Here is my beef with the financial services industry, as well as pretty much every financial writer I have ever encountered:
They all make money too complicated and confusing.
The average person who is not passionate about personal finance knows they should save and invest.
But the information, instructions, and infrastructure (like brokerage accounts) in the money world are full of jargon and minutia you do not need to know in order to be financially secure — or even affluent.
Even very educated and professionally successful people get intimidated, bored, and don't save and invest like they should, because they feel stupid and intimidated.
I know 100% I have felt like this. Fidelity Investments, you have done well with my money for 20 years, but every time I want to buy or trade my hard-earned cash, I get so mad at how confusing and stupid your stupid website is.
This is one of the many reasons Americans overall save and invest far too little, and women, in particular, are way behind in this realm.
I am on a personal mission to help women get over their fears and hangups about investing, and finally close the wealth gap.
Read more: How to start investing — for women
Teaching kids about money at an early age
Part of this issue is teaching kids about money early. This includes teaching kids about the importance of a budget, saving, investing and giving, and cultivating feelings of confidence around money.
It also about making sure your children understand the mechanical parts of money. This can be hard if you are not so sure yourself.
Thankfully, there are incredible online tools that make financial education really simple.
My kids are 7 and 9 and I am proud of what they know about personal finance, that they are generous with their money, thoughtful about saving and understand that they don't buy crap at the dollar store just because they see some piece of plastic that catches their fancy.
My children receive $1 per week per age (so the 7-year-old receives $7 per week allowance). They divide their income into three jars:
- Half goes to ‘Spend' = money they are allowed to spend freely
- A quarter goes to ‘Save' = A savings account. I recommend opening accounts for your kids at your bank, and one with a local brick-and-mortar branch. Teaching kids is much easier when there is a physical interactive element [especially if it includes free lollipops].
- A quarter is to ‘Give' = The kids choose a charity they want to support, and we write a check or make an online donation. My son has been really interested in cheetah extinction, and my daughter worries about the homeless in our city — so we seek out organizations that address those issues, and I match their donation.
What is the right age to get them started?
Helena (9) and Lucas (7) are old enough to understand and start investing.
I tried really hard to find a few videos on YouTube using, “teach kids about investing” … here is the problem: everything was hard to understand, too long, boring, and/or featured someone who knows a lot about investing and wants to impress you with their geeky insights.
A 9- and 7-year-old don't care. They think you're boring.
So this is what I said to my kids:
You guys are really good at saving money, which is important because you never know what might come up in the future that will require you have money. But if you don't invest your money, the cash in your savings accounts actually gets smaller in a way, because it loses its power to buy things. This is because every year, pretty much everything costs more. Milk, gas, toys and clothes get a little bit more expensive. So it is important to invest our money. Investing money is also a great way to make money because if you do it right, there is a very good chance that over a long time, your money will grow much, much faster than if you just park it in the bank, or your save jar.
There are lots of ways to invest. To start, we are going to invest in stocks.
A stock is piece of a company. The company issues stocks as a way to raise money. So, if our favorite bakery wanted to grow, and open a second bakery, they might issues stocks. You and I could buy a stock, which gives the bakery money to grow the company. We buy the stock because we believe that the bakery will be a success and grow and make money. And because we now own a small piece of the company — the stock — when the bakery makes more money, we make more money. That is investing.
Not every investment will go up all the time, and some of them will go way down to zero. That is why it is important to buy lots of different types of stocks in different industries and countries. If you do that properly, you have an excellent chance of making money if you hold on to your stocks for a very long time. It can be complicated, so let's start simple.
Today let's buy two stocks.
They stared at me blankly — more or less how they looked when they watched the stupid YouTube investing-for-kids videos.
Whatever, kids! I'm trying!
Next, I suggested they each use the $40 Christmas money they received from their Great-Grandma Shirley — my grandmother who did very well in her investments with my late grandfather by living a frugal lifestyle, buying Blue Chip stocks and holding on to them for decades and decades.
I skipped those details with my children and focused on the computer, which, as you know, is mesmerizing.
My experience with Stockpile
We logged into a cool app I'd heard about called Stockpile.
Stockpile is designed as a very easy way to buy any sum of stock (a.k.a. a “fractional share”).
That means that if you can buy $20 worth of Apple, whereas on most brokerage accounts you would have to buy a minimum of one share, which is $164.74 as I write this.
Stockpile is designed to teach children and teens about investing. For that, it is awesome. Here is why, and my experience.
Plus, if you sign up now, you get $5 worth of stock to invest — free!
To use Stockpile, you, the parent (or another adult), create an account.
Then you can create profiles for each of your kids, using their names and Social Security numbers.
This took a total of 10 minutes total for two kids, including hunting down their Social Security numbers and linking my bank.
Next, you simply buy stocks.
There are several hundred public companies on Stockpile, all of them name consumer brands like Nike, Nestle, TimeWarner and Delta.
Again, this is about teaching kids and teens about investing.
Click on any brand icon, and a pop-up window gives you all the basic information that you need about the stock: historic performance, brands under the parent company, and the easiest ‘buy' function that I have seen on a stock brokerage, ever, anywhere:
Stockpile is easy and intuitive:
Stockpile makes it so easy to teach your kids how to invest in stocks:
Using Stockpile's charts, I explained to my kids the importance of buy-and-hold.
I said: “There is always a risk that you will lose money when you invest money. But see how the line goes up and down over time? This will aways happen.
It will never go straight up or straight down forever. It is important to hold on to most investments for a very long time, and if you do, the chances are very, very good that you will make money.”
My daughter opted to invest in Amazon and Apple, and my son Tesla and Disney.
The purchase took less than a minute each, including transferring funds from my bank, and each cost $.99.
After we went through these transactions, sitting at the dining table, I asked both my kids if they felt like they understood investing.
“Yeah!” my 7-year-old said. “You buy a share of a company, and the company uses that money to grow. Then if the company makes more money, my stock makes more money.”
I realize that reading that it sounds like he was just repeating back what I said — but if you're a parent you understand what I mean when I say that I know he got it.
Even more evidence? A couple weeks later my daughter came in while I was working on my laptop. “Can I see how my stock is doing?” she asked. We quickly logged into Stockpile and noted that her two investments were down $.70.
She frowned, and that gave me a great opportunity to reiterate the importance of buy-and-old.
- Minimum $5 to get started, and then you can invest as little as $1 in a stock.
- Sign up today and get $5 to invest — for free!
- $.99 trade fees — the lowest around
- Send a physical Stockpile gift card in denominations of $25, $50 and $100. Buy these cards online or in store at some retailers listed on the company's site.
- It's safe. Stockpile is a member of SIPC, which protects securities customers of its members up to $500,000 (including $250,000 for claims for cash), and a member of Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.
- To use Stockpile, you must be a U.S. resident and have a Social Security number.
- This is not a platform for all your investment purposes — it is a simple app that offers one feature: invest in fractional shares in a very easy, visual way, which is its beauty, IMO.
Use Stockpile to gift stocks
Stocks can be an awesome gift, for holidays, graduation, a wedding, bar or bat mitzvah or other life events. Stockpile is equally easy to use to send a fractional share of your favorite stock — or your loved ones favorite stock.
Just select the sum you want to send, pick the stock, and plug in your name, the email address of the giftee and a nice note. A $4.95 gifting fee is added at checkout, which you can pay with a credit or debt card, or Paypal. Send a gift here.
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.