Dear Soon-To-Be-Named,

(You’re J. Money’s kid. My bet’s on Benjamin. If you were a girl, Penny.)

(Guest Post by Alisa T. Weinstein)

In about one week’s time—give or take, depending on how much hot sauce your mom eats near your delivery date—you’re going to make your grand entrance into this big ol’ world. From that day forward, your parents are going to love you and cherish you and photograph the crap out of you. Most importantly, they’re going to teach you.

They’ll teach you little stuff (country music is cool) and big stuff (stick to your guns. country music is cool). They’re also going to teach you money stuff. And here’s where you may need a little advice.

I know that prenatal brain of yours is thinking, “Alisa, my dad is J. MONEY. He’s got this financial thing down pat. What could he possibly, accidentally, totally-not-on-purpose leave out??”

Well, Benjamin, I’m glad you asked.

You needn’t be worried about him teaching you concepts like saving, budgeting, investing and (we can only hope one day) personal finance-blogging. You’re in exceedingly capable, deliciously irreverent hands. And even if you weren’t, there’s tons of great kids’ resources that may not be as deliciously irreverent, but get the job done.

No, you should be concerned with how you’ll get the money to practice those concepts. Why? It could change how you live the rest of your life.

Get this: when you’re about four or five, Dad may start paying you for household chores or giving you money without strings. Both sound great at the start. But earning money for making your bed can teach you that work isn’t necessarily interesting, challenging or (alack!) fun. And getting money without strings is kinda, a tiny bit, not really anything like how the real world works.

What you want is something that can set you up for a lifetime of self-fulfillment. Something that gives you the real-world skills you’ll need to succeed as a grown-up. Something like… earning money for having a “real” job as a “real” professional.

Earl of SandwichYou could be an Astronomer who makes a nighttime star map. A Chef who reports about the Earl of Sandwich. An Investigator who creates a Family Fingerprint Log. Even a Travel Agent who exchanges some real foreign currency!

Yes, I can see you now, bouncing all around that amniotic fluid, exclaiming, “One day I could get paid for doing that?!” But that’s not all. And since you’re a captive audience, I’ll explain.

When you earn money for completing professional-style tasks, you “get” where money actually comes from. You sharpen your ability to think creatively (today, crayon and paint sets; tomorrow, a vital leadership skill). And you’ll practice being self-motivated, seeing a project through, even devising Plan Bs. All this from doing something fun with your folks.

But my favorite part is that instead of learning that adults work only to buy things, you’ll learn that the reward of work can be the work itself. Which means (drum roll, please), you’ll better understand that “quality of life” is not tied to the amount of money we make and things we own.

I’m not saying you’ll grasp these concepts right away. You’re not popping out of the womb a self-respecting, self-reliant, financially literate, socially conscious global citizen. But that’s OK: there’s some pretty important skill building going on here. Just like learning how to use the potty and throw a fastball, the more you practice, the better you’ll get. In fact, feel free to practice up the wazoo.

That’s important because, between you and me, the practicing is often the chink in the financial literacy armor. It’s easy to get excited to learn about money and work ethic. It’s harder to keep the momentum going. So nudge Mom and Dad to make it a regular priority. It ups the likelihood those fabulous habits will stick long-term.

Which brings me back to getting the money to practice with. If you need to learn how the real world works (you do), and lessons tend to be more meaningful when they’re repeated over time (they are), why not earn money the way we grown-ups do? It’s fun. It’s simple. And it’s a touch more educational than making your bed.

If you ask me, that’s right on the J. Money.

xo, Alisa

P.S. Both our dads love Long Island Iced Teas. We have so much in common already. [J$: It’s true!]

Alisa T. Weinstein is not only a DC neighbor, she’s the Creator/Founder of Earn My Keep — an award-winning financial literacy program that teaches kids how the real world works by letting them test-drive real careers. You can watch Alisa regularly on Nightly Business Report and read praise for her work in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Forbes,  and more. Her book describing the Earn My Keep program — Earn It, Learn It: Teach Your Child the Value of Money, Work, and Time Well Spent (Sourcebooks, 2011) — just earned the 2012 Children’s Book of the Year Award from the Institute for Financial Literacy. I’ve also got her seven-year-old sewn up for future babysitting.

(Stars photo by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center / Earl of Sandwich photo by lisby1)

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  1. Lance@MoneyLife&More June 28, 2012 at 7:12 AM

    Neat idea for a post. I hope J$ shows his kid this one day when they can understand it!

  2. Edward Antrobus June 28, 2012 at 8:01 AM

    I’ve heard about the concept of you shouldn’t give your kids an allowance. The argument made on the piece I watched was that your kids aren’t paying you for driving them to soccer practise, so you shouldn’t pay them for taking out the trash. To me, this makes a lot more sense than “can teach you that work isn’t necessarily interesting, challenging or (alack!) fun.” I’m sorry, but while work can be, it is not necessarily interesting, challenging, or fun.

  3. June 28, 2012 at 9:08 AM

    I wonder how academics might play a role in this. Since an academic career (theoretically) prepares students for their future career, emphasizing the joy of learning, problem-solving, and a good job well done (on, say, homework or a paper) is a great way to teach kids to appreciate the world around them, the fruits of their labor and a good work ethic without being bottom-line centric.

  4. Emmy June 28, 2012 at 9:30 AM

    Just hold out for a week from today – because then Benjamin or Penny can have the same birthday as me. And who doesn’t want that? ;) But in all seriousness – HOLY CRAP the baby is coming soon! That’s crazy! But so exciting. YAY!!!!!

  5. J. Money June 28, 2012 at 10:43 AM

    I know, we’re crazy excited about it!!! And you never know, it very well COULD come on the 5th! It would be like mine in that case coming right after a major holiday ;) Like father like son?

    @Edward Antrobus – I’ll probably still give an allowance myself since that’s what I was used to (and enjoyed) growing up, but we’ll have to see how it goes once we get to that point. And once I talk w/ the Mrs.! Haha…

  6. Peliroo June 28, 2012 at 10:47 AM

    What a great post!! Alisa has my vote for best baby shower gift with this post. I’m happy for you, J$! Your little cent will be born into a well-grounded family. :)

  7. Matthew Doyle June 28, 2012 at 11:45 AM

    This is an awesome post!! This is exactly how I plan to teach my little girl about money. The line about “quality of life” is so important to teach our kids. There is so much greed in the world that people often are never happy with what they have. If we can teach our kids to enjoy the things they have, then maybe it will be passed on through the generations.

    The anticipation of the last week is killer J. Money. Relax and enjoy it, because once it happens it will all be a big blur.

  8. LB June 28, 2012 at 12:30 PM

    That would be so cool if the baby could come out on the 5th!!! That’s my wedding anniversary :)

  9. Alisa @ Earn My Keep June 28, 2012 at 12:56 PM

    OMG you guys are soooo fun! Great comments. OK…let’s see:

    @Lance@MoneyLife@More – Me, too! And I hope he doesn’t wait too long. I’ll often hear, “My kid isn’t ready to learn about money,” but kids are ready way earlier than we think. If they’re old enough for the “gimmies,” they’re old enough to start learning where money comes from.

    @Edward Antrobus – Totally agree — I’m a copywriter in my other life, and there’s parts of my job that I could happily live without. But most of it, I love. It suits me. And that’s what I hope to help my kids find: a career that fuels their passions. It’s fun to watch children try out different jobs and see what “suits them.” This kind of exploration can help guide them to finding a job that is interesting, challenging and fun for them — at least, most of the time! :)

    @ – Academics absolutely play a role. And what’s awesome is that the skills you mention (learning, problem solving) translate into other areas of children’s lives the more they practice. AND I love what you said here: “appreciate…good work ethic without being bottom-line centric.” When we feel great about the work we’ve done, money comes second. It’s quite liberating. But you knew that. :)


    @ J. Money – Your Mrs. is one lucky lady. :)

    @ Periloo – HAHAHA!! That’s a GREAT idea!! Now I need to be invited to a baby shower so I can give it as a gift… [hint, hint, J. Money’s Mrs…]

    @ Matthew Doyle – Oooooh, I’m so excited. If your plan includes following Earn My Keep, feel free to contact me any time at all with questions — helping out is one of my favorite parts!

    @ LB – What year?? You celebrating a big one?? :)

  10. m1nts June 28, 2012 at 1:35 PM

    When my sister was younger and wanted the top-of-the-edge thingy (whatever was in for a 6yo at the time). My mom went to clearance of a office supply stores and got three big boxes full of notebooks (ol’ paper notebooks) and gave it to my little sister.
    Since school was beginning in a month, my mother told my sis that if she wanted to buy whatever she wanted she had to earn it and she was just lending her money (in the form of notebooks). That 6yo figured that she needed to repay the loan and make enough money to buy the stuff, and asked for help. I helped her and we came up with a number that would give her a ROI in just about a box of notebooks and then she’d have two left to sell.

    Guess what? she sold them all ! bought what she wanted and saved the rest, next year she did the same thing and she has been doing it ever since (5 years in a row now). She is money wiser than most of my family.

    J.Money Jr. will be just as fine :)

  11. Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager June 28, 2012 at 4:40 PM

    Great post! I hope there are more future J$ baby posts coming soon.

  12. Mikayla June 29, 2012 at 6:40 AM

    @m1nts – gotta love Capitalism and free enterprise right?

    So hard for kids to learn how to hustle on their own ever since the lawyers killed the lemonade stand haha

    Counterpoint to not “giving” an allowance – you are always going to provide for your kid and to some degree spoil them (i.e. buy them things that aren’t directly vital to survival), what’s wrong with putting a portion toward a learning experience for them?…. once they get an allowance they can now “spoil” themselves, while you are instigating the concept of saving and being frugal/spending wisely, which can’t be done without err DOING it and how else do they get the money to do it?… i don’t look at it as free money for them – it’s money I spend on them anyway, i just spend it differently now that they are at an age to handle it semi-responsibly.

    We never got paid for contributing to the household in general tho, so I get that argument – you cleaned your room and washed dishes cuz that’s how the family rolls and everyone does their part… but say you dusted the windowsills or polished grandpa’s shoes there was a kickback, kind of above and beyond the call of duty got allowance credit…. wait … sorry …. what were we talking about? think I lost the plot…. good luck J$

  13. J. Money June 29, 2012 at 7:15 PM

    haha… i’m still giving my kids an allowance either way ;) but who knows what’ll change from now till then too?

    @m1nts – I LOVE YOUR SISTER!!! She needs to do a “side hustle” for my series! Ahahahaha…. great great way to teach some lessons indeed, thanks for sharing! :)

  14. Melissa@LittleHouseIntheValley June 30, 2012 at 3:38 PM

    Great advice. We give our son allowance for work he does around the house. He doesn’t just get money because he is breathing. :) If he chooses to be lazy one week, that is his choice, but then he doesn’t get any money.

  15. Wayne @ Young Family Finance June 30, 2012 at 4:00 PM

    …And then you take that money from ceating a star map and pay some other kid, 4 year old prefered, to make your bed for you.

    I love the mixture of professionalism and money. Most kids understand basic decision-making principles but lack reality to apply them. But honestly, what if you want to be a maid? Then is it ok to pay money to make your bed?

  16. Alisa @ Earn My Keep July 1, 2012 at 10:01 PM

    Hi, all ~ sorry for the delay. FINALLY got power back over here. Not that I minded the lack of Internet access, dairy products and/or room temperatures under 100 degees…

    @Mikayla – #1. Losing train of thought? You’re speaking my language. And #2. AGREED. No matter how the kids get the money, unless they’re actually “DOING it,” they can’t grasp the concepts. You may really like this article:

    @Melissa@LittleHouseIntheValley – I love your stick-to-it-ed-ness. It’s key that kids know you’re going to follow through. It’s a great lesson that’ll cross over to everything they do in life.

    @Wayne@Young Family Finance – LOL! Oh, if I had a nickel… Another popular one is, “Can I pay my kid to be the Gardener?” :) The Earn My Keep answer (assuming you’re paying your kid for emulating real adult jobs) is to explain the roles/responsibilities that come with being a Maid/Housekeeper. I’d also likely have my daughter make all the beds in the house. And I’d make it very clear that NO adult gets paid to make his/her own bed. But remember, in my house, we switch careers every week. If the child is being a Maid all the time, you’re essentially back to paying for traditional chores. Totally up to the family (I’m all about finding the system that works for you, personally) ~ just something to consider.

    LOL. Did I get all “heavy”?? I have a tendency do that. :)

    @JMoney – ARE YOU A DAD YET, OR WHAT??

  17. J. Money July 2, 2012 at 9:16 AM

    Not yet!!! But today’s his official birth day!!!!! He’s being stubborn like his dad, I guess ;)

  18. JC July 5, 2012 at 6:37 PM

    When I turned 14 or 15 my mom dragged me to the bank and opened a free checking account in my name. She then promised me that for any money I deposited she would match it up to $50 as long as I left it in there for a while.
    That was a huge motivation for me and taught me a lot, because even though my checking account had practically no interest, money in the bank was worth WAY more than money in my wallet. Once I got to a reasonable amount she helped me get a savings account going.
    Obviously, college rolled around and that savings account disappeared (go figure, $1000 doesn’t last long), but I was balancing my checking account and thinking about savings before I hit high school. I’m now about to finish my graduate degree and am already shopping around for a financial planner to help me set up the best plan for my future (and I don’t even have a job yet, baby steps).

  19. J. Money July 6, 2012 at 12:52 PM

    Does your mom still match your amounts?? Haha… that would be awesome :)

    That’s kinda what turned my brain around too – getting matching in my 401k. We had this killer plan at work where they’d match 100% of 100% I put in (up to the legal amount), and I became one frugal mother f’er trying to bank double money like that every year :) Eventually our company went out of business (interestingly enough due to bad money management!), but that opened up my eyes like CRAZY. Been rockin’ it ever since!

  20. Mikayla September 23, 2012 at 4:22 AM

    @Alisa – thanks for the article (my thank you cards are always late also)
    It is interesting how the lack of parental involvement is what they tie to an allowance being useful or not, as with most things in their life – they need US to make it work properly. My divorce left us with some financial trouble that my child flatout is too young to know about IMO… but unfortunately is aware of the issue because I answer questions honestly when we can’t buy the things we used to. We just can’t afford it. Maybe it’s because of that, we have never had to deal with the “gimmies”… and when we make the shopping list there is genuine gratitude and thanks when one or two favorites can be afforded. I think the PATIENCE factor is hardest/most valuable for young kids. It might be 6 months till you’ve saved up for that toy, which you don’t want now anyway but whatever… and the waiting for things to go on sale and being thrilled when it finally does….. yah the patience/waiting is hard for them….. for everyone i guess =)

  21. J. Money September 24, 2012 at 10:51 AM

    Glad you enjoyed the article :) I agree that patience is a hard one! Interested to see how it affects our newborn here when he grows up, as mom and dad sometimes lack this patience gene! Haha… so we’ll have to adjust accordingly as well ;)