As an adult, I believe that I am finally developing an understanding how to manage money – budgeting and investing. I have spent the last few years building a healthy relationship with money. Taking Dave Ramsey’s course on money matters, taking additional courses on financial literacy, and reading numerous books helped me understand the way that those who have money think about money.
In the past, I had a love/hate relationship with money. As a child, at the age of 11, I started selling newspapers door to door in Montgomery County, Maryland. I still remember the script that I memorized to try to convince homeowners to buy a subscription. In return, I received a small commission.
As soon as I was of age, I applied for and worked in various jobs like Ben and Jerry’s and Lady Foot Locker. I remember purchasing my first Gucci watch…yes GUCCI (it was the ‘80’s) with my entire paycheck. I distinctly remember my mother commenting, “You spent your whole paycheck on a watch? Rona--you have champagne taste with a beer budget”. It took me years to figure out that she was right! By the time I was 17, I attended Bartending School. I knew that if I learned how to bartend, I would always have a summer job and I did. I purchased my first home at 27, using my bartending skills, starting a tutorial business, and working as a full-time teacher in the day and evenings. By the age of 34, I was single, working as a full-time professor and a co-founder of a charter school. I was living out my passions as an educator and never had a financial concern.
The takeaway message from years of working multiple jobs: If I need money, I just needed to get another job. However, after having children, this method of having multiple jobs did not work as well. As a committed mother, I had to make choices with my time. My first priority is my children. I paired down on my jobs, but found myself in constant financial binds. I wanted to provide my children with a vast number of possibilities; however, I was conflicted by the notion that I wanted my time to be invested in my children, not another job. Financially, I was drowning. My choices—to get another job or to budget. More importantly, I was concerned about the messages that I was giving to my children as they watched me handle my money.
I was ready to create a different experience for my children. I knew that one of the best legacies I could leave for my children is the legacy of how to handle (and relate to) money. My introduction to Dave Ramsey, who supports empowering parents and children to live a debt-free life, was life changing and began my journey toward financial literacy. Dave Ramsey, Jackie Marshal, and others have helped me frame money conversations for my children.
This is what I have learned on my journey, and this is how I now ensure that my children are financially literate.
1. Create clear household roles, responsibilities, and commission systems to enhance your child’s understanding of money: There is a lot of controversy around allowance or no allowance. Whatever you choose, the key is to have explicit conversations around money with your children. In my household, we use the commission method. First, we frame household chores as a community responsibility. If our children do not follow through, they understand that this affects the entire household. The idea is for children to understand that one can support a community in the spirit of collective work and responsibility (UJIMA) and make it better. Or, if they don’t support the community, they leave a gaping hole. Creating visible weekly checklists and follow-up ensures accountability measures and ensures that the basic chores in the household are done. Now, any duty beyond normal responsibilities like cleaning their rooms or putting away dishes, is commissionable, in the words of Dave Ramsey. By that, I mean if my daughter assists with cleaning the car, or my son waters the plants and puts the dirty socks in the sock basket, they earn a commission. When those jobs are complete, a consistent “pay out” routine is established.
2. Have constant and consistent conversations with your child to help them understand their relationship to money: We also focus on understanding the way money works. Jackie Marshal reminds us to have explicit conversations about money via the SIDES model—Save, Invest, Donate, Earn, and Spend. In other words, framing all of the relationships that your child can have with money. Clearly as a child, I fell into the spend category. For my five-year-old son, we encouraged him to physically put his money into a clear huge plastic jar—an idea that we learned from Dave Ramsey. With this clear jar, he can watch his money grow over time, unlike with a traditional piggy bank. So he watches the growth until he is able to understand the concept of a bank account. For my daughter, we created Mojabox envelopes, envelopes that have different labels to encourage a large portion being saved (80%), and smaller portions being spent, donated (or tithed), and/or invested.
3. Encourage budgeting: First, I model budgeting by reminding my child (every time I go into the store) that I am on a budget—LOL!. To understand the idea of budgeting, we continue to create authentic experiences for my daughter to use her math skills to research her purchase and figure out how much money she has to spend for her desired item. We also encourage her to pay in cash and to calculate her change. As she gets older, we will create a special checking account so that she can learn to reconcile her money. We also encourage the use of gaming as a way to understand how money works. A wonderful sister and researcher, Asalia, recently introduced me to a wonderful game called Cash Flow 101 for kids. This game offers a fun way to understand wealth building.
4. Introduce your child to Entrepreneurship:
When my daughter was 5, she took a sewing class. Shortly thereafter, she and her cousin, Imade, began making bows out of African Fabric. They participated in several vending events across the city and came to understand the power of owning one’s own business and making money. My children’s God brother, Kiye and his mom, Satira Streeter, started the Brown Boys Book Club at the age of 7. One of the first books they read was Danny Dollar Millionaire: The Lemonade Escapade by Ty Allen Jackson. The book uses storytelling to explain financial literacy to children. Inspired by a main character who started his own lemonade stand, the boys decided to invest money into lemons, sugar, and tea, and set up a drink stand in the neighborhood. With the money they made, they opened up a bank account at Industrial Bank, a Black-owned bank in Washington DC, and they deposited more than $150.00. Kalimah, age 13, another brilliant entrepreneur, uses her business skills and her love of crafting to explore her African heritage so that other children can learn about their heritage. She started an Andrika hair accessory business, which has now grown to include activity sets, greeting cards, and pencils. She was recently featured on WUSA9 discussing her business dinkrastylz. Providing our children with authentic experiences to work with money gives them the greatest understanding of how money works.
5. Finally, teach your child how to Invest. Millionaires have one thing in common. They understand the idea of having money make money. Jackie Marshal, in her wonderful workshop on financial literacy through her company, Jackie Trust, introduces children to the stock market and to investing in companies that matter to them. Using the DRIP (Dividend Reinvestment Plan) method, her company encourages children to reinvest their earnings in more stock. Mojabox adds that for our children, investing in Black-owned businesses is critical. Let’s keep our money in the community! In the spirit of MOJABOX, always encourage your children to BUY BLACK.
Check out the MOJA Money Envelopes for children---African inspired money envelopes!
My husband, a fine artist, always gets on me about my daughter’s outfit choices. My daughter would walk into my room wearing striped pants and polka dotted shirt, in all kinds of colors. I would gently say, “sweetheart, let’s try a pattern and solid—to make it match”. My husband, the diplomatic, creative type, would pull me to the side and strongly prod me to encourage her to wear what she wants. He would then turn to her and say, “I love the outfit”. I would cringe inside, but quietly submit.
As a child, I LOVED reading. I came from a family of readers and I recall that my mother, sisters and I would spend lazy Sunday afternoons, hours at time, laying around reading books. I believe that I eventually became a professor, so that I could sit in the library and live out my two passions-- reading and writing. Coupled with my curious personality, choosing a profession such as a researcher made sense. Therefore, imagine my dismay when I realized that my beloved daughter expressed that she simply did not like to read. WHAT DO I DO WITH THAT?
For years, I worked with her trying to foster a love of books and reading. I would spend hours cutting out words so that we could practice reading words. I would play matching games and we would watch letter factory. We read hundreds of children’s books…and her Godmother, Michelle Meadows, a children’s book writer, would send her beautiful picture books like The Way the Storm Stopped and Hibernation Station, which we would devour. When she was seven, I introduced her to culturally relevant chapter books series like Sugar Plum Ballerinas, Keena Ford and the Nikki and Deja. I would share books that I loved as a child like Ramona the Pest and Pippi Longstocking--books that were not so culturally relevant, but good stories. As she got older, we would listen to books on tape like the Watsons go to Birmingham and Harry Potter when we got into the car. She loved to cuddle and listen to me read every night, but her motivation was not there to pick up a book and read independently.
Eventually, reading clicked, and she became pretty good at decoding and comprehending. I continually shared with her that you may not love reading, but you are going to be a great reader. She still shared in a reflective voice, “mommy, I think reading is boring”. This broke my heart. How do I as an avid reader, deal with a child who does not like to read… and then it hit me… I had to ask myself, what is it that my child love to do?
My child LOVES making videos on an app called Musically and perfecting her aerials (a cartwheel without hands). She has had the opportunity to be in two plays, even getting the lead in a musical. She loves choreographing dances and African dance. At the age of 5, she and her cousin, Imade, started a bow business using African fabric. She has participated in several vending event because this child LOVES making money. And, SHE LOVES MAKING GOO, a sticky substance that children love to play make and use to create things and crafting. Ever since, she and her friends have experimented with making shirts, bath bombs, and of course, cooking.
For months, I was disturbed by the idea of goo. I was concerned about goo in my rugs, goo in my carpet, the borax powder all of the floor. My husband would secretly allow her to make it when I left the house and I would see remnants all over the house.
I would get frustrated until a great sister, Adjoa Oriyami, introduced me to the YouTube videos of Neal Degrass. Neal Degrasse Tyson, a leading scientist, believes that all children are born scientist. He reminds not to limit our children’s abilities. Moreover, it is important to nurture the scientist (and creative beings) within all of our children.
Now, I am a firm believer in goo. Is there goo all over my house and in the car—YES! So, does my daughter constantly bombard my closet looking for material to use for her crafting—YES! Does she craft and experiment all over the house now YES! Does it still drive me crazy—NO. Because I have come to realize that I do not want to mute her natural genius? I must admit stripes and polka outfits still drive me crazy.
But, I have changed in these important ways and this is what I would like to share:
1. Let go and let goo. In other words, don’t mute the imagination of the next great inventor, engineer or builder.
2. Kidwatch: Observe your child in their moments of freedom. What do they naturally love? Make a distinction between what you want them to love and what they naturally do.
3. Enrich: Remember that your child brings into the world a wealth of skill sets. These skills set may not be evidenced in school, It is our responsibility to honor and enrich as much as possible!
Come check out Mojabox.com culturally affirming educational resources for parents and children.
Ellington, R. & Frederick, R. (2011).”Capital” izing on culture: A socio-historical and current perspective of the parental involvement patterns of African Americans. In Nata, R. V. (Ed.), Progress in Education, Vol. 21, (pp. 1-22). NY: Nova Science Publishers.
Frederick, R., Cave, A., & Perencevich, K.C. (2010). Teacher candidates’ transformative thinking on issues of social justice. Teaching and Teacher Education, 26(2), 315-322.