005: Teaching Your Kids About Money Management with John Lanza
John Lanza and his wife asked a simple question when their first child was six months old: “How can we raise our kids to be money smart?”
Trying to answer it made them realize that there were far more families trying to answer this question than just his. This led him to create The Money Mammals – financial education for children through books, apps, games, videos, and more.
His new book is The Art of Allowance – a short, practical guide for parents to raise money-empowered kids who know how to save, achieve goals, make smart choices, and distinguish between needs and wants. He’s been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Los Angeles Times. Today, he appears on Retire With Purpose to share stories from his own family and the power of teaching financial philosophy to children – and what he’s learned in the process.
In this podcast interview, you’ll learn:
- The reason allowance is a good idea – but needs to be purposeful.
- Why you shouldn’t tie basic chores to allowance – but you should teach your children that work can yield money.
- How John helped his kids learn budgeting and smart money management skills – including basic saving and investing – by having adult conversations with them and exposing them to the terms around money.
- What you can do with older kids to get your messages about money through – and help them to make meaningful purchases and think about their decisions.
- Why teaching delayed gratification still matters.
- How John is dealing with the idea of student loan debt with his own children – and how to address money issues with your adult children.
“A money empowered-person knows money is a tool and uses it to craft a meaningful life.” – John Lanza
Casey: So, today we’re here with John Lanza. John Lanza is the owner and founder of the Money Mammals providing financial education for children through books, apps, games, and movies. He’s also authored a book for parents, The Art of Allowance, and this is a short practical guide to raising money-smart, money-empowered kids. John and his program have been featured everywhere. John has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal. He’s been featured in L.A. Times and he’s here now finally with us on Retire with Purpose.
Casey: John, welcome to the show.
John: Hey. Thanks, Casey. I’m glad to be here. I like to see that your Art of Allowance is fully tabbed out.
Casey: Well, absolutely. I got through Art of Allowance and there was so much really, it’s largely common sense. We’re one of Dave Ramsey’s SmartVestor Pros and the reason we were put on his program was because of our common-sense approach and I just feel like we’ve lost touch with over the last couple of decades, maybe the last 30 years even. I think the investment world has completely changed where we’ve lost a lot of common sense. People want the silver bowl. They want a perfect investment and we just need to get back to the roots that our grandparents had through The Great Depression that I learned a lot of lessons from and I think what you had here was largely common sense to the Art of Allowance. It’s just something that I think so many people just don’t think about. We just need to be brought back to that every once in a while.
John: Yeah. And you know that, as a CFP, I talked to someone like you who really knows finance and so you know the details and I think it’s the details that really get to people because if you just kind of pair things back to the basics like in the book we talk about just like the basic money smart principles, the saving for goals, making money smart choices, and distinguishing needs and wants. That makes it a lot easier for parents to kind of take this on because it’s not as intimidating. When you start thinking about the rule of 72, compound interest, and complex financial instruments and I’m not a finance expert so that stuff scares me sometimes. So, that’s what I want to do and I think you hit it dead on which is it is very much common sense and that’s what I want to kind of impart to parents out there.
Casey: Well, you’ve provided a framework I think for people to work from and that’s what the purpose-based retirement was all about was we need to kind of work ourselves backwards and work ourselves into the finer details and that is, okay, you’ve got emergency money, you’ve got income money, you’ve got growth money for inflation, they’ve got your state plan to take care of health care and taxes and the state documents, and we just need to determine how much goes into each bucket and then we finally work into those finer details of the vehicles that are most efficiently going to get us to the end goal and I think that’s really what spend or spend smart and save and share has really done for even kids.
So, before I just start telling everybody what you have going on here, I’d like to hear it from you and I’d like to start with some question from our fans. We get some questions on prior interviews that we’d like to get out and make sure get answered and I think some of them are very common sense that will get us to, ultimately, I think your goal which is spreading the word of allowance and money-smart kids. And our first question comes from Deb Johnson and Jeff and Deb [Megson – 3:36]. Now, I kind of combine these two questions into one because they’re really one in the same. I want to give them both credit for the question and they said, "Is it a good idea to give your children an allowance?” And that was such a great opening question so why don’t we, obviously, you believe in allowances so why don’t you share with us why you believe that allowance is such a good idea?
John: Yeah. The reason is that an allowance, first of all, talking about purpose-based you have to have an allowance that has a purpose behind it and I think the reason the people sometimes ask that question is that they don’t really know what purpose to put behind an allowance. An allowance is designed to teach your kids money smarts and that is to get them comfortable with using money and to eventually become kind of money empowered and what I mean by money empowered very simply is just that they learn to have control over money versus the other way around where money is kind of having control over. That’s the long-term goal. That’s not your short-term goal. So, the allowance is doing just that. You set up an allowance. The kids get money to practice with because there’s no way they can learn to become financially smart or money smart without actual money and you dole it out on a weekly basis in the beginning and you get them used to making money smart choices and used to understanding those differences between needs and wants and starting to save for goals. So, that’s the purpose of setting up an allowance for your kids.
Casey: I think in some ways there might be a bit of a taboo for some regarding allowance. I think especially our audience largely being in this generation of baby boomers they’re afraid to deliver any more feelings of entitlement to the millennial generation that they already feel is there. So, if we just start giving them money for and they’re not doing anything, they’re not doing chores then aren’t we just entitling them to, "Well, I deserve to get that $20 a week?”
John: Yeah. It’s a very good question and the term allowance is a loaded term because people do sometimes think it’s an allowance. It is just a giveaway and it is a giveaway if there is no why behind it so the why behind it is that you are teaching your kids about money. You don’t have to tie it to chores because chores teach a different lesson. A lesson behind chores is that you need to work to earn money. Great lesson. That’s not the purpose of an allowance. And so, an allowance without a purpose behind it is a giveaway. So, for example, my parents were wonderful and we didn’t really have a consistent allowance. We started with an allowance of 1 point for a short period of time and they didn’t really have a sense of how that should work and so kind of it started and stopped and was done and they did it out of the good of their heart, they wanted to use, they wanted to teach me about money but they didn’t really understand how to set it up to what the framework is. And that’s kind of my purpose here is to explain to people that there is a framework and I like that you used that word because as you find when you deal with families or anybody when it comes to money, everybody’s going to be different. Every kid is going to be different, every parent is going to be different. There’s no one-size-fits-all plan but there is a framework and there are basics that you can work around and that’s what we’re trying to do with this allowance setup.
Casey: I think what you said of the Art of Allowance, it’s imperfect. Everybody is different. Everybody is unique and it’s just another word for really just providing a framework and then you work within that overall. What I really found interesting within your book was a discussion regarding chores and allowance. I think a lot of families in order for the children to be compensated there have to be chores. I think we were kind of running into this issue even in my own family as I had already implemented part of the Art of the Allowance before I got to the chapter on money negativity and decoupling chores, allowance and I know my son he wouldn’t put his clothes on in the morning and I said, "Well, if you want to get your allowance next week, you’ll put on your clothes,” and then I read your piece on money negativity. I felt, “Wow.” Can you speak to that a little bit?
John: Yeah. So, the primary reason that you don’t tie chores to allowance and we’re talking about basic chores. So, we’re talking about, for example, putting your clothes on, if you call that, we'll call that a chore because for a three-year-old that can be a chore. For our kids, it’s emptying the dishwasher. My kids are now 15 and 12 so it’s emptying the dishwasher. It is setting the table. It’s cleaning their room, those kinds of things. We are never going to pay them for those tasks. That’s what they do as part of the family. And so, if you set it up where you’re paying them in the beginning and then they get to the point where they’re 15 and they don’t necessarily need to get paid for it then you’re setting up a false choice because they can’t opt out of doing those chores. So, for parents who want to teach that separate lesson, the chores, they can do it for above and beyond chores. So, things that they might be paying someone else for whether it's washing the car or it might be some kind of yardwork then you could pay your kids for that and then they learn that lesson that work can yield money.
By getting back to the allowance setup and the tie between chores and allowance, so that’s kind of the framework but like you said, one of the real side benefits of doing this of decoupling the two is that there’s so much money negativity in society as it is and I know as a parent and this may just be my failing as a parent but we have constant back-and-forth battles about doing the chores. It just takes five minutes to empty the dishwasher but anytime you ask for the dishwasher to be emptied it’s just a nightmare and if it turns into this kind of tit for tat which is if you want to get whatever money you’ve assigned to that task done, that’s going to be almost a nightly ritual where you are threatening to take away their money.
And so, like you talked about, the more we can kind of have surround positivity with money and just make it something that is just a tool, that’s all it is because we want to get to this point of money empowerment and that really is this point where you feel comfortable and in control of your money. The more we can kind of decouple those chores and allowance and the more we can decouple negativity and money, the better off we’re going to be because we want an open conversation with our kids about money. That’s a lot of what purpose of doing this is, is that by setting up an allowance with your kids from a very young age, you’re setting up an ongoing conversation with them that you’re going to have throughout their kind of periods that they’re going to grow up with you.
Casey: Well, I train maybe this is a likeness or a comparison I shouldn’t make but when I was growing up, I always had animals. I was always training animals and one being dogs and I’ve always had a dog ever since I was a kid and one of the ways that we train that dog is you be careful you don’t give them a treat every time they do something because then they won’t do that anymore without the treat. You teach them and dogs just they love being rewarded just for that, a pat on the back, a scratch behind the ears because they’re helping, they’re contributing. They’re helping their owner. They’re helping their master and I think as children are growing up, you get to a point if they’re doing the things they’re supposed to be doing, making their bed or just contributing to the family and that becomes in and of itself a bit of a reward. If you pay them every single time, well then, I can see then I can easily snowball to a point where you run and do a little bit of trouble and they start getting a big enough allowance or they start getting a job. They go, “Well, I really don’t need to do that anymore. I guess I’ll go ahead and forgo that $4 for next week’s allowance. I’m just not going to make my bed.”
John: Yeah. I like that you’re bringing up this incentive thing. This is a little bit off from that particular point but the idea that you’re talking about the dogs, it’s the same with humans. I don’t know if you read Daniel Pink’s Drive but he…
Casey: I have. Yeah.
John: So, you do know about it. When he talks about motivation, says that incentives work very effectively. Rewards work effectively if they’re not consistent. And this is a good thing to realize like so for our kids they have their own allowance. We don’t buy a lot of things for them aside from food to go to school and your basics.
Casey: You keep clothes on them.
John: We keep clothes but they’re actually responsible for their own clothes now so they have to buy their own clothes but that doesn’t mean as a parent that you can’t splurge once in a while. And the once in a while because our parents will ask this all the time and say, “Oh, there is this one time that I would – is it wrong of me to have said, ‘Oh, I’m going to buy you that pair of shoes or I’m going to buy you something,’” when that’s supposed to be their responsibility? If you do it every once in a while, it’s perfectly fine like that’s your parent prerogative. What I’m getting at like when we talk about our framework here, what you don't want to do is set up an allowance where they're responsible for, for example, clothing and then they're just begging you for clothes and you're caving in so on a consistent basis. That doesn't work. But once in a while, it's wonderful. It’s a wonderful thing to do as a parent. It’s a wonderful thing to receive it as a kid and it works very effectively as an incentive for kids and if it’s not a consistent thing, they’re going to get a lot more benefit out of it from like an emotional and happiness standpoint as well.
Casey: I’ve got to believe that most of the audience right now is wondering how you got your children to pay for their underwear and their socks. You said 12 and 15 years old. So, they’re literally paying for all of their clothing?
John: Okay. You caught me on underwear. We will buy their underwear from most of the time and some of the socks. Maybe we should talk about like the basic allowance first.
Casey: Yeah. Why don’t we just share with kind of the framework before we get too deep?
John: Yeah. Let’s do that. So, the way to set up a basic allowance is you set up your three jars so the three jars are going to be save and share and spend smart. So, the save is for longer-term items and for a younger kid, those longer-term items are not going to be that long. It’s going to be something that’s going to take say two to four weeks to save. Share is for charitable giving. And then spending or spend smart is for stuff that they want to buy anytime they go to the store. So, the easiest way to start is a dollar per week per age of the child so your five-year-old gets $5 per week. And the way we broke it down was because we’re a little bit lazy is we will just give them $5 and one would go in the save, one would go in the share, and then one goes in the spend smart chart jar and the thinking behind – or three go into the spends smart jar or they can go into any of the jars. But the thinking behind it is the one that goes into the save jar is kind of opting them in or kind of nudging, if you know that concept, them into this idea that they should pay themselves first. So, that’s what the save jar is. Then share is money that’s going to charitable giving. We all kind of agree it’s a good thing for us. If you read the book, Happy Money, we realize that investing in others is a great way to use money to generate our own happiness.
John: Yeah. And then the $3 is the kind of autonomy, the autonomous dollars so those are the discretionary dollars that they get. So, the $1 and the $1 have to go on the other jars but the $3 dollars can go anywhere. They have control of it and this is really powerful for a young kid because they can put it all in the spend money and then when they go to the store, they can go by whatever that is. They can accumulate that spend smart money or they might be saving for a goal like put it in the save jar. They might be just charitably-oriented and they might put in the share jar but it’s their money and that’s really a key part here and parents have to get comfortable with it and it’s not easy because they’re going to make mistakes with that money but that’s kind of the point. In a low stakes environment, having them buy some things that might not be things that you agree with is kind of okay because we’re trying to get them comfortable with making smart money choices.
So, that’s your kind of basic set up there with your allowance and then one of the kind of immediate things you want to do is get them saving for a goal and pasting a picture of that goal on the jar. The reason you want to do that and you want it to be a short-term goal for a five-year-old because they’ll lose track pretty quickly. You want to do that because you want to get them thinking when you’re giving them the money, those $3 that, "You know what, maybe I won’t just put it in the spend smart. I might put it in to save because I can get to this goal faster.” Now it doesn’t mean if a kid is putting all their money into save, that’s not necessarily a positive or a negative. It is just what it is. We don’t want to keep them from spending their money but if there’s an opportunity to teach them about delayed gratification, why not take that opportunity?
Casey: Yeah. We set up the first save, spend smart jars for our, and they also share, for our three-and-a-half-year-old and I asked him what he wanted to save for and he said he wanted to save for a lizard. And so, right now we’re saving for a lizard I think. He wanted me to draw a lizard to put on the side of the save jar so I drew my best likeness of a lizard and he went up there the other day, looked at his jar and I said, "We were saving for your lizard.” He said, "That’s a squirrel.” I said, "No, it’s a lizard.” I think it’s important unless you’re an artist to actually go find a picture of whatever you’re saving for and paste it right there so they get that good visualization. In all seriousness, it’s so important for them to be able to visualize that goal and not think that they’re saving for a squirrel. They know exactly what they’re saving for and they’re thinking about it. Every time they put anything into that jar, every time they have to make that decision, you know they’re making a smart decision because they actually know what they’re doing. Especially at the younger ages, I think it's difficult for them to continually keep that visualization in their brain so we keep that jar right in front of them. Every morning he wakes up, he rolls over and it’s right there so he’s thinking about it every day.
John: Yeah. You’re doing it totally right. It’s a good reference point so when you’re doling out the allowance, you can always point and say, “Here’s your…” For him, he’s probably just getting $3, $1 in each jar, right?
Casey: Well, we started with $3 and I thought he wants to save for a lizard. Yeah. That lizard is probably a $20, $30 lizard and if he gets a dollar a week going into the save jar, for a three-year-old that’s a lifetime and so we actually said, "Why don’t we bump it up just a little bit?” So, we did $6 a week and then we do $2 in the save and $2 in the spend and $2 in the share jar but as I do the math I think we just kind of have to reevaluate that every year. Do a little annual review as you kind of laid out in your book.
John: Yeah. The other thing you can do is when if a goal because you recognized that. For a three-year-old, they’re going to lose track. That’s going to take them a few months to do it. You can do a matching too and a matching will…
Casey: Well, we’re definitely doing matching ultimately because he still is going to need it. He’s going to need a terrarium and he’s going to need food but in the long-term, it ends up being a great doing I think having a pet, gives them the ongoing always give them something. If they want to keep that pet alive they’re going to have to continue to save in order to buy the food and everything they need to take care of it.
John: Yeah. See, this is what’s so great about it is the lessons that you’re going to be able to teach him as he goes to this process because he’s going to get the lizard and then he’s going to have to get food and you’re being smart about it which is you’re not going to make him be responsible for all the food. You want the lizard to live and so you help him out with that but you can have him contribute some of that money to some of the spend money for the lizard and then that’s a lesson because I was one of the first people…
Casey: Then we were on creating a budget, right? That’s really what you’re getting at.
John: Yeah. Because I remember when I was a kid, we had dogs too. We don’t have a dog now because my wife is allergic but my kids definitely would’ve roped me into getting a dog because I roped my parents into getting a dog and then I didn’t really train the dog. And so, from a very early age making them understand that there’s a mundane, I mean, pets are fantastic but there is a part of it that’s not that much fun and the lizards watching them eat is kind of fun. But having to do it day after day it’s something you have to remember when you’re having a pet. So, it’s opening up all these kinds of conversations and so much of it starts with money and the back and forth that you’re going to have. I just found the back and forth that I’ve had with my kids about money and talking to other parents about the back and forth they have it’s really a huge part of why you want to start this allowance process from a young age because all these kids, all of our kids are being exposed to money by the time they’re two. Because some people will watch this and say, “A three-year-old allowance?” and I’ve even said I think five is a good age. That’s when we start our kids but I have no problem with three years old because before they’re two they’re learning about spending like they’re learning about consumption. You can’t escape it. Even if you keep them away from media, there are billboards just out there. And so, if nothing else, first of all, you're aware that there's only so much he's going to fully grasp of what's going on.
Casey: Absolutely. We’re really struggling with the share jar right now and that’s been our biggest obstacle because so we’ve got some landscapers. We’re doing some landscaping work at our house and he is dead set on giving that share money to his new friends that are planting new trees out in our yard. I said, “Buddy, we’ve already paid them. I think they got paid enough.” It started with the church. He wanted to give it to the church. He says, “Why don’t we go back and revisit the church?” “I think, why don’t we wait until Sunday and I think that might be a better use of those funds.” That’s something it’s such a great conversation that you get to have even with a three-year-old where they have difficulty grasping the concept. That’s how they learn is to have adult conversations with children I think. When you treat a toddler like a toddler he ends up being more like a toddler when he’s an adult.
John: No. You have those conversations just knowing they’re not going to grasp the nuance of a conversation but you’re introducing them. Now, your son’s going to be familiar with these concepts of share and save and spend smart. He doesn’t know what the heck delayed gratification is. Obviously, he doesn’t fully understand charitable giving but kids are naturally charitable and that’s human nature and I think it’s such a great impulse to see that he wants to help these guys out on some level. I was thinking maybe there’s a way that he could buy…
Casey: Just get him ice cream.
John: Right. I mean, it’s such a great impulse to reward. That seems like can be a great use of the…
Casey: Now they get to go out and you take them to the store. You can count the money out. Yeah. Well, you helped me there. Now I have something to take home with me.
John: You help yourself.
Casey: I have another question that came from our fans that I think is perfectly along those lines. Bruce Johnson asked the question, "By what definition do you describe money to a toddler?”
John: That’s a good question. Well, description of money, I guess, we tend to talk so there’s a term called emergent literacy that we’re all familiar with. If we’re not familiar with the term or the phrase, emergent literacy, we’re familiar with what it means and that is or how it impacts us. So, we read to our kids from a very young age. I mean I like kids. I was reading to her in the first week. She can’t understand anything but we now know, emergent literacy, we now know that the building blocks for literacy come from exposure to language. The building blocks for later reading and writing come from that. So, there’s another term in financial literacy that’s called emergent financial literacy. So, it’s really exposure to these terms so the sharing and the saving and the spending smart. So, with regard to money because, I mean, I just did a podcast with another CFP and he was saying, "It’s so inherently confusing I’m sure to your three-year-old, why is a dime smaller than a nickel and worth more? That makes absolutely no sense.”
And so, I think in terms of description of money, it’s really you wanted - I don’t even think so much because kids are going to learn how to – you’re going to have conversations with them. They’ll learn it in school what money actually is in terms of the physical thing that they are, the colors that they are, the denominations that they are. Those I think are less important than really just the understanding of how to use money as a tool so getting them as soon as you can, getting them to understand that, okay, these things are worth what they are but what does that mean? What it means is, okay, well this dollar is going to help you buy this particular thing and more of these dollars is going to help you buy a lizard. Even more of those dollars can buy your dad art lessons so you don’t accidentally get a squirrel. That’s the point. So, I think hopefully that kind of answers that question because one of my pet peeves with schools is that we spend so much time in the schools teaching kids about the math of money and almost no time teaching them about the philosophy of money which is another reason that we really have to as parents take this on because it’s generally not taught in the schools. And there are different rules in different states and some schools systems are doing more than other school systems.
But even if a school system is teaching financial literacy itself, the only way a kid is going to learn to become money smart is with money. They have to practice with money. And so, that’s why as a parent you want to take on this role of being a person that’s providing an allowance and with a purpose so why behind it. Now why behind it is to teach them the basics of money to understand to use money as a tool, how it can be used, and then to teach them about sharing and saving and spending smart and then I keep harping on those basics but the reason I harping those basics is kind of goes back to what we talked about in the beginning which is that money can be so intimidating because there’s so much complexity around it but it doesn’t need to be intimidating particularly for kids because you can simplify everything down to the basics.
Casey: Absolutely. You had the art – I forgot what we’re going to talk about. Well, one of the quotes from your book you had said and this quote just really struck me. It said, "A money empowered-person knows money is a tool and uses it to craft a meaningful life.” What does that mean to you?
John: Well, yeah, the purpose behind that statement was that I don’t want people to get caught up and this isn’t about - wealth is different for different people. So, this isn’t about amassing any particular amount of money and one person is going to have a different definition of wealth than another person but the key here is that both of those people, whoever those people, they have to achieve that money empowerment or money is doing for them what makes meaning. We’re all ultimately here to live a meaningful life and so there’s a great book that Victor Frankl wrote. I don’t know if you read that one called Man’s Search For Meaning and it really does get, I mean, his obvious pieces is that’s why we’re here. We’re here trying to figure out kind of what it’s all about but really more than that, what we are doing here, what is our purpose?
Casey: I wonder how we lose touch with that over time? Because I’m meeting with individuals that are in their 50s to 60s preparing for retirement or getting retired and it’s gotten to a point where the conversation for me I want to start at the purpose, what do you want these dollars to accomplish for you during retirement? What is your retirement all about? What does retirement mean to you? And let’s use these dollars as tools in order to defend against that purpose at all cost and defend that at all cost against some major risk we’re going to face and then work our way into the tools and work our way into the individual investments or the products and services that need to be used in order to ensure that we’re protecting that and over time it seems like we’ve been conditioned that it’s about the product. It’s about the investment, what’s going to get me the biggest rate of return, and I want to talk about stocks or I want to talk about ETFs, I want to talk about mutual funds, and then, in the end, it’s not about that.
It’s not about the tool that we might say, for instance, “I hate the stock market.” Well, why? It may be the best tool to help you keep up with inflation over the next 20 or 30 years as you’re in retirement. Or we might say, “I hate annuities.” Well, that’s okay but that is the only vehicle that’s going to give you a guaranteed income that you can outlive and if you had a guaranteed income and you had inflation protection and we did it with the most efficient tools, now you’re living your purpose. I just wondered how we over time we must just get conditioned to forget that money is a tool to create a meaningful life and we just start thinking about the money all the time and not what it’s creating in our life.
John: Yeah. It’s a great question. There’s no - I don’t have the answer to that but I think about it a lot because one of the things I want to get across the kids and when I talk about products I’m talking not about the financial products but actual things that you purchase and I think one of the - what you brought up is just as relevant. What I really want them to understand that they’re not at this point of understanding yet and this has been a process for me is that I feel like a somewhat reformed spender in a sense that I still like, for example, I’m a runner so I have a watch and I want to upgrade my watch. I want to upgrade the watch because I want to get a certain type of map on the watch and so there’s a practical side to it and then I’ll sell the current running watch that I have right now. But I realized in my research that I’m not so sure that what I’m trying to accomplish getting the map on the watch is really going to work for me the way that I wanted to work but then I realized the feeling like, "Oh, I really want that watch.” It’s only having been around for having gone through so many purchases that I realized that I do not want to make that purchase for any other reason than the practical reason because the excitement because I get the same dopamine rush from a new product that everybody else does. We all do so it’s important for us to recognize that and it is just like – it works just like a drug but just like a drug, the effect is fleeting.
And so, my point here is really I want my kids to understand. So, every time they get something and they get excited about it or, for example, my younger daughter wants to get a new phone for her birthday and one of the points I will make and it’s not necessarily that’s going to change what her approach is or what she wants to do is the excitement you get from that purchase is going to be fleeting and because what happens is and this is described in the terrific book called Stumbling on Happiness is just like when you get a new car so if you look at people who have bought a new car versus people who have or driving their old beat-up car, there’s no happiness increase from driving the new car over the old car and the reason is that when you get your really nice car that now you’re not comparing that car to your old car after about two weeks or a month or whatever it is, you’re comparing that car today to that car yesterday and when you’re stuck in traffic it’s the same feeling. There’s no better - you basically you habitualized to that car. I’m using cars as an example but for a point is really any kind of purchase.
And so, and this gets to your point about meaning is nothing that we do with the money in terms of purchasing these things is going to lead us anywhere towards, all right, I like to look at it as we’re kind of going towards the mountain which is a term that I heard from a guy named Neil Gaiman who’s a writer, this like anytime I feel like I’m kind of going off, he was talking about his mission, his purpose in life, and every time I feel like I’m kind of walking off towards somewhere where I can’t see the mountain, I know I have to stop, turn around, focus, and look at the mountain and that’s how I feel that same way. If I get caught up in a purchase, I’m like, “Oh, I really would like that watch,” or whatever it might be, you just have to take a breath. And a good practical way of taking a breath and we’ve instituted this is this waiting period. So, if you want to buy something, as a kid start to amass more money for example in their spend smart jar, they could suddenly be able to purchase something for $100 and it’s not something that they’ve been saving for but if we institute something where it’s $50 or more, they have to wait a week and if it’s $100 more, they have to wait two weeks before they get it.
And it’s a way of - it doesn’t mean that they’re not going to get it but it means that at least they put some thought into the purchase and it’s not an impulse purchase. It still might be an impulse purchase. It’s less of an impulse purchase and it’s again not to say - if your kid does this and they purchase something that you don’t agree with after that purpose, after the time has elapsed, don’t feel like you have missed the boat or that your kid is a prolific spender and there’s nothing you can do because you’ve gotten the message across to them that they now have a reference point for thinking about as they get older and these are all reference points. And as a friend of mine and a guy also involved in financial literacy, a guy, Bill Dwight said because he’s got kids that are now older. He’s now a grandfather. He said, “They’re listening, they are paying attention, and they’re certainly watching and the messages do get through. So, you stick with the messages.”
Casey: Well, you’re helping the children create meaning out of the purchase. Is this a meaningful purchase? And then we can all finally make a decision. I was wondering as I read that part in the Art of Allowance, I got a three-and-half-year-old, he’s got a spend jar, last night we’re getting ready to go to a market with a little concert and food trucks and I said, "Now, should I have him…” he doesn’t know that he can buy things yet. He’s still learning that this is even an option and I know when we get there there’s probably going to be the opportunity for him to buy some ice cream or buy a soda and so well I said, "Well, maybe we should just fill up his wallet full of spend money and then when we get there then we can have this conversation and determine if he should be spending it or not.” Does that make sense?
John: Yeah. It does. Because you’re introducing him to this kind of opportunity cost and the scarcity of money because he’s going to get a fair and be like, “I want everything!”
John: Yeah. So, I think it’s a great thing for them to do and again he’s not going to fully get it and he might get irritated, right?
Casey: Well, I’ve got to say that it has become having that wallet has been so great for those things where we’ll be at the counter at the grocery store and he’ll say, “I want that. I want a piece of gum,” or he’ll want a candy bar and I’ll say, "Did you bring your wallet?” And he looks at me and he goes, “No.” “Well then next time you bring it, you can buy it.” It goes so smooth. He gets it. It’s well I don’t have my wallet so I can’t buy it now. I have heard recently he’ll say, “Well, don’t you have your wallet, dad?” I said, “Yeah but that’s my wallet.”
John: Well, and you’re getting like a key point which is and this works out well here because you didn’t necessarily have to say no like he realized.
Casey: Exactly. I didn’t just have to say no. There was reasoning behind it.
John: Yeah. This is why this all this really pays off is that because in some cases my kids there was a tantrum or two when we went to the store and we wouldn’t buy them something that we would have bought them before they had their allowance and so we had to kind of go through that tantrum. Once they go through one or two of those, you’re pretty much done with the tantrums because for that, because they realize you’re not going to cave and you’ve already established that with them with your son and it’s a wonderful thing. And what the other great, the other real positive here is that they started, they treat their money like it’s gold versus your money which and they really think about their decisions. Even my 15-year-old is constantly negotiating with me. It’s like, “I want to go to Jersey Mike’s. Will you pay for it for lunch for me because I didn’t…” So, the way that our food works is that typically we will buy the food that they can make for lunch. So, if they play their game right, they don’t have to be spending much money on it then they can use the money that they budgeted for food is the food that they get out.
Casey: Well I think – yeah. Go ahead.
John: So, but there’s still that doesn’t mean that there’s not a back and forth and yesterday I told her I said, "You know what, yes you can get to Jersey Mike’s because I forgot to get the food that you asked me to get then you would bring.” It was easier to say yes in this case and it was a one-time only thing and again that’s why it is an art. There’s an art of the allowance because you can make decisions like that and just say, "It’s fine.” That doesn’t mean that the next time she asks, she’s going to get it. As a matter of fact, most likely she’s not going to get it. Be open to doing those kinds of things with your kid.
Casey: Yeah. I think that leads me into point because you wrote the book on really a practical guide to raising money-smart, money-empowered - I kind of felt like it was aimed at parents. However, I felt like it also was applicable to grandparents. Now, from a parent’s perspective, I think many times we go, "Okay. Well, we can walk through that line and say no. But is grandma going to also say no or is she going to cave in?” And now we kind of create some animosity and some issues that way so how do we have that conversation as a parent with our grandparents to make sure they’re following the things along the lines that we’re doing? And I don’t think that conversation is nearly as difficult as it typically as maybe for a grandparent that wants to have that discussion with their child about how their child now we’re trying to tell our kids how they should be raising their kids. Well, that typically doesn’t go over very well but how does that grandparent have those discussions? How do they approach this money smart topic with their child about raising a money-smart grandchild?
John: Yeah. Well, I think well one way is to not to be a mercenary about it but providing them with a resource and so one of those things can be something like the Art of Allowance or turning them on to a podcast like this, an interview like this to show them that. Because one of the things as a parent, when you’re caught up as a young parent where money is not, like for you it’s more obvious, you’re a CFP so this is of interest to you, but for other parents they just have there’s so much else going on so as a grandparent you can kind of throw this in the mix and say, "You know here’s something I saw that I think you might be interested in.” So, that’s one. And then now the one thing about like your grandparents and this is when you’re a parent and you do start a program is the grandparent Bill of Rights I think says that they have the ability to spoil…
Casey: Override anything.
John: So, they can spoil the kids and that’s fine but I think you eventually like how do you have the conversation? I think you had mentioned the conversation from grandparent to parents so we talked about that. I think you just kind of nicely present these things and you can’t I don’t think as a grandparent you can be overbearing about it because you just have to understand that your kids have so much else going on but it’s worth finding a resource that you think might alert them to how important this is to start you on, so that’s one. But then the other way it’s important for the parent to have a conversation with the grandparent once they’ve started a program. So, not to say that you can’t spoil the kids because again, that’s part of the Bill of Rights for grandparents but, for example, my mom got involved and we said, "Here’s what we’re doing with our kids. We give them the three jars,” and so she would send them a card with money and there were three $5 bills and mom would say $5 on the share jar, the other $5 at save and then the $5 at spend smart and the kids had to put those into those jars. So, you can employ, you can bring your grandparents into the mix on this and that’s not to say not all grandparents are going to do that but I think grandparents are always looking for interesting ways to contribute to their grandchildren.
Casey: Or just have fun with them. I mean, that’s a great way to have a conversation with your grandkids and I was very blessed because I grew up with a financial advisor for a father and an elementary school teacher for a mom and so they really combined forces in order to provide me with the envelope system. We didn’t have jars but we had the envelope system when I was a kid. It works much the same way as you’ve laid out here and I think it really helped me as I was growing up. So, it was easy to do that and I know as soon as I get off to here I’m going to order two more copies of Art of Allowance and I’m going to send a copy to each of our sets of grandparents and then that’s a nice nudge as you had kind of touched on previously.
John: Yeah. I have to shout out because sometimes I think my parents if they watch this they think that I think they did a bad job sometimes when I say they didn’t set up an allowance. My parents are wonderful and one of the great things that they did, both my dad and my mom, is that they’re both very frugal and so just their actions, the way they - because my dad always drove kind of a beat-up car because he just didn't care. He realized early that it's the same way I feel. I drive an old like 2002 Honda CRV and my kids are constantly asking me to get a new car. He said, "You’re going to treat a new car just the same as this car which is like…”
Casey: You can’t have a nice car when you have kids. You have to wait until they get out of the house then you can have a new car.
John: “You treat this like a crappy couch. Why would I get a new car?” But the point being that my parents really, they were very frugal and so that was a great example to set and we try to be as frugal as we can. I think my parents are probably more frugal. So, they did a really nice job with them and the point…
Casey: But I think on that note we’ve just lost touch with that kind of way of life that those previous generations had. You had your parents but probably their parents screwed up during the Great Depression and they still kind of maybe had a taste of the Great Depression. They passed that on to you and now I think this generation of children they’ve experienced that they’re not going – they’re so far from that Great Depression and that mentality that they had. I mean, now it’s just credit cards and you’re always going to get rescued if something goes wrong. I think we saw that through 2000 and 2003. We saw that really heavily in 2008 from the federal government stepping in and bailing everyone out and so we go, "Well, I guess we’re always going to be okay. The government always saves us.” And that’s one of the questions we had from our fan. We had John [Chudaki – 45:03] asked, "How can a grandparent inspire grandchildren with an appreciation of capitalism when the US appears to be adopting socialist norms?” Now, that might be slightly off-topic. However, at the same time, I think it's along these lines. I mean, we’re talking about capitalism here and how do we kind of get them back to those roots that our grandparents had and that is why I named the company Howard Bailey Financial is because Howard Weade and Ralph Bailey, they both grew up during that period of time and they taught me a lot of these conservative common-sense principles. How do we get back to that?
John: Yeah. It’s a good question and like we talked about, I dedicated my book to my grandfather and certainly, he was a big believer in capitalism. He also believed in the social safety net on a practical level as well but his two big lessons, two big lessons to me that took me to longer to heed than it should have were live beneath your means and to understand the power of compound interest. And it’s the reason why we have it up. It’s right on the wall for our kids is the compound interest chart and it’s something that we make as a downloadable on our site, a compound interest chart because it’s as powerful a concept as you could possibly imagine and it’s one of the things we tell our kids on an ongoing basis. It’s like, "If you get your money invested from an early age before you go to college, you start investing in something as simple as an index fund, you’re going to achieve money empowerment really much sooner than we have and certainly sooner than most of your friends and that’s going to open the world up to you.” That’s not to say that you’re going to retire and go live on a yacht when you’re 30 years old but you’ll be able to do what you want to do. And that’s what you ultimately want to do is use money as a tool and those two ideas…
Casey: To get your kids out of the house.
John: Yeah. You found me out.
Casey: I figured it out. No. Well, one of the other questions was I think he started on there was about the time value of money. Bruce Johnson asked, “Is the time value of money, interest? Explain.” How do you explain compound interest to - I mean, I think it gets a lot easier when they can read a compound interest chart. They’re 15 years old. They should be able to figure that out as it’s explained and taught by you. However, how do you teach that to a younger child?
John: Well, you’re not going to teach them about compound interest per se but you’re going to teach them about delayed gratification and that’s a big part of it. So, that’s why the saving in a jar with your visualization is so important because the earlier the kids can learn delayed gratification, the better off they’re going to be and there’s that famous the marshmallow experiment that Walter Mischel did where the kids come into. They have a researcher have put down a marshmallow that they leave them in there for a certain amount of minutes. I forget what it was, five minutes, and they say, "If you can wait here for five minutes, we’ll give you a second marshmallow.”
Casey: Yeah. I do remember this.
John: Yeah. And so, they found that the kids who could kind of distract themselves were the ones who are successful at the - they wouldn’t look at the marshmallow. The other kids just kind of ate the marshmallow but then the kids who could distract themselves come up with some kind of way kind of getting through those five minutes and then were rewarded with the two marshmallows. I think, more importantly, Mischel went back and looked at those same kids when they went to college and beyond and they found they did - they took a few metrics and found that the kids who had displayed delayed gratification had had success more successful life outcomes so higher GPAs, lower BMIs. You had a whole, I forget the list of metrics that he used but and then the key point is can it be taught? And it can be taught and that’s what we’re trying to do with these kids with the save jars. What you’re doing with that three-year-old and that’s what we start with a five-year-old and that’s what the jar is about. So, that delayed gratification is the beginning.
Casey: That’s the core, right? I mean, that’s the core of what you’re trying to create out of the Art of Allowance and I think you can still incorporate this matching concept in order for them and I like the way you explained in the book with kind of the 401(k) match. They're getting 4% with every single payment they put in there where you can teach them the value of compound interest and that's difficult for them to understand but if you typically, I think, after a few weeks even with our three-year-old I think he’s going to see how if he puts in a dollar and we put in four cents every time he puts in a dollar, he’s going to see especially when it’s four pennies that jar is at least going to be starting to visually fill up so they can visually feel what compound interest is.
John: Yeah. That’s exactly right. So, they’re not going to understand the exponential curve of it but they’re going to get exactly – one, saving is a good thing for me to do. Two, if I saved this dollar that I could put in the spend jar and I put in my saved jar, I get we were doing at the beginning, we do a quarter for every dollar they put on the save jar for a match but you could do dollar for dollar. It’s really…
Casey: 25% match a week is a heck of a match. I’ll take that.
John: It is a good match. But you couldn’t make the argument that a dollar match makes sense because you’re just trying to teach them that saving is a good thing for them. And so, starting a matching program just makes a lot of sense.
Casey: So, we’ve got one last question from our fans. We’ve got a question from Ken Macintosh and this is a practical question. He asked, “Have you cosigned debt?” Now, your kids are probably not at this point yet, but will you? So, have you cosigned debt, student loans, or mortgage? I guess in your case, would you cosign or advise someone to cosign on debt, student loans, or mortgage with your children and do you honestly think it will be paid back when you retire and may need it?”
John: You know, I have not thought about that question so I’m not going to answer that one directly but the one thing I will say though on the student debt side is we’ve already - so our kids are 15 and 12. They know exactly how much they have in their 529s and we have consistently, whenever we’ve traveled, we’ll take them to college campuses so they get a sense of how much these different campuses cost like state school versus private school. And we were just having this conversation last night because our 15-year-old is heading there sooner than we might imagine and I know that it can get out of control with a paying for college. So, that’s why we’ve opened up a conversation with them and that’s why they know exactly how much money that they have so they can start thinking that calculation. One of the best pieces of advice that I got I think again this was Bill Dwight was, "Alone is not a bad thing to do for your kids.” So, I won’t talk about necessarily like cosigning on debt down the road but the example that he used which I thought was really good is that his kid had bought a computer, trashed the computer, and wanted him to buy another computer for him. He said no but he didn’t have the money. He said, “I’ll loan you the money.” And it was he collected the interest and the kid took…
Casey: I love that story. I listen to that podcast you had – John also runs a podcast Art of Allowance that is excellent. Now, that was a really good point.
John: It really was powerful and I’m going to do the same thing because one of our kids wants to go on a trip to Rome next year and we said, "You are going to have to pay for at least half of that trip,” and she was like, "Well, I can’t.” And so, that’s either going to be she’s going to have to take a job. It’s probably going to be both, taking a job and taking a loan from us. And having had that conversation with Bill, I feel much more comfortable about the idea that it’s a good idea. It’s a good idea for a kid…
Casey: Well, they end up getting their wages tarnished in a sense so now they get a feeling for what it’s like to have a mortgage payment or what it’s like to have a loan and you didn’t put them at risk to damage their financial future by making mistake. You said, "Here, now if you make a mistake at least you’re tiptoeing into this.” You don’t have to worry about them affecting their credit or really running into it because you still are there to catch them especially if they’re 13, 14 years old. That’s okay.
John: Right. And it’s a low stakes environment. I know some parents will listen to this and say, "Wow. That sounds pretty harsh. Loan for your kid. Why are you doing that?” And the reason that it makes sense is that they’re going to eventually have to deal with a loan almost definitely.
John: Inevitably, it’s going to happen so why not give them the experience of having gone through the process? Yeah. Sure. They’re paying you back. And as a parent, it’s your prerogative also to relieve them some debt. You can do that. If you feel like they’ve learned the lesson and they paid off the loan and you feel like, "Okay. This is becoming the lessons been learned,” that’s perfectly fine too.
Casey: After 11.
John: Yeah. It’s the fact that it’s low stakes like you had said, this is a chance for them. You’re not going to impact their financial future at all except most likely positively because then they’ll have an experience with something that’s going to come up. This is going to come up.
Casey: Absolutely. So, John, we’re wrapping up here. I want to ask you a couple of stock questions if I could. My first one I think this is going to be interesting since your focus is on younger individuals. If you could revisit your 20-year-old self, what advice would you offer?
John: I should have the stock answer to that one because I’ve asked people. The advice would have to be buy real estate today. It would be either buy real estate today or sock money away and use that power of compound interest and they’re both basically the same thing.
Casey: That’s one of the things my dad always said. He was a financial advisor. However, he made the majority of his wealth in real estate and this was something very unorthodox, very controversial he would say but he would recommend young families if they’re in a financially stable position and they had some excess income, go buy a lake cottage and that puts you in a position where you are forced, it’s forced savings. Maybe it doesn’t make 10%, 15% a year. Maybe it doesn’t perform as well as the market but now you’re forced to make that mortgage payment every single month to pay off that place that you have on the water and it’s hopefully appreciating over time whereas you put those dollars into your 401(k) you might say, "You know what, I really want to buy that sports car this year. I’m going to cut back my 401(k) contributions a little bit.” Real estate is definitely one of the ways that I see and they say the majority of millionaires have been created due to real estate investing and so there’s absolutely something to be said about real estate. Maybe it’s not the performance of real estate. Maybe it’s just the obligation that it creates in your life.
John: Yeah. That’s one of the things we told our kids that we hope they’ll do which is to when they go to college and we’ll see if they end up doing it but it’s like living in the dorms for two years and then we’d love to help you buy a place that you live in and rent it out because then you can find the kids, they’ll be friends of yours that will be living there and then you’re kind of starting them on that right path. So…
Casey: I’ve seen families do that and have a lot of luck with - their kids kind of get the feeling for what it’s like to be a landlord and they can decide if they want to do that or not the rest of their lives. At least they’re starting to collect those rent payments and it’s pretty neat to have that passive income.
Casey: My next question is, if there was one question and I assume and I know from New York Times to the Wall Street Journal, you’ve been interviewed quite a few times and you’ve been asked a lot of different questions. If there was one question you could never be asked again, what would it be?
John: Wow. That is a good question. I guess the question that and this doesn’t come up that much but there are times when people will give you the snarky comments like, "Well, why would I - that doesn’t sound very money smart to get one of these things that you’re talking about whether it’s the Money Mammals, the Art of Allowance. I’m going to be money smart and I’m not going to spend my money on that.” You know, so I guess that would be the one question I could think of.
Casey: Being money smart and not spend my money on Money Mammals. I can say the cartoons, my kid loves them. We’ve been watching those on repeat at our house and they both love them. I have a three-year-old and a one-year-old also with the TV and, well, this is a lot better than Transformers. At least it’s educational and the kids enjoy it at the same time.
John: Right. They’re not expensive and they’re there to just teach kids about money.
Casey: I know. I don’t even remember how I bought the family kit that had the DVD, the book, and the children’s book. I don’t even remember how much that was. Do you?
John: It’s - I should know. I can’t remember. It’s like $30.
Casey: I was going to say it was something like $14 or $15. I don’t know that it was - it wasn’t breaking the bank and I’m sure it’s going to pay back probably a thousand-fold if not substantially more than that over the lifetime.
John: Yeah. Less than $40 and you’re getting your - if nothing else like we start to talk about in the beginning and you don’t need the Money Mammals, the Art of Allowance to do this. It’s the starting a conversation is really that’s such the key and that’s just providing a framework is what those things do, getting the kids excited, and then providing a framework for the parents is the whole purpose behind it.
Casey: So, my last question, John, and this question I’ve asked to thousands of people whether it’s on radio, TV, podcast or in person or in a live audience and I am surprised by the wide breadth of answers that I get here and, yeah, now I don’t know how far you are from retirement. However, my question would be what does retirement mean to you? In one word, if you could use one word, what would that word be?
John: Financial independence. That’s what retirement means.
John: Yeah, independence and I think financial independence is the key because I don’t have any huge desire to retire. My dad retired and he’s working more now than he did I think when he was working because he was a banker and now he wrote a book that was about his uncle’s ex - what his uncle went through in World War II and he does talks and all that and he’s really found meaning in doing that. So, that’s really kind of where the meaning comes in is that you just want that financial independence to do what is kind of your life’s purpose and I feel like I’m doing what is my life’s purpose and so, the retirement is less important than the financial independence.
Casey: Are you at that point in life where you have reached financial independence and you’re living your purpose-based retirement?
John: Now, we’re working towards financial independence but the nice part is that I feel like I get, like I said, I’m working on something that I feel like is the purpose like if I had all the money in the world tomorrow and to retire tomorrow, I really don’t think I would do it anything much different than what I’m doing right now.
Casey: So, when you do get there, what’s going to change? When you get to the point where I have enough, I could quit working tomorrow, how will you treat your life differently?
John: It’s not going to be markedly different because one of the things I’ve done that I talked about it in the book too is just in the - I’ve gotten as much out of teaching my kids than I think they’ve gotten because there’s just so much self-reflection that happens when you start really engaging with this concept and this discussion of money. When you start talking that to your kids, you naturally have to kind of reflect on your own attitudes toward money. And one of the things that I’ve done a lot of is I really cut back on, now I have kind of a minimalist wardrobe. I live a relatively minimalist life and I like that. It’s an interesting point of conversation with my wife and I because I went to that period I was looking at that tiny house and she said, "We are not living in a tiny house.” That I don’t really want to live in a tiny house but there is my interest will speak in a sense that it’s the idea behind it is very much the idea behind what the Art of Allowance as well and what we’re doing and what we’ve been talking about here which is that things are not what define us. Meaning is really ultimately what defines us.
And it goes back to this kind of philosophical questions that you posed earlier which is kind of so many of us lost touch with that and what can we do to get ourselves back in touch with that. And that’s in part what I wanted to try to accomplish in the book is, you know, we talk about the kind of framework but we also talk about in those little asides kind of what money is, how money affects us kind of affects our attitudes, what our attitude toward money is, and our attitude towards stuff and things and products and all of that and how we really need – it’s a good idea to just take stock of what we’re doing with our money and how we can kind of use it most effectively to increase our own kind of fulfillment and happiness.
Casey: Well, John, it’s been great to be able to have that opportunity to interview you and talk a little bit about these topics that for me raising children are just we’re just at the cusp of figuring this stuff out and it couldn’t have been better times. All of our friends are beginning to have children so now people always want to ask that question it seems like in every podcast, what is the book that you’d be giving out? What’s your most gift book? And I’ve got to say I think there’s a good chance this will become my most gift book at least at this point in my life. I’ve just got so many friends that could benefit from this information. I live with it every day being in finance, being a certified financial planner running an independent financial planning practice. It’s common sense with me. That’s what I think about.
However, my friends are living and working completely different lives and it’s not at the top of their mind. Even our godparents, we’re going to have to get them on the train so they know what they’re in for it if it never happens to us. So, thank you again for really just putting this in my life and all of our friends' lives. We’re going to have the opportunity. We’re going to give out a few bucks to everyone that visits our site, shoots us an email, and we’re going to make sure we get them on the board so that they can start getting their grandchildren or children on the path to really a money-empowered state which I know we all want our children to be at. And again, hey, if you’ve enjoyed the show, great information, if you’ve enjoyed the show, just hop on down to click on the reviews tab and please leave us an honest review. We appreciate that and that will help us get out all of our amazing information and help create more money-empowered individuals of all ages.
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