By Deanna C. White
Ask seven-year-old Kylie France what the "secret" to lifelong financial success is, and she'll give you a ready analysis that's unbelievably sweet in its childish simplicity, yet incredibly profound in its scope.
It's also an analysis that seems to eclipse many adults today.
"You should save your money if there's something you really, really want to buy," she says.
So where did France develop her financial acumen?
She was just one of the second graders in Ellen LeBlanc's classroom at Schriever Elementary School in Schriever, Louisiana, and one of the more than 145 second graders at the school, to be treated to their first lesson in financial literacy. Volunteers from the Society of Louisiana Certified Public Accountants (LCPA)
and accounting students from Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, Louisiana, visited the school November 30 to teach money management.
Their efforts were part of the LCPA's scholastic literacy book program, a statewide collaboration between local chapters of the LCPA, Scholastic, and the Louisiana-based health and benefit management firm Gilsbar, Inc., to try to increase children's awareness of money management.
"I think we can all acknowledge we currently have a problem with financial illiteracy in our society, and this program is all about trying instill in children, from an early age, how important it is to be financially responsible in the future," said Dr. Shawn Mauldin, CPA, accounting professor and the dean of the business school at Nicholls State. Mauldin is also president elect of the LCPA.
According to Susan Tham, CPA, the chair of the LCPA Financial Literacy Committee, the society is committed to promoting financial literacy in all age groups, whether those efforts involve visits to younger children, like the Schriever students; junior achievement programs at elementary- and middle-school levels; or providing information for adults who are still grasping the concept of planning their retirement or buying their first home.
But the key to true financial success, Tham said, is to start the discussion of money management as early as possible.
Tham acknowledges that at first, it may seem overly ambitious to teach young children about relatively complex and long-range concepts, such as the importance of saving and the dangers of compounding credit card interest, but LCPA volunteers use a very familiar forum to help children achieve that goal. They use children's books geared toward specific age levels as a way to jump-start the discussion.
At Schriever, for example, volunteers gave each student a copy of Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday. It's a book about a young boy who frivolously spent the allowance money his grandparents gave him, only to realize on Sunday he had no money left to use on things he'd really like to buy.
Volunteers read the book with the children and then discussed basic ideas of smart spending and setting savings goals. The students not only got to keep their books, Tham said, but they were also sent home with handouts for their parents providing ideas to inspire similar conversations at home.
LeBlanc said her students loved the presentation, and they really embraced the message as well – a message that's key in many children's lives, she believes, when they grow up hearing their parents talking more about money problems, such as how to pay the electric bill, than money solutions.
"My students took a sense of pride from this because it was positive . . . it taught them you can have a sense of control," she said. "Now they know they can go to the snack shop line and spend a dollar on something they really don't need, or they can save it for something special. They know they can [have a successful financial future] if they really put their minds to it.”