MONEY SMART KIDS


TV Shows That Foster Good Money Skills

Janet Bodnar

Your local PBS station offers some good specials that address kids and money.



I recently caught up with a couple of public-television specials that deal with kids and money at either end of the age spectrum, from young children to young adults. They're worth tuning in, so watch for them when they're shown on your local PBS station.

The first, "Families Stand Together," is a Sesame Street production hosted by Al Roker and his wife, Deborah Roberts, that shows how families are coping with financial hardship. The parents profiled have come up with just the right combination of honesty and reassurance for their children (see Talking to Young Kids About the Financial Crisis and Talking to Teens About the Financial Crisis). What's more, they've also come up with plans to get through the crisis and to get their kids involved (in one case, selling T-shirts to raise cash).

For young adults, there's "Your Life, Your Money," which sets twentysomethings on the straight and narrow with straight talk from host Donald Faison (who played Turk on Scrubs) and hip-hop entrepreneur Russell Simmons. The show features a representative group of young people, including a self-employed Web designer, a newly graduated engineer living on his own, a single mother and a young woman who's $30,000 in debt on credit cards.

In the case of "Your Life, Your Money," I can't resist adding my own two cents' worth -- no, make that a nickel:

  • The show highlights the importance of saving small amounts of money early. I'd suggest that the best way to save is to have someone else do it for you -- by arranging for money to be deducted from your paycheck before you're tempted to spend it. Making automatic contributions to a number of savings accounts, each earmarked for a specific goal, is a great way to save for a house, a car, a vacation or a new computer (see Why You Need Multiple Savings Accounts).

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  • The show recommends setting up an individual retirement account because you don't have to pay taxes on the earnings right away. I'd emphasize that because IRAs aren't linked to the workplace, they're ideal for job-hopping young people. And you can open and add to an account regardless of whether you're covered by a retirement plan at work.

  • Young adults are probably better off opening a Roth IRA rather than a traditional IRA. You won't get a tax deduction for contributions, but the tax break is less valuable if your income is relatively low. A bigger boon: Withdrawals are tax-free in retirement, and you can get access to your cash earlier if you need it -- say, to help pay for your education or buy a house (see Why You Need a Roth IRA).

  • On the subject of health insurance, I'd point out that young people who are not covered at work and in good health can generally buy coverage for $100 a month or less-no more than they probably pay for car insurance (not to mention their cell-phone plan) (see Score Big Savings on Health Coverage).

  • To help illustrate the pitfalls of credit in a way that qualifies as an aha moment, I recommend using Kiplinger's What will it take to pay off my balance? calculator. Short answer: If you stick to the minimum payments, you'll never get the debt monkey off your back.



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