Beth Kobliner is a celebrity in my nerd world: One of the first journalists covering personal finances for the masses for 30 years, Kobliner wrote the New York Times bestseller, Get a Financial Life: Personal Finance In Your Twenties and Thirties that changed the way that we think and deal with our finances. In 2014, she was appointed by President Obama to the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Young Americans.
Fast forward to today, and Kobliner’s Make Your Kid a Money Genius (Even If You’re Not), is out on Amazon and in your local bookstore. This is not a boring book. Reading like a quippy magazine, yet loaded with deep research and illustrated with relevant stories from Kobliner’s life, as well as others, there really is nothing else as comprehensive out there.
In this interview, Beth Kobliner and I talk about:
- Why the ‘genius’ title is not a sales gimmick — master a few basic money habits and skills and you will beat out the vast majority of Americans.
- Why you should not tell your kids your salary.
- Allowance? Doesn’t matter! Studies show conflicting evidence as to whether this helps or hurts kids. Do what you want!
- Chores? YES!
- Top mistakes parents make when it comes to paying — and applying for — their kids’ college.
- How Kobliner’s parents thrifty ways shaped her financial future.
- Can you really teach a preschooler how to save and budget (spoiler alert: YES!).
- How to let your college grad move back home without promoting co-dependence or entitlement, and save the relationship with your kid!
“Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” —U.S. News
Full transcript of Like A Mother podcast episode with guest Beth Kobliner
Emma Johnson: So excited today to welcome today’s guest Beth Kobliner. She is the author of the new book Make Your Kid a Money Genius (Even if You’re Not), out on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, everywhere. And she is also the author of the New York Times bestselling Get a Financial Life. Now I read this book cover to cover, it is really the bible, it is the bible for parents and money. And it’s hitting everything. It’s hitting these abstract things like teaching your kid great money saving tips when your three years old, how do you do that? And it’s also teaching you things like teaching your kids about compound interest at every single age. So it’s everything from the technicalities of how to explain money concepts to kids, to also the emotional complex things that are really the root of why we screw this whole process up.
Beth Kobliner: It’s true. You know, I was on President Obama’s Counsel on Financial Capability, and that’s where this all got started. That was a counsel where we said we were gonna come up with some sort of document, and it turned out to be a website, with what parents need to know to teach their kids at various ages, three to five, six to ten, 11 to 12, those different ages. As I was researching I realized there wasn’t really a book out there with concrete advice that talked about, how do I talk to my kid about saving? Why would he want to save? How do I get my teenager to think about college without freaking them out? Those kind of questions that I think all parents face. And it was fun to do in both looking at the behavioral economics and all the research, but also to do with personal stories of parents I know, and families, and people I’ve interviewed. And it just kind of came together I think as really a parenting book for parents to teach their kids about basic money matters.
Emma Johnson: It is, and also your own personal story I found the most fascinating, because you come from a very frugal family.
Beth Kobliner: Yes, we are.
Emma Johnson: Very briefly just give us an idea of who you are. You’re a mom of three kids, you’re married, and you come from a very frugal family.
Growing up in a very frugal family
Beth Kobliner: Yeah, so growing up I lived in Queens and my dad was a principal, and my mom was a Chemistry teacher but then was a stay at home mom by the time I was born. And the famous story of our family is my dad came home, we had three kids, little kids I was the youngest, and my dad said, great news, the New York City pension plan says I can save 50% of my income in the pension plan. So that was when they first introduced it, they said put half. And my mom was like, Harold, because her name Shirley, Harold we can’t afford it, we have three kids and a mortgage and a car. And he said Shirley, we can’t afford not to. It sounds really stern, but that kind of guiding force that I saw both my parents do.
Beth Kobliner: My parents said, you go to Queens college or you go to Brown, or a bunch of other good schools. The only one I got into was Brown, and Queens College is an amazing school and I think I would have gotten as good an education, but my parents said nope, we’re gonna scrimp and save. And my mom clipped coupons, not bonds, but coupons in the A&P store to get triple coupon day to buy things and then get free plates from the store. Very careful about money, but it never felt like we’re living … we don’t have what we need. We actually always felt pretty good about it, and I feel like that take has helped me understand money at levels that I really enjoy talking about in this book.
Emma Johnson: Yeah, and it comes across. Harold and Shirley pop on here and there, they’re really cute. I kind of love them.
Beth Kobliner: Thank you.
Emma Johnson: But let’s just dig right into this. First of all, the name of the book, Make Your Kid a Money Genius (Even if You’re Not), and that’s really scary because genius, okay so we’re all gonna be like Warren Buffett, no.
Beth Kobliner: Right.
Emma Johnson: And talk to me about that, you nail that right at the beginning about what the root of that is.
Beth Kobliner’s book, Make Your Kid a Money Genius (Even if You’re Not)
Beth Kobliner: You know it’s a little bit of a tongue and cheek, make your kid a genius, but actually it’s not. It sounds it because I’ve been writing about personal finance for nearly 30 years. I work for Money Magazine and freelance for the Times about money, and everywhere, public radio. And I feel like there’s not that many hard things to know about money if you understand the concept of debt. A credit card is a loan. And if your kid understands that at a very young age, that is such a benefit to him or her as he goes forward, because realizing I’m not gonna put that on a credit card because if I can’t pay it off, I don’t have that money in my wallet, I’m gonna be paying twice as much for that iPad because I’m gonna be paying interest on it.
Beth Kobliner: And those concepts, talking about those concepts at a very young age, debt and then when we go to investing how to keep it really simple-
Emma Johnson: Just regular savings.
Beth Kobliner: Regular savings. Savings whether it’s the three jars method when they’re little, or opening a bank savings account, or getting a bank savings account online because they want to get 1% interest rather than .1% interest, whatever it is, engaging your child. You’re going to buy a car, bring your kid along and talk about what you’re doing. You’re thinking of buying a house, or you’re not gonna go on that vacation because you’re trying to refinish the basement. All those decisions, those money decisions we make as a family, I really believe it’s important to bring kids in.
Beth Kobliner: And I also think there are things you don’t have to talk about with your kids. You shouldn’t tell them your salary-
Emma Johnson: Well I want to talk about that, but let’s just dial this back for a quick second because what you’re doing by teaching parents to teach their kids about money, you’re really teaching the parents about money too.
Beth Kobliner: You figured it out, yes.
Why U.S. society is bad about personal finance
Emma Johnson: Collectively as a country, as a society, we’re really bad about personal finance. So the whole bit about the genius, you’re saying look if you can get basically really let’s say three skills, understanding debt, understanding savings and basic investing-
Beth Kobliner: Basic investing.
Emma Johnson: Really basic investing, like saving-
Beth Kobliner: 401K, yeah.
Emma Johnson: Right tax advantage, regular savings, and diversify, if you got that, and working. Working is key. The idea of earning a lot when you’re 25, no. Work, save, and avoid debt. And when you got that you’re a genius because you are ahead of like 90% of the public.
Beth Kobliner: Exactly, and frankly you’re also ahead of most people on Wall Street too, I feel, because-
Emma Johnson: What?
Beth Kobliner: Well here’s why, because maybe not the people who are selling you the stuff on Wall Street, but people who are buying into it. For example, I have in my investing chapter I talked about this is a friend who shall remain nameless, but her friend, they were fairly well off and her son turned I think 16 or 17, and she said here’s a chunk of money. Here’s $500 for your birthday, you can invest it in E-Trade. You can put that money, pick a stock, see what happens. And I thought, okay that’s the worst advice because if it does really well he’s like, I’m a financial genius, look at me, I’m an investment guru, I don’t even need to go to college, look how great it did. And if he loses it all he’s like, the stock market’s so dangerous, I’ll never do that again.
Beth Kobliner: So that’s you I feel like something like index funds, which may sound scary but our extremely simple, is something that kids can understand in college and beyond. I have a chapter for college aged kids but also for adult kids, as well as preschool kids. But I think when you get to that college, adult aged kids, understanding something as simple as an index fund can save you tens of thousands of dollars in fees over your child’s lifetime. And that, I think, is the genius part, because nobody … it’s sort of like I felt like I wanted to sit down with a friend, this is my book, let’s have coffee and I’m gonna tell you all I need to know. I’m like, blah blah blah, and talking talking talking talking, but you will get the most important things you need to be very, very smart, if not a genius, more so than most people.
Emma Johnson: Well right, because you go out and talk, even like you said people on Wall Street, and they’re like, index funds, I’m smarter than that.
Beth Kobliner: Exactly.
Emma Johnson: I’m gonna do stock picking, I’m so smart. And I was talking to my brother, and we were talking about the political climate. He’s like, oh well I moved all our money into funds. Who is he? He works in IT at a distribution … like yeah, you’re not smarter than the market.
Beth Kobliner: It’s a gamble, exactly Emma, that’s exactly right.
Emma Johnson: You’re not smarter than the market. Index funds, maybe a target date, just whatever. Okay but right now you’re saying jargon that most people don’t understand, buy the book and you can educate yourself at the same time you’re straightening your kids out. Okay, I’m really glad you brought up the salary thing, because that made me uncomfortable. You’re talking about … you started off saying okay, we know now in this day and age that we talk to our kids about sex. I don’t care if you’re progressive or conservative, you know you need that. You have to talk to your kids about sex. We kind of get that now collectively as a society, but we’re still not talking to our kids about money. But then you did highlight a few things that you believe you should not talk to your kids about, salary was one.
When and how to talk to your kids about money
Beth Kobliner: Yes. I would say you can talk about, I have a job. You could bring your little kids to your job, even your older kids, and let them see what the job is. I do this job because I make money, and that’s what buys us our food, and our house. And you could say, and I really like my job because it’s great, or I don’t like it so much but I do it because we have to and it’s a way to earn income. And the kids says, well how much do you make dad, or how much do you make mom? And you say, you know what you’re at the age now where you should know that we’re doing fine. We’re able to afford this home and the food on your plate. And we’re gonna be … depending upon the kid’s age it’s really all about being age appropriate.
Beth Kobliner: So if you tell your three year old, I make $100,000 a year, that’s gonna be the talk of nursery school, first of all. And most importantly, that child has no concept of what that means. Or even your 12 year old, you say oh I make $100,000. Wow, that sounds like a lot, why can’t I get that bike?
Emma Johnson: But why can’t you use that as a learning opportunity? Say, I make $100,000 and here’s our bills. There is other philosophies where I sit down with your kids every month and show them all the family expenses.
Beth Kobliner: Who does that? Honestly, I think it’s in theory, but I think everyone’s so busy. Everyone’s working, two income parents.
Emma Johnson: We’re talking about two different things. We’re talking about time management versus keeping secrets from your kids.
Beth Kobliner: I wouldn’t say it’s a secret. I think there are things that are … look, I think that if your kid says, how much money mom and dad do you earn? And they’re 10 years old, you can say, let’s make a pie chart and show what percentage of our income goes … to give them a dollar figure at 10 years old I think is giving them a number that doesn’t have context. I think you could talk about, you know what the median income in our family … the median income in our country is about 55 thousand, 60 thousand per household. We earn more than that, and that means that we’re very lucky to have some of the things we have. Or, we earn less than that and that’s why we really have to be very careful about what we’re buying.
Beth Kobliner: I think pinning a number on it at this point, first of all then you get into the question if the mom makes a lot more than the dad, do you tell them mom earns less, or dad earns less? I also think you shouldn’t be telling kids about what you pay your babysitters or your-
Emma Johnson: Right, that’s a big part of it.
Put money into context when talking about finances with kids
Beth Kobliner: Yeah, I think all those … you don’t tell your kid, oh we have $200,000 in a 401K, or oh we only have $2,000 in the 401K. I think there’s certain numbers that really don’t make sense for children to know, because it’s out of context. I think you keep it age appropriate. If your kid is now in college, or about to go to college, and you say look, we can afford this school because dad earns this amount of money, or mom earns this amount of money, then it starts getting appropriate as they get older. But to tell a six year old … and I think the reality of sitting at a table and, here’s my bills, and here’s … it’s too much. It’s information overload. I think the key is for parents who are very busy, you don’t have time to be … I have parents freak out to me like, we started an allowance system and I can’t even keep up with it, and my kid forgets to ask, and then I forget to give it. It’s too much.
Beth Kobliner: I’ve never met a family who’s like, yes we’re so on top of our allowance system. We have a color coded chart and everyone gets … it’s too much. And I think doing this for 30 years, I feel like there are certain things that it’s great and you really need to talk to your kids about a lot, but also you don’t have to talk about how much you spend on a gift, that’s a classic one.
Emma Johnson: On the children’s gifts.
Beth Kobliner: On the children’s gifts or other people’s gift. Like oh, we got Aunt Mary a toaster and we only spend $10. You don’t have to go into that detail I think for certain issues, because they also reflect other things, other family issues. You wouldn’t want to say, Uncle Harry, he’s so cheap. I think keeping it in context. And the biggest one to be very careful with kids is, your absolute abject fears about saving for college. And I think everyone feels so afraid of the college question. And I have a whole chapter here on how to think about financial aid, and when to start talking about it with your kid, and how to start talking about it. And I think that’s where meaningful conversations with meaningful numbers make sense.
Emma Johnson: Okay. All right, let’s talk about this a little bit. Just some general rules about talking around money. I love how you … like using anecdotes, whether they’re talking about your friends, not naming names, maybe financial mistakes that they’ve made, you mention some in your book. Or people in the news that are getting into bad financial trouble or making great financial decisions. We always love those stories about somebody that saved $30 a month for their entire life and then they’re millionaires. So using real … which is just a human thing, it’s not specific to parenting. It’s like, tell stories and not just throw information.
Beth Kobliner: Well, it helps it make it interesting.
Money gifts for children; teaching financial responsibility
Emma Johnson: Right. And then you know like I said, those formulas. If you … okay, so here you got some birthday money, it’s $100. And if you put $100 … so talk to me about some of these basic tools that parents should keep in the back of their mind when they are approaching money with their kids.
Beth Kobliner: I mean, one of the very simple quick number examples, if you’re 10 and you put a quarter into a savings account, and say you did it for everyday. And it’s kind of a concept that a kid can understand, 25 cents, yeah I could do that. By the time you’re much older and you retire you could have $50,000. That’s one of those ones that kind of is aspirational, sounds like a lot of money, down the road. But I think the more concrete one frankly is, hey you really want that LEGO set, you know what you have many, many LEGO sets, so I think that this is a good one for you to save up for. Whether you get allowance from grandma and grandpa, or you get allowance from us, or whatever this child’s system of earning any money or having any savings, wherever it comes from, that’s a great way to say, that’s your goal.
Beth Kobliner: And if it’s something that would take him seven years to get, you might want to say, okay I’ll match it for every dollar you put in you’ll get a matching dollar. But I think the key to all of this is consistency. And I think, as a parent, that’s the hardest thing. I think when you say, okay you have to save up for you want to go the movies with your friends, wells that’s extra so you have to save for it. And suddenly it’s Saturday night and your 12 year old says, I can’t go, my friends are going and I can’t go. And you’re like, all right I’ll pay for it, that inconsistency is very hard. So I think that’s, I would say for parents to spend their time thinking about those things.
Beth Kobliner: What are really the expectations of our children to do with their money, their savings? How do we handle this in a realistic way? Because I think sometimes as parents we say, when I was a kid I worked, I didn’t get any money. I think of that, I made $1 an hour babysitting. Well, times have changed from 1978. It’s a different world. And I think putting realistic numbers when a kid goes to college saying, okay either we don’t have enough money to give you any extra money, or we’re gonna give you this amount of money and this is for your trips home, if you want to visit friends on Christmas break, whatever it is. But once you run out of that money, that’s it. And you will believe that your kid, instead of trying to get an airline flight, will take a train even it takes them eight hours versus a one hour plane, they’ll do it, because I’ve seen my daughter do that just to save a few hundred bucks.
Emma Johnson: They’re capable of a lot. One theme woven through all of this is, you can expect a lot from your kids.
Teaching kids about saving and thinking about money; emotional baggage around money
Beth Kobliner: Right, and nobody’s gonna do everything perfect. Certainly as a parent I don’t. But I think that attempting some of these things. And I think the best compliment I’ve gotten so far is actually my doctor. I was talking to her, and she has little kids, and she’s like, wow I’ve been reading your book. She’s like, it makes me talk to my kids a little differently. It made me think, all right, they’re actually able. I’m not gonna get mad at them, oh you … there’s a tendency in all of us, believe me, why do you want that? You have so much. But they’re kids. We have to teach them about, that’s so great you want that, I love things too. Let’s save up for that, let’s set aside some money. And I think that really shapes their development and their thinking about money, and feeling capable about handling it not terrified.
Emma Johnson: Right, and one of the big lessons you said is, deal with your own emotional baggage around money. So if you grew up in a household where people were fighting about money or had really bad money habits, you probably have some hangups that you have to deal with if you’re going to have a positive message about money to your kids.
Beth Kobliner: Right, I think it’s very tricky. Again, doing this for 30 years, writing about money, I feel like I’ve met so many people who say, you know I am so bad with money because my parents had so much credit card debt and they were hippies, and they never paid attention. And the other people say, I am so bad about money because my parents were so frugal and so cheap, and they didn’t live life to its fullest, and I’m really living my life, but I’m really bad about it and I’ve got into a lot of debt. And I feel like all those, if possible, trying to put that aside from now and think about what are the concrete steps I can take going forward to teach my kid a little about setting up a savings jar, the gold standard of saving, spending, and giving.
Beth Kobliner: And I have a whole chapter on giving and how it’s good to give with kids. But one thing you said that was really right on, I did a project with Sesame Street about two, three years ago. And I got to teach Elmo about money, which was probably the highlight of my life.
Emma Johnson: It’s a really cute video.
Beth Kobliner: With his little hands, and fingers, it’s so cute. So I taught him about this, and we put money in a savings jar. And then Sesame Street took that show and did a test, they did an impact study. Which means, what kind of impact did the show have? And they found that, not only did it make parents more aware of money matters and children more aware of saving, and spending, and those kind of issues, and making choices when you’re a kid and all that, it also resulted in having more parents start saving who watched the show. And they had a control group, and the control group who didn’t watch the show, more people didn’t start saving as much.
Make money talk with kids fun and memorable
Beth Kobliner: So in other words, and my dad who’s been and educator for 40 years in New York City has said, you teach the children and you teach the parents. And I feel like that’s sort of my feeling with this book, and trying to kind of make it funny, and readable, but also lots of concrete advice.
Emma Johnson: Yes, right. Let’s get some more advice. I’m sure this is the first question, I’m guessing, allowance. Do we have to give allowance or not?
Beth Kobliner: Right, no you don’t have to give allowance. I looked at about two dozen studies, there was a study done in Canada, and England, and all over. And really the bottom line is some studies say, yes allowance is a good way to teach responsibility, your kids manage their own money. Other studies say, nope kids feel entitled and they’re getting money out of nowhere, don’t give allowance. So that’s kind of there’s no right answer. I think the bottom line is consistency in terms of you say to your kid, I want you to pay for your entertainment, you’re in high school now, that’s your responsibility. You stick with it and you be very clear and very consistent. And I’m gonna give you, whether it’s 50 bucks a week, a month, whatever it is, I’m gonna give this to you but beyond that we don’t give you more. And that’s a very, very tricky thing for a lot of parents.
Beth Kobliner: I would not tie allowance to chores. I think that you end up making a kid, first of all negotiate, all right give me $5 to make my bed, or $10 to pick up my dirty laundry. And they might say, you know what it’s not worth it for me to get $5 to … I was thinking when I was young I used to scour the gross cheese of the pot with a Brillo pad. They might say, I don’t want to do that for $5. So I think you have household chores that are definitely part of your family’s lifestyle. And a study came out from the University of Minnesota last year showing that chores are actually a predictor of how successful you’ll be in life. If you start chores with a very, very little kid, they were one predictor of ability to start a career, ability to finish your college degree.
Beth Kobliner: And so it’s all about those little responsibilities we give to kids, and frankly making it easier for ourselves that it’s not such a complicated system that you have to sort of start it, stress out because you have two jobs and you’re not able to follow through with your allowance system. So I say, doesn’t matter. Do it, don’t do it, but whatever rule you come up with, be consistent.
Piggy banks and allowance systems
Emma Johnson: One little funny rule that you put in there, if your kids have their piggy bank or the jars which we have at my house, my two kids, don’t go and borrow from it. And I was like, so guilty as charged because I pay my cleaning lady in cash and I almost forgot to return the $40 to my son this week.
Beth Kobliner: I know, I know. I mean believe me, I’ve heard that story many times because we all have debit cards and credit cards, we don’t have cash anymore. So it’s important … but it’s best not to steal from your children, just a little tip.
Emma Johnson: I agree, guilty as charged.
[AD] Money, it’s probably the most important talk you’re not having with your kids. Find out how to start the conversation with Make Your Kid a Money Genius (Even if You’re Not), the new book from Beth Kobliner, author of the New York Times bestseller, Get a Financial Life. Research shows that even preschoolers can understand basic money concepts, and a study from Cambridge University confirmed that basic money habits are formed by the age of seven. Research also shows that the number one influence on kids’ financial behaviors is mom and dad.
Emma Johnson: Make Your Kid a Money Genius (Even if You’re Not) is the is the jargon free, step-by-step guide for parents looking to teach their kids ages 3 to 23 the financial facts of life. You don’t need to be a money genius to make your kid a money genius. Regardless of your own comfort level or income level, this fun book is an essential and accessible guide to make your kids wise beyond their years when it comes to money basics. is the jargon free guide for parents looking to teach their kids ages 3 to 23 the financial facts of life. Make Your Kid a Money Genius (Even if You’re Not), the new book from bestselling author Beth Kobliner, pick up or download your copy and learn how to make your kid a money genius today.
Emma Johnson: You mentioned paying for college a few times, everybody’s in a different financial situation. The one thing I can say that drives me bananas is when families who do not have endless funds tell their kids, you just get into whatever school you can, the best school, and we’ll figure it out from there.
Beth Kobliner: Well sadly what happens, and this has happened to people my age, younger, I’ve heard this again and again. And of course kids today, their parents say that and then the reality sets in and they’re like, we can’t afford to send you there, it’s just too much. We literally cannot afford it.
Emma Johnson: Or is it that they just like, okay we’re just gonna take out endless debt?
Teaching kids about debt and financial aid
Beth Kobliner: We’re gonna borrow against our home, we’re gonna take out high priced loans, even the federal plus loan is expensive, and we’re gonna be in debt for the rest of our lives. I think we’re really at that point now where colleges are that expensive and people have a sense that, oh I want my kid … and believe me, that’s what my parents did with me, we want you to go to the best school that you get into. But there was a lot of planning involved, and my dad got a VA loan and he was very smart about … and back then also college was $20,000 a year, so we really could manage it. I think the numbers are so enormous, and it’s better for the parents and for the kid to start thinking about this, particularly the parents, in say the end of eighth grade, beginning of ninth grade.
Beth Kobliner: And I go through each year in my book for thinking about financial aid, getting a sense of … there are great tools out there. The Obama Administration offered up some great online tools at the Department of Education that you can figure out roughly. It’s gonna be off be a few thousand dollars, but we’re really talking about tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars here, what’s my family contribution? What am I expected to give? And then once I get a rough sense of that, I could talk to my child and say hey, we are in this together. We are so proud of you, ninth grade begins high school, that’s when grades start to count, mention that to them. But we’re not gonna stress out about this, we’re just gonna talk about this and be in this as a team, and we’re gonna learn a lot. And as you go we’re gonna look for the best financial aid possibilities.
Beth Kobliner: There are some schools that are great, but you’re even at the high end of those students, apply to those because you might … I just saw someone who’s actually a radio producer told me, a few years ago I talked to her and she said that she has two sets of twins. So she’s like, what am I gonna do? And she said that I told her that, apply to some schools that your child’s grades are clearly better than, private schools, but they’re still schools that he’d really want to consider. She did, and at the end of the day her kid got into a range of different schools. And then they could first of all negotiate with the schools a little bit with financial aid packages, but also make a reasonable decision.
Beth Kobliner: And I think the problem is, it’s so overwhelming that most of the nice parents I know are like, it’s the elephant in the room. I don’t even want to talk about it, I don’t want to stress myself out, I don’t want to stress my kids out, but it’s there and it’s lingering. And you just have to start incrementally. And I think if you make it part of the family conversation, it actually goes a lot smoother.
Student loans: The elephant in the room
Emma Johnson: Face it, face the real numbers. Well at that point the kids gonna know how much parents make because it’s gonna be on the financial aid form.
Beth Kobliner: Well, you don’t have to sit there and … just like you don’t sit with your kid and fill at your taxes like, this is what we … here’s our deduction. You don’t have to do … but as a parent, it’s your responsibility. There are these sort of quickie financial aid forms, and ways to figure out your family contribution that can really help you get a sense of how much, and then you talk to your child. Again, if you stick a financial aid form, which is a nightmare no matter who you are, if you stick it in front of their kid they’re gonna be like, what? It’s overwhelming. So you want to extract the information you can and then talk about it with him or her in an age appropriate way that they can understand what this is all about.
Emma Johnson: Right. And the other thing is, the value of college is so different than what it was when we … I’m 40, you have kids in college now, it’s just a completely different equation. And I mean the Harvard entering class is so much bigger than it was 20 years ago, right?
Beth Kobliner: Right.
Emma Johnson: And so the actual value of that is changing very quickly. So it’s just simply a different equation.
Beth Kobliner: Right, well it’s interesting too because one of my favorite economists, this guy Alan Krueger, who is the Head of … I know, I have academic crushes on economists. But he was President Obama’s Chief Economic guy, person, at one point. But he did an interesting study a few years ago looking at, does it pay off to go to an Ivy League college? And the bottom line was, if you’re sort of a middle, middle-lower income wage earning family, going to an Ivy League college does increase your contacts basically, your network of people. But when you’re thinking middle-upper income, when they look at the numbers it really doesn’t have a huge impact when it comes to getting jobs and networking with people.
Going to Ivy League colleges: is it worth the price?
Beth Kobliner: I think that my example was I went to Brown University, I was from Queens. My dad was a teacher, we had literally no cool contacts. Like I wanted to … maybe I’ll be a writer. So my dad said, look through your alumni magazine and find people in writing. So I got a job working for a man who was the publisher of Silvia Porter’s personal finance newspaper column. Which was, she was like the Suze Orman of her day. She was the first person to write about personal finance, certainly the first woman, and that was all through these Brown contacts. But frankly, you can go through any college and look through, because community colleges, all kinds of college, Queens College certainly, have very prominent alumni. And just reaching out to that … there are ways of reaching out to people that you have some connection to.
Emma Johnson: But here’s your thing, your to networking was your university. Guess what, we have LinkedIn, we have Facebook. There’s actually networking events. All you do in New York City anymore is go meet cool people, and that’s true in every city in the whole world. So the world is completely different. And I worry when I hear parents say, oh well it made all the difference is the network. Okay one, when you’re going to school it was 20 thousand and now it’s 50. And the value of that undergraduate degree is simply not worth it. Lawyers can’t get jobs, doctors don’t make what they used to, and nobody wants to work on Wall Street anymore.
Emma Johnson: So what is … and I’m not dismissing all that. If you have endless funds, and you have a brilliant child, who cares? Send them wherever you want to go. But if it means completely stressing your kid out, stressing you out, compromising everybody’s future and quality of life, check yourself and live in reality.
Beth Kobliner: I agree, and I think that you make and excellent point. In the olden days when it was clubby university that you … now it’s all online. All that information is online, and it’s kind of easy to make a connection to someone. I mean, I can’t tell you how often you use my Queens card. You’re from Queens? I’m from Queens.
Emma Johnson: Queens is cool now, I live in Queens.
Beth Kobliner: Queens is so cool. And I always sort of … I always have said it with an edge, with pride in Manhattan. And I feel like there are so many ways out there, and I think they’re more and more. And I think if that’s the reason you’re sending your child and putting pressure on the child, I think it doesn’t make sense. I think there are so many … it’s not a cliché, there really are so many different options and many different places where a child will be much happier.
Should parents pay for their kids’ college tuition?
Beth Kobliner: Here’s a story. I spoke at Mercy College up in Westchester. I met a kid actually who went to my high school, Cardozo High School in Bayside, Queens. But he’s 19 and he got into MIT, but he also got into Mercy College. And his family could not afford MIT, and for whatever reason he didn’t get the financial aid he needed. But there was this teacher there at Mercy college who was extraordinary. He was a former Wall Street guy who decided to devote himself in teaching, and he took this kid under his wing. And he said to him, if you can afford MIT go there, because it’s technological. But he’s like, you know what you’re here at Mercy College. This kid is the top of the class, he’s getting so much attention, he’s 20 minutes from Manhattan, he will be fine.
Beth Kobliner: And I think those kind of … me as a parent, I think this all comes down to information because if you start looking into this a little bit and get a sense of what you can afford, it just helps so much, rather than closing your eyes and saying, yeah we’ll do whatever it takes and then you’re like, what are we paying for? Why are we sending our kid to this place and it’s not even really better than the local place?
Emma Johnson: I’ll tell you what, all my research is done through dating. And I went out with this guy and he was probably like 50. Had really done nothing, that I could tell, with his career. He was a struggling filmmaker that had really never had any success.
Beth Kobliner: Check please, let’s go.
Emma Johnson: Well, yeah. But he was adjunct at Columbia. He’s like, here’s the Film Department at this Ivy League school. There’s one professor, everybody else is adjunct including me. And he’s like, yeah so for example I just taught a course on technology and film. He’s like, I don’t know anything about … so I read a few books and I taught it. So okay ladies and gentleman listening, if you think it’s so great to send your kid to Columbia, you’re not only getting … your kids are not only being taught by adjuncts, but incompetent adjuncts that just read a couple of books.
Beth Kobliner: Yeah, I think that’s absolutely true no matter where you go. Honestly, 100% I love Brown, it was a great experience, it was wonderful for me. Again, it was 1982, it was a lot cheaper. Even in relative terms it was a lot cheaper. Incomes were lower, but not … it was just a giant difference now. But I think that educationally, if I looked class for class, I would have been in the honors classes at Queens College. There’s a very good chance I could have gotten a more intensive … I was an English Major, so English education. You know, I think that also being a big fish in a smaller pond, not even a … and Queens College is a great school, that can have an impact on a child’s future too.
Emma Johnson: And self-esteem and networking, right? Like the kid that you were explaining, right?
Beth Kobliner: Yeah.
Emma Johnson: To be the star student under the wings of this illustrious professor.
Beth Kobliner: Right, who really pays attention to you, rather than one of hundreds who are super smart kids certainly on paper, but maybe it’s not the right vibe for you. Maybe you don’t thrive in that kind of environment. And I think these conversations are happening. But I’ve always thought, it does … just because this is what I do, it comes down to economics. I think people sort of talk, but when you look at the numbers, and this is what the form expects us to pay, and maybe we’ll move money here and there. But the bottom line is, can we realistically afford this amount? Is there a way to cut this number down? And if we can’t, what are the other options and what are the other wonderful options that we can start talking about with our kid in eighth grade rather than waiting until 11th grade, when all the stress is on them.
Emma Johnson: Yes, very, very important. And I really appreciate that conversation because it is the big thing that looms for so many parents. Your book, it’s billed for parents of kids ages 3 to 23.
Beth Kobliner: Right.
Emma Johnson: Moving back home, is that acceptable?
Adult kids and moving back home
Beth Kobliner: It’s absolutely acceptable. I think that both parties have to agree. And one thing I’ve been really worrying about more and more is that as parents we are … retirement isn’t a thing anymore. You know you just have to keep working, and you keep thinking about what can I do and how can I reinvent myself in my 40s, my 50s, my 60, to keep earning. And as kids move back home, it’s now more than ever important to have those conversations with them that, no we’re not gonna dip into our 401K to make your life more comfortable while you’re living back at home. We expect you to get a job, and I have a whole section about take any job, it doesn’t … yes, you have a four year degree, but you still need to make income. And you can’t sit around waiting for your dream job.
Beth Kobliner: And I do think this is a generation, the good news about people in their 20s is, they don’t have much credit card debt. My generation, I think that we graduated with thousands of dollars from credit cards. And part of it is they’ve seen their parents having trouble with mortgages and home loans, and they’re wary of getting credit card debt. But also frankly there was a law passed, The Card Act, during the Obama Administration, which said you can’t get a credit card until you’re 21 unless you have a job or your parent cosigns. So in my book I talk about, do not cosign a credit card with your kid in college. And I go through all the details on that.
Beth Kobliner: But the good news is, chances are when your kid comes home and lives with you at 21, 22, they probably won’t have much credit card debt, but they have to start repaying their loans. And you can look at the repayment options with them and let them figure out how to pay it back. But you could lead them to the right places. And then you say, here’s our deal, we’re gonna do this either for a set amount of time or you’re gonna build up a cash cushion. I know one parent said she was having her kid contribute every month to the rent, but secretly she was keeping that money aside so when he was ready to move out she gave him, here’s a little bunch of cash that you can use.
Beth Kobliner: Whatever system it is, it’s important to have those rules be concrete. Because after month three or four, I know parents are like, get out of the house, you’re doing nothing, you’re watching repeats of law and order. Just get up, get out. And you have to sort of lay the groundwork, write it down. It sounds weird, but write it down. There’s some great examples of families and exactly what they do. And I think it’s important to have those. The reality is, moving back home for a year is great because your kid could start paying off a chunk of that student loan debt and hopefully start saving some money. But it also is important to have a plan in place.
Emma Johnson: Yes, right, an endgame.
Beth Kobliner: And endgame, it’s true. Or at least a middle of life game, because the game goes on. Even when your kids move out, they’re still gonna ask you for advice and maybe even financial help.
Emma Johnson: Yeah.
Teach kids about money from a young age
Beth Kobliner: So it kind of continues. But I think having these conversations and having it sort of be a two way street, even with a preschooler, and letting them know you expect them to wait for something they want and they have to save up for something they want. Or in middle school, that we talk about, they might have a-
Emma Johnson: Well let’s do that, we’re gonna do a speed round in a minute. The whole thing is, I feel like a lot of it is … one overriding takeaway that I had, identifying your own values around money, and then just communicating them. And a lot of it is family culture. I grew up in this Protestant, Midwestern, scrappy farm country. No one paid for their kids weddings. No one had enough money to help with the down payment on a house. There was just, you’re on your own. No one was gonna help me pay for college. There was no confusion about it.
Beth Kobliner: Right, and I’m sure were chores were just part of-
Emma Johnson: Oh my gosh.
Beth Kobliner: You don’t have those conversations because the dishes are on the table, you put them in the dishwasher, you wash them by hand and you dry them.
Emma Johnson: It was very clear what their … there wasn’t much communication because we are Midwestern Protestants.
Beth Kobliner: In my family we were yelling, as Jews from Queens. But we still were doing … it was expected. Who would think of asking for money to … and I had a mom come over to me, a really smart mom the other day. And she’s like, by the time we get home from work, and our kids get home from school, and they have, it’s hard to say to them, you must do your laundry or you must … but I’m like, it will help them. Really, I believe setting the tone with kids at a young age helps everyone, knowing the expectations. And I think as parents frankly, we all work hard, the dual income family, or single parents. I think that there’s a lot of stresses and strains and people think, I don’t want to yell at my kids, I just want to be with them. But that’s not really helping them in the end.
Emma Johnson: You know look, I do yell at my kids about their chores plenty. But at the same time, when they’re in their groove, they take a lot of pride in it. You know, my daughter gets really into making her bed, dancing with the pillows. She just gets into it and it feels good. It just feels good to do whatever you’re doing. You do a good job on your homework, you do a good job memorizing your lines for theater class. There is pride in doing good work.
Beth Kobliner: And it’s all part of the same thing. We expect you to do your homework, we expect you to do chores, we expect you to save for something you want. I remember I used to shovel snow for the neighbors and I would get a few dollars, I took such pride in that. And it was such an exhilarating experience that I think we sometimes forget about that, life is so busy. Now there are first of all apps for allowance, and websites to go on, and automatic deductions. I sort of feel like, slow it down if possible and start looking at the basics. And I feel that the most important thing is parents who are busy should know it isn’t all that hard. You just kind of start off with some simple saving plans for little kids, and then having those conversations with kids in middle school.
Emma Johnson: Great segue, we’re gonna do a speed round.
Beth Kobliner: Yeah.
Emma Johnson: So I want you to give one top lesson for all the age groups, and I’ll just tip you off one what they are.
Beth Kobliner: Okay.
Emma Johnson: All right. So for preschoolers, what’s the one thing parents should do?
Preschoolers can learn about grocery shopping concepts
Beth Kobliner: Go through the supermarket with them and as you’re shopping, and even if they’re like, I want this, I want that, say no. Because studies show that when you give in, you give in, you give in, those kids are more likely to have debt problems later on in life, in college. So saying no is a really good thing. And it’s hard sometimes, and kids are screaming, but it is something. You can inoculate your kid before you go into the supermarket. Say, you know what, we’re going in for diapers, and milk, and that’s it. And we’re gonna run in, and we’re gonna see how fast we can do it, and we’re gonna get out. And just repeating that, repeating, repeating, repeating, your kid will get the message. Screaming like a maniac for a chocolate bar at the checkout aisle isn’t gonna work.
Emma Johnson: It’s not gonna happen. You know what I do at Costco, we love Costco, my kids can always pick out one treat.
Beth Kobliner: Excellent.
Emma Johnson: And they know they’re not gonna get away … and they have to share because it’s Costco so everything’s huge. So they have to agree together. They’re six and eight, almost seven and nine.
Beth Kobliner: That’s perfect.
Emma Johnson: And they know that Oreos is not gonna fly, but the sugary granola bars are somehow acceptable, so whatever right. Okay, so that’s preschool. Elementary school, the one thing that parents should be doing?
Savings accounts for elementary school kids
Beth Kobliner: I think that the plain old opening a savings account at a bank with your kid, and if you can swing it, going into a brick and mortar bank and opening that account. And sadly you don’t often get a passbook anymore, although some books do have kids accounts. And making sure that account doesn’t say, if you fall below $100 you get charged $10, because your kids gonna be really mad if the next month you go back and it’s $90. But there are banks you can do it finding banks online. I remember my son was so … my favorite story is he was little, he was like six or seven or eight. And I was tucking him into bed, he’s like, mommy I have to ask you a question. I thought, where babies are from. It was, how do I get higher interest on my accounts?
Emma Johnson: And like, if you find out kid, let me know.
Beth Kobliner: Exactly. But online banks are something that elementary school kids can understand. And you can say, you know what, we can get 1% and let’s figure that out. And I think that kind of makes kids aware, much more aware of their money. And they want to be a little more frugal with it because they like seeing it go up in the bank account.
Emma Johnson: Great. Middle school?
Teach middle schoolers about compound interest
Beth Kobliner: Middle school, let’s see. I would say compound interest. Hopefully they may learn it in school, they may not. But you can say for example, if you set aside about $7 a month, this is that quarter a day example that you start at age 10, if you earn the average 7%, you’ll hit about $51,000 by the time you retire. And just a quarter a day, 51 thousand, that’s kind of a good example. Just a motivational … research shows that when you use numbers, even if you’re number-phobic, when you use numbers like that it kid of can really encourage kids and give them a very concrete example.
Emma Johnson: Love it. Okay, high schoolers?
Talk to high schoolers about credit cards, loans, and debt
Beth Kobliner: Well, we talked about talking early about college. I would say it’s important to make sure your kid knows that a credit card is a loan. Because all the drama and excitement … one study found that sadly military families who get credit cards, look at it as a very prestigious thing. And actually, the more debt they have their like, this is great, I have this card of prestigious. So it’s very important to make sure your kid understands that a credit card … when you use a credit card and you don’t pay it off in full, that is a loan, a very, very expensive loan. And it’s surprising … I talked to a group of Girl Scouts the other day at Barclay Center, and they were so bright and so smart. But the one question when I said, if you can pay for something with a credit card or cash what would you do? And they all said, a credit card. Because that’s all they see, right?
Beth Kobliner: So I think boiling it down very simply, understanding credit card debt I think is very important. And don’t cosign a card with your kid, whether it’s in high school or college, because that will not only probably not build up his or her credit report, but it’ll also potentially hurt yours dramatically if they mess up.
Emma Johnson: Okay, great advice. And then college?
College kids need to know it’s OK to be broke in college
Beth Kobliner: I think the big one for college is making sure your kid knows you’re supposed to be poor in college, you don’t have much to spend in college. And if you are in the situation where you can give your kid a little bit of money in college, which is pretty unusual, but if you can that’s it. Very clear, making sure they know I will pay for whatever it is. Is it books? I’ll pay for healthcare. But you have to pay for any travel.
Beth Kobliner: My favorite story is my daughter’s friend’s mom called me and she said … two moms called me and said their daughter said, my account’s been hacked. And the mom’s like, what? I had $500 and now it’s gone. And they’re like, okay let’s look over your bills. Oh, did you have lunch out? Yes. Did you buy a present for your friend? Did you visit your friend in Washington at a different school? They didn’t realize that were spending so much money on this card because it’s so easy.
Emma Johnson: Okay, basically this is adult land.
Beth Kobliner: Adult land.
Emma Johnson: Grow up and I’m not your bank. Okay, and then young adults?
Teach young adults about health insurance
Beth Kobliner: Young adults, well this one’s tricky. I hate to bring it up, but I do think needing health insurance is really important. And hopefully we’ll still be allowed, if kids are 26 or under, that the federal law will still be that you can help your kid, put them on your health insurance plan. But talking to a kid about whatever job you get, make sure to ask for health insurance, how important that is.
Beth Kobliner: I’ve met so many young people who are like bloggers, or they have their cool YouTube thing and they’re making money, but they still don’t have health insurance. And I think that is something that if something horrible happens, God forbid if something happens to them, it will not only hurt them, it will bankrupt their families. Because of course we will want to pay for our kid’s emergency care. And I think that’s one that, particularly as we go forward, keeping your eye on the health insurance issue and making sure your college graduate, or anyone when they’re in their early-20s, making sure as best as you can that they have some coverage.
Emma Johnson: Yeah, I had Jennifer Fitzgerald from Policy Genius on the show. And this is a true story, it was a young educated man and he had a high income. He was 25 years old, but he had a million dollars in debt. Literally, seven figures in debt because he had had a car accident and had to be teleported to the hospital, and just had this emergency. Thank God he’s okay, but he’s now seven figures in debt at the beginning of his career.
Beth Kobliner: Right, it’s just that’s the beauty of youth but also the tragedy, not realizing. And I was talking to these young, very successful women bloggers who were 23. And I was like, look I know that you’ve gotta get coverage. Okay. You know, and I hope they do. And I think as a parent, that’s kind of our role right now. But it’s gonna be a tricky time. I think we’re gonna see, will regulation filter down to people and suddenly we’re not as protected as we thought we were? Whether it comes to payday lenders, or debt collectors, whatever it is, I think you really have to be vigilant. And I truly believe the way to start is talking to your kids.
Emma Johnson: Yes, talk. Just talk.
Beth Kobliner: Talk.
Emma Johnson: Talk. We’re talkers. We’re media folks, we like to talk.
Consistently talk to your kids about money, no matter how young or old
Beth Kobliner: We do. And you know, I joked with someone the other day, when you’re kids are really young, like five, six, seven, what is there to talk about? Yeah, sometimes they’ll maybe tell you what’s going on in school, probably not. So this is a topic you could … a middle schooler, you could spark their interest by saying, hey you know when we go into the supermarket check out the cereals for kids. Because the eyes of those, the Captain Crunches of the world, the eyes of those cereal boxes usually point down toward a kid, but the grownups still-
Emma Johnson: Oh, sinister.
Beth Kobliner: Weird. The kids love that, the inside scoop. You’re smarter, let’s outsmart the marketers. Let’s figure out ways to understand what’s happening to us, and then we’re gonna say yeah we’re not gonna buy that, because it’s bad for you and it’s creepy.
Emma Johnson: You know, my daughter, I know she got this from me, but she’s like, I’m driving, she’s eight years old and she’s in the back. She’s like, you know I wonder who the richest person in the world is. She’s like, but they’re probably really unhappy because more money, more problems.
Beth Kobliner: That is hysterical. That’s such a 50 year old woman thing to say, 70 year old woman. But that’s smart.
Emma Johnson: Or a hiphop artist, a deceased hiphop artist.
Beth Kobliner: Yeah. You know, and I think that kids … you definitely hammer it home, your kids are paying attention. And if you’re preaching the, why can’t you get organized about your money, you’re spoiled, and you’re coming home with four bags of shoes from who knows where. And if you and your spouse fight about money, that’s really important. If you say, you’re trying to lecture your kid and your husband comes home with yet a tenth gadget, and this is an argument, we know that when couples fight about money in front of their kids it’s harder for their kids to be financially responsible later on down the road.
Emma Johnson: Because the message is negative.
Make the message about money a positive one
Beth Kobliner: The message is negative. I know it’s hard, but I think that we have to think about what are the ways to talk to our kids. It gives us fun content, whether it’s going down the aisle, wants and needs in the supermarket. We want chocolate milk, but we need milk. We want veggie puffs, but we need vegetables. And those kind of conversations and modeling, I really kind of want this ice cream but this one’s half the price and it’s fine, let’s get that. Whatever the issue is on many different levels.
Beth Kobliner: My favorite rule in the book is the Shirley rule. My mom is Shirley, and she would say when we we’re shopping, she’s like, do you really love it? And I’m like, I don’t know if I love it. She’s like, well then don’t get it, or think about it. And if you-
Emma Johnson: That’s a whole ‘nother lesson, right? Because bargain shopping is hobby, but that doesn’t mean that you’re gonna wear it. It doesn’t mean that it’s good value. It just means that it was a good deal. And that doesn’t mean you should buy it.
Beth Kobliner: Right and it’s not a good deal if you never wear it. So I think that, as we all know, we have things in our closets, but it was 60% off. But 60% off of a lot is still a lot. And if you never wear it it’s … whereas buying something that you really love, that is maybe a little bit more, whether it’s nutritious bread versus non-nutritious bread, or a beautiful handbag that you get on sale that will last forever, which I have.
Emma Johnson: I do too.
Kids learn by example: Be a conscious shopper
Beth Kobliner: I keep shoes and handbags forever, and I just don’t wear them out much. My daughter wears shoes hard, but I don’t know why. But those kind of things, talking about that, and that’s why I bought that there, but this is why we’re buying this car, because it’s good for the environment and it’s much cheaper. Or we’re buying this car because it’s expensive, but it’s good for the environment. Whatever the conversation is, it’s worth having with your kids because at the end of the day, they’re paying attention to what you say and also what you do.
Emma Johnson: And they just get that that’s important. Maybe they don’t get 100% of the content, but they get that money’s important. That being a conscious shopper is important. They get that that’s something that adults do.
Beth Kobliner: You know and when we were kids, when I was kids and I think you too, you’d grow up and you’d see once a month my dad would have his checkbook and pay the bills. And you’d see the checkbook ledger, and the bills pile, and they’re signing the bills. Kids don’t see that anymore, we’re doing it all online. It’s invisible. We’re paying with magic plastic and we get things. Parents tell me their kids say, mom don’t pay with cash, if they ever see cash, use plastic.
Emma Johnson: Awesome, I think about that all the time too, that’s a really tough one. Beth, I so enjoyed this conversation. I loved your book.
Beth Kobliner: Thank you.
Emma Johnson: This is Beth Kobliner, and she’s the author of the new book out now in stores, Amazon, it’s everywhere. Get it, it’s Make Your Kid a Money Genius (Even if You’re Not). But the secret here is it will make you a money genius also, so it’s a win-win. Thank you.
Beth Kobliner: Thank you, thank you so much.
Emma Johnson: Like a Mother with Emma Johnson is a Hanger Studios production.
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post’s ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.
A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.