personal finance course (or require that personal finance be included in an economics or civics course) as a high school graduation requirement. But only six states require the testing of student knowledge in personal finance, the report finds.
It is incumbent on parents, Cruze, 26, said, to give their children the knowledge, resources and tools to help get their finances in order and head off possibly devastating mistakes.
At the heart of the book is a question Dave Ramsey has been hearing for some two decades: “Why don’t we teach our children common-sense money principles?” When Rachel joined Team Ramsey as a speaker bringing her father’s financial literacy message to her peers, the pieces fell in to place for collaboration in which father and daughter would share their experiences.
Because just as the children of doctors get sick, so is the daughter of Dave Ramsey not immune to counter-productive money habits. “I’m a natural spender,” she said. “It’s a challenge. But I’ve been able to avoid the major money mistakes through the knowledge gained by my parents.”
Among the key lessons learned in the Ramsey home, she said, was “Work ethic. That’s number one. They taught us very early on to very hard. We were never given an allowance. We were always on commission. We learned that money comes from work and not from mom and dad’s back pocket.”
Another Ramsey credo was “When you make money, you give, you save and then you spend. That’s the foundational principal that I still stand on as an adult,” Cruze said.
Perhaps the biggest money “don’t” that is plaguing Millennials, Cruze said, is student loan debt, which now tops $1 trillion in America. “Which is insane,” she said. “We dedicate a chapter in the book to this myth that you can’t be a (college) student without a student loan. It’s not true. But it takes a lot of hard work.”
Cruze acknowledges sensing a culture of entitlement among Millennials exacerbated by reality television and social media. “It’s very hard to teach patience and delayed gratification,” she said.
"Their expectations about how life could and should be for them are huge. (I tell them) you don’t have to have the latest gadgets to be cool or happy. Having nice stuff is okay, but don’t let your nice stuff have you (in debt).”
Smart Money Smart Kids is all about getting children in a place where they graduate college debt free so they can start looking in earnest toward the future.” Perhaps the primary key to achieving this, she said, is creating a budget and sticking to it. “Be intentional (with your money),” she said. “It is so easy for paychecks to come in and go right back out without any clue as to where your money has gone. Being intentional with your money and being in control (of it) will get you far in life.”
Other debt do’s and don’ts: Don’t take on new debt and do start paying off old debt accumulated in college, she said.
But in a challenging job market where Millennials’ unemployment rate is 15.5 percent, the biggest non-debt related money, Cruze offered is, “Don’t sit around the basement and expect your first job to come to you. Your first job may not be your dream job or even in your field of study, but go get a job start and collecting that paycheck. It gives you the dignity of standing on your own and paying your own bills.”
Parents (and their children) should not be discouraged or intimidated if they are late to financial education and course correction. “Obviously the earlier the better, “ Cruze said, “but don’t be discouraged. if you are still breathing you can change your ways and learn.”
Related story: Financial planning--Having "the money talk" with college freshmen.
Donald Liebenson writes news and features for Millionaire Corner. He has been published in the Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Los Angeles Times, Fiscal Times, Entertainment Weekly, Huffington Post, and other outlets. He has also served as a marketing writer for Chicago-based Questar Entertainment and distributor Baker & Taylor.
A graduate of the University of Southern California, he is married with a college-age son. He also writes extensively about entertainment.