As soon as your child loses their first tooth, they are thinking about money — and how to spend it. That said, it’s necessary to introduce financial literacy at an early age, which helps lay the groundwork for good financial habits into adulthood. In this episode of The Agent of Wealth Podcast, host Marc Bautis is joined by Shara Nadler, founder and CEO of iPiggiBank, a company that is focused on improving financial literacy in children. Together, they discuss how to teach your child good money habits, and the variety of classes and education iPiggiBank provides.
In this episode, you will learn:
- What age and money topics are appropriate for children.
- The different foundations of financial literacy to teach.
- Where children gain the majority of their financial influence.
- Board game and book recommendations to make financial literacy learning fun.
- And more!
Welcome back to The Agent of Wealth Podcast. This is you host, Marc Bautis. On today’s show, I brought on a special guest, Shara Nadler. Shara is the founder and CEO of iPiggiBank, a company focusing on improving financial literacy in children.
Financial literacy, especially with children, is something that I’m a big proponent of. How did you come to start iPiggiBank?
When my son was 5 years old, he was asking me questions about money, and they were really smart questions. I started to look in the market for materials to talk to him in an age-appropriate way about a really critical topic. What I found was that there really was not anything in the market. My background is in marketing, so I’m naturally a digger in trying to find the information that I need. I was really surprised that I could not find the content. I knew that if I needed it, other families needed it, too. That really challenged me and helped me launch iPiggiBank.
Did you basically go full-on from there and created it? Or did you go in phases and pick one aspect of it and just start building it from there?
That’s a great question. I did a lot of research. I really looked into what was in the market, what was needed, and what was lacking.
From banks, to what they offer, to what was offered on digital platforms. I really looked at what was missing from me talking to a younger child, and I really went full force straight ahead. I met with educators and different financial planners and CPAs and really looked at what was missing for adults. What was the learning gap that was missing? And for myself; I learned a lot personally through some trial and error that I didn’t want to see happen again with my son.
So, I sat down and created the content to talk about how kids could manage money. There was a study done by the University of Cambridge that said that financial habits are formed by the age of 7. That was really eye-opening for me, and I said: I am going to focus on this younger market. So, I looked at content that was really focused on being engaging, addressed the fundamentals of when you earn money or you’re given money:
- How do you manage it wisely?
- How can you save wisely, and what would that mean, and what would the curriculum look like? How can you shop wisely and be a smart consumer?
- How can you share and give back and support your community?
That’s how it all started.
Did it start with one specific class you offered? Was it varying classes/camps? Or was it a mixture of both?
I line the curriculum to Common Core so that schools could use it. It started out in an after-school program in a school with a small group of students. It was over 8 weeks, so we met once a week over 8 weeks. It was a huge success. The kids really took to the topic, they were excited to talk about money; most kids are and they want to and are eager to learn about it.
A lot of times, when they either turn to their parents or the adults around them, they’re not always given correct information or really taught in a way that they understand it. So, the content that we teach is that we use different learning modalities.
We use literacy connection; we start every class with a book that really talks about the theme of the class, or an article that talks about an entrepreneur that’s a teenager or sometimes younger, maybe 9 years old, who is starting a lemonade stand. We go into the topic using art, writing, math, and interactive play. We make the content really engaging so that the kids can really personalize it and see how they can apply it to their life.
We offer it now not just in school, but after school. We work with parent associations with their after-school programming, camps, girl scout troops, and Jack and Jill of America. So, we really work with groups that want to offer a critical life skill in a really engaging way. Now, we’re virtual. Now, we’re doing obviously like everyone else, our classes are virtual classes led by our iPiggiBank teachers.
You mentioned a lot of times kids will pick up either good or bad habits from their parents. What I’ve seen as a financial adviser, people pick up their money habits from either one of two ways:
- Habits of people around them (which most likely are their parents)
- They’ve learned it somewhere in school
I know when I was growing up, there were no classes taught on financial literacy, so we tend to learn things from our parents. Like you said, it could be good habits, or it could be bad habits.
Working with a lot of people, I see that it’s 50/50. There are a lot of people that have really good habits that they’ve learned. But also, I’ve seen a study recently that said 55% of people don’t even have a dollar saved for an emergency fund. And, it’s really coming to light now with everything going on right now in the jobs market and the economy, how important just something as simple as saving some money is.
You see it with retirement savings, and saving for their children’s college; people want to do the right things, but a lot of times, they just don’t know what they should be doing or they don’t know how to get on the right track to doing that. So, I think the literacy classes that you’re teaching are great for that.
Financial Literacy for the Family and Not Just Kids
I think that’s an excellent point. One of the ways that we make this a family program is that when the kids are finished with our class, they download the workbook. The workbook is really for the family to review together and really learn (we have a glossary of terms in the back). The parents might not know how to describe it, or they never knew the definition. They can really have fuller conversations with their kids on really important topics. So, we try to bridge our classes to home learning, and I think that that’s a good point.
Our goal is that we’re creating healthy financial habits for the whole family.
I definitely see it coming full-circle because what I see a lot in terms of when someone will engage in some kind of financial planning, a lot of times when they start a family and have kids, they have that feeling of selflessness and they want what’s best for their children. If they initiate your route of having the kids learn, then it will come full-circle and they’ll learn things. I’m sure parents pick up things as well.
They do. That’s the feedback that I get. I get parents saying to me often that the conversations that they’re having, they’ve never had before. They’re saying “no” a lot less because the kids understand what a budget is, that going to the grocery store isn’t just: “can I have? Can I have? Can I have?” It’s more interactive. That’s just one explanation of one conversation that a parent can have: what’s our budget or, there’s two cereals but which one is the better value? Not just throw everything in a basket. Those are just simple conversations and parents’ feedback is that their dialogue is different at home and there’s a feeling of not this weightiness of: I don’t want to say no but I have to say no.” This is much more concrete and a healthy way to have this really critical conversation.
Let’s take a five-year-old as an example, the way it works, is it progressive building on top of concepts? A five-year-old probably can’t handle the learning or understanding of a ten-year-old. What would you start with a five-year-old in terms of financial concepts?
Absolutely. We have content that is age-appropriate. We go from kindergarten at 5 all the way to eighth grade, which is 14. So, we look at: where are they in their learning?
So, a five-year-old, we start at class with a literacy connection that’s age-appropriate. One book we like to use is called: “A Penny for Piggy” written by Trish Wilson. It talks about three little piggies and one is save, spend and share. They talk about the concepts in a really engaging, colorful way.
Then, we go into a digital workbook that has more to do with circling, drawing, and having conversations. So, that’s more age-appropriate. Whereas when we age up, we go up to working with the older kids on business in the bag, where we have them looking at putting together:
- Supply and demand
- If this was your business, what would your net profit be?
- What would your gross be?
- How many employees would you have?
This is all virtual as well. That’s the range. It grows year to year. We try with the virtual classes, we can usually have kindergarten and first graders together. Then, we look at where the kids are in their ages.
Save, Spend and Share
I know you mentioned save, spend, share. There’s a piggy bank that has those compartments, which I’m a big fan of. How do you take that concept and actually apply it to real-life? Is it with an allowance? Is that how one can transition that into really experiencing it?
Absolutely. We do want to encourage the kids to be able to have the concept of being able to touch and feel money. We’re in a digital world, so at the same time, we talk about different ways of payment, but I think that just touching and feeling the money is really important.
Allowance is one way, but not all kids get an allowance. Some families will have chores that you get an allowance, some families don’t believe in that. So, what we really stress in iPiggibank is that every family is a unique fingerprint. Every child is a unique fingerprint. What you’re going to hear in our discussions is that what works for one person, or the needs or wants of one person’s are not for someone else.
That’s what is so interesting about coming to your own values about finance because it’s personal. You really want the kids to have a financial literacy journey that’s true to who they are. When we talk about save, spend, and share in terms of: how do you earn money to do that, it could be allowance, it could be gifts. A lot of times, kids will get gifts from grandparents or aunts and uncles. It also could be ways to earn money and we talk about that with kids even as young as second grade.
We do talk about parents and caregivers/adult supervision. Not putting them out there at a lemonade stand and not having supervision. But, things could be where someone asked me: I know how to make a bracelet; can I sell that? I said: Absolutely, that is definitely something you could do.
So, it’s anywhere from kids being able to be old enough to be able to mow a lawn, to walking a dog, to their neighbor’s dog, to chores at home that they do get an allowance for. There’s really a range, and we really have a full discussion and that’s part of the workbook exploration.
From fifth to eighth grade, how does it work? You mentioned the workbook- would they go through the workbook and then is there some reinforcement that goes on at home? Is it a continuous working with the workbook? How are the classes structured and how is it taken offline with the children growing and learning after that?
That’s a great question. First, it’s led by a state-certified teacher that is trained on ipiggibank’s curriculum; that’s the first part. The virtual class is led by a certified teacher, which is something really important to iPiggibank because teachers know how to engage students. Teachers know how to manage and differentiate instruction, even in a virtual classroom.
So, our teacher comes on and leads teh classroom discussion, they use the workbook to work through a 30-minute session for kids that are kindergarten-fifth, and a 45-minute session for kids that are in sixth, seventh, and eighth grade.
When they complete the curriculum, they download it. That’s a working document. While we started them and completed it, your needs and wants change as you grow. My needs and wants when I was five are different compared to my needs and wants today. I didn’t want a dishwasher when I was five. But now, a dishwasher is looking really good.
The conversations have to do with needs and wants, too. So, what your needs are at five look very different as you grow. That’s a continuous discussion and a working iPiggibank money management for kids workbook that they can always refer to and update and work off of.
As a family, you learn a lot about your child when you see things; we start with earning money. We go into saving:
- What is saving?
- What are short-term goals?
- What are long-term goals?
- What are the differences?
We go into shopping and being a smart consumer:
- What is budgeting?
- Needs and wants
We also go into sharing, which is a really important component of money management; putting aside money for your community, or for causes that you care about. What parents or caregivers can learn from this is learning a lot about the child because they might not have known that caring for animals or donating used sports equipment was something that was a priority to their child. It really opens up dialogue on so many different levels that really makes for fuller family discussion.
Are virtual classes something new with everything going on, or is that something you’ve started trending towards?
Well, we quickly got up to speed and found that re-launch because of the pandemic, and we were so happy to be able to continue offering our classes. It seamlessly transitioned to a virtual program, which is really exciting for us and further validated the content for us.
We are offering it virtually, we have groups of 10 as a minimum and we go up to about 22 kids as a maximum. We have multiple classes on a given day. For example, on a Saturday, we could have anywhere from 3-6 classes at different ages on a day. We try to do them on the weekends because we know the kids are online a lot Monday-Friday, just so that there’s something else that parents are able to offer to their kids on the weekends. We try to focus on that, but we’re available any day of the week. That’s our program; that’s how we offer it.
Can sign up and you’ll make groups of 10, or are you looking for an organization to come in with a group of at least 10?
Oftentimes, it is a group that comes in because usually friends or groups want to be together, like the Girl Scouts or the Jack and Jill of America. It could be a parent association that has a program they want to put together. A lot of times, the groups come together, but we will take individuals that want to come together and we’ll look at putting the classes together for them.
It sounds great. I have 3 kids, and this is something that they should learn. The earlier they learn it, the better. You have camps as well? What’s different from a camp than a class?
Our classes are always engaging, so we never have where the student is feeling that this is just a usual classroom setting, so we really do make it engaging. In the summer (this is our first virtual summer), we will have where we might have the kids stand up, do a yoga pose, stretch, move around, and go back to having a conversation about money management. We might just bring in a little bit more that’s fun. We’re already fun, but maybe bring in a little bit more that has to do with moving around a little bit.
I know we touched a little bit how just historically there hasn’t been much of this taught in school. Do you see any trends where there’s an increased amount of financial literacy being taught in school, or is it still lacking to where it was when we were going to school?
It’s better than when we were going to school, for sure. It was crickets back then. When I first started iPiggibank, it was crickets, which was really surprising because I started it 8 years ago.
It’s evolved over time, and it’s definitely gotten better and it’s trending towards more schools being open and receptive to bringing in financial literacy. There are 17 states where the high school level had to take one class in personal finance and New Jersey now has mandated that middle school (6th-8th) needs to introduce a financial literacy class, which is exciting.
I would like to see K-8th, because there are studies that prove that children learn healthy financial habits by the age of 7. So, I would like to see it start earlier, especially since my son was 5 when he started the conversation. You can really see as a parent with a young child that as soon as they lose their first tooth, they want to talk about how they can spend their money. So, having that conversation earlier is really better.
It’s amazing how early they pick up on some of these concepts. They understand money. You think that a five or six-year-old isn’t going to understand it, but when it comes to them getting something that they want to spend money on, they start understanding.
One hundred percent. When my son was 5 and I was in the store with him one day, someone handed me a receipt, which doesn’t even happen as often now because everything is digital and will be emailed to you. Everything can be digital, so they don’t even see a receipt.
I took the receipt and put it in my back pocket, as I’m sure many parents do because I had a bag and a little hand to hold to get to my car, and he said to me: “What is that?” So I said: “I’ll show it to you.” The day got busy and by the time I got around to getting that receipt back out of my pocket and talk to him, he was fast asleep for the night. I thought: “That was an opportunity to have a financial conversation because being able to read a receipt is being literate because that tells you as a consumer that you purchased an item.
- How much was it?
- Did you get a sale on it?
- Did you get the right change back?
When he woke up in the morning, that was one of our first discussions. Now, even digitally, having that conversation as a smart consumer, looking at that receipt that you get to make sure you paid the right price and received the right change back.
At what age do they start understanding credit cards and being able to purchase something when you don’t have the money?
That’s an important topic. We do talk about good credit and bad credit, we bring up the topic. We talk about different payment options in second grade. The kids really are excited and the first question they ask is how can you tell the difference between a credit card and a debit card? That is a really good question.
We talk about the difference of those two cards and the difference with interest, and when you have to pay a credit card off, and that credit could be good. You want credit, right? You want to show you have a good standing and how can you get in trouble with credit cards? We start the conversation in second grade and obviously it gets more sophisticated as the kids get older.
Do you introduce tax into the curriculum as well?
Absolutely. We talk about taxes and relating back to the conversation and story I just gave with a receipt, when we talk about tax on a receipt, we talk about: why is there tax on a receipt? Where does that go? We have conversations with kids as young as second grade and we talk about: why do we pay taxes? Where do they go? Do you like when our road is smooth and no bumps? Do you like when there’s a bridge and you can cross it? We talk about repairs. We do have these conversations.
Is investing another thing that will come into play as well?
We start that at about seventh/eighth grade. We talk about: what is investing? We want them to be mature enough at that point to be able to have that understanding and that concept and that’s when they’re ready and excited to talk about it.
We partner with an organization that works with high school students and they bring in the next level of conversation. The organization is called “Sensibility” and they have a nice curriculum as well for older students.
You mentioned you have teachers that have gone through the curriculum and are certified. How does that work? Are you always looking for teachers to do it? Did you start off doing the classes by yourself?
I have always had teachers. I come from educators. My parents were educators and my sister is an educator. So, I think I look through the lens of education a little differently. But, I am not a teacher.
I know the value of a teacher. I respect education. I respect teachers and what they do. I think that they are in a whole class to themselves in what they do. I think they are incredible. So, all of our iPiggibank classes are taught by state-certified teachers.
We’re always looking for amazing teachers. Engaging teachers that love working with kids. I hire and train the curriculum and now I have a lead teacher who actually does the training. We like to grow our teaching community.
Board Games and Books
Are there any board games or games you could recommend? If someone wants to have family game night and not have everyone huddled around the iPad? I always see “Monopoly” is one that people think of. I’m sure there are better ones than that to teach finance to kids.
Well, I actually think Monopoly is great. My kids love Monopoly; it’s a great conversation. I also think that as they get older, they can really be challenged about buying property. What does it mean? And talking it through, like is that a good investment? Why would you want that? I think that it’s a great game.
I think that literacy is a great tool, to be honest with you. Sitting down and reading with your kids. We have some really great books that we recommend. One of the ones that I like to recommend is called: “Rock, Brock, and Saving Shock.” I think that they do a great job explaining investing, saving, and goals. We’ll link to them in the show notes.
What does that title represent?
So it’s twins and one is a great saver and one isn’t. The grandfather challenges them that he will match their money if they save. He shows the difference between a twin that can save and a twin that doesn’t save. The twin that doesn’t save starts looking at the other twin saying “Wow, you’re doing really well; look at how much money you have.”
By the end of the story, they really explain the difference of interest and how money has grown. In the back of the book, they have an exercise for kids to do. I think that that’s a great family tool.
I’m a fan of the books where they see the one side and the second side. It’s one of my favorites when you can see two sides of how someone does something, in this case finances.
You can start with second grade. It’s written by Shelia Bear. It’s really a good book. The other book I recommend for younger kids (but really you could read this from K-6) is called “A Penny for Piggy”and it’s by Trish Wilson.
What’s next for iPiggibank? Are you trying to build on the classes you have? I saw something on the website where you do corporate workshops as well?
Yes. We’ve been brought in to do “Bring Your Child to Work Day.” We’ve done programs there, but now obviously, it’s virtual.
I think that we were having conversations and I would love to see this grow is when we were working with the Human Resources departments of corporations; to offer it as another benefit for families, to ultimately work on budgeting and being able to use money to reinvest into benefit programs that companies offer.
By educating the younger generation who are our future employees, they’re going to be better set up to understand how to use money to leverage benefits, which I think is lacking now. I think a lot of employees can’t leverage benefits because a lot of people are living paycheck to paycheck. To see the next generation and future employees be able to take advantage of that.
I agree and I see it all the time where they’ll have these lists of benefits and it’s even hard for them to understand what the benefit is and to be able to take advantage of it.
It’s very similar to sports; the earlier you start, you’re going to learn good habits, skills, and knowledge. You’re going to be able to take that to the next level and the level after that.
Do they have classes in college on financial literacy?
Yes, they do. But, aside from majoring in finance or financial planning, it’s probably an elective class.
I think that working with educators, working with teachers, they’re so excited to learn this because they haven’t had an opportunity to necessarily take that elective or class. They want to be able to teach this and bring it to their kids. Now there’s a program and curriculum they can learn and use.
It’s just building upon the skills and the earlier you start, the better it would definitely be.
I would like to expand our virtual classes to reach more students and kids. I would love to see this grow nationally. My goal is to reach as many kids as I can.
We’re just about out of time for today’s show. Shara, thank you for being on the show.
How best can someone find out more information about iPiggiBank or reach out to you if they have any questions on it?