Getting kids to save and spend money wisely isn’t always easy in a world where toys, new gadgets and iPods are constantly emptying their piggy banks. But some Seattle elementary schools are taking steps to change this.
In September 2011, Lowell Elementary School and Madrona K-8 School formed a partnership with Umpqua Bank to start a program that teaches children how to save for the future. The Learn to Earn program has already been implemented into four elementary schools in the Greater Seattle area.
On a weekly basis, students from kindergarten to eighth grade are given the convenience of depositing their money with bank associates in the comfort of their own school.
“We’re only six months into the program, but the students are really learning how to manage their money,” said Stacey Krynsky, Capitol Hill’s Umpqua branch manager, who initially reached out to schools to bring the program to Seattle.
But longtime Seattle residents know that this type of program isn’t all that new to Seattle Public Schools; it was just abandoned for the last four years.
Washington Mutual was once a leader in providing thousands of Seattle students with convenient, hands-on, weekly banking through a similar school saving program.
The program was infused in Seattle’s education system until 2008, when Washington Mutual closed its doors as the largest bank failure in U. S. history. Shortly after, JP Morgan Chase bought WaMu and cut the program from 1,500 schools nationwide.
It seems Umpqua Bank is picking up where Chase left off. After implementing the program into elementary schools nationwide, they are restoring one of Seattle’s most celebrated community initiatives.
With nearly 100 students enrolled in the program so far, students from Lowell and Madrona have already saved approximately $5,200 collectively. Just last week, Coe Elementary School and Jane Addams K-8 School also partnered with Umpqua to get their students involved.
“It’s a huge community effort involving parents, teachers, bankers and students,” said Lowell principal Gregory King. “I think a program like this reinforces the traditional values we once had about saving money and good work ethic.”
Madrona principal Farrah Thaxton agrees. “By earning their own money, students directly learn about what things in the real world cost when they spend their own money and it isn’t just handed to them,” she said.
“Programs like this encourage students that they don’t need to have a lot of money to open an savings account,” she added. “So when they come in on Thursday morning to meet with their banker and deposit even 50 cents, it gives them a sense of pride in their work.”
Every week, at both locations, dozens of students run into their elementary-school cafeterias on Bank Day with jingling pockets and pouches, excited about something other than food. When they approach the bankers, they are prompted to explain how they earned their money and to count it out in front of them before they pick a prize for depositing.
Lowell first-grader Malli McGrath proudly announced, “I cleaned my papa’s and a bunch of my papa’s friends’ cars and earned 10 whole dollars.”
Her mother, Christi McGrath, said she is always excited to come to school when it’s Bank Day.
For families, the benefit of the program is clear. It allows children as young as kindergartners to open saving accounts and make deposits of as little as a penny before they start class each week. Umpqua Bank employees get to know the students, help count their money and provide receipts, eliminating the need for parents to make special trips to the bank.
Though the Learn to Earn approach is just getting started in Seattle, banks across the nation are in full support of educating the youth about saving money early. Banks such as Wells Fargo, Chase, US Bank and Bank of America offer educational resources, savings program and on-line learning tools to teach children about saving money. Some banks like Wells Fargo also organize “Kids Bank Days,” where families can interactively learn about the importance of educating children about good money-saving habits, said Wells Fargo spokesperson Laura Underhill.
This type of reaction toward school Bank Days was the vision of Learn to Earn, said Learn to Earn director Colleen Toste. “The goal for the program is to make saving money a habit — a weekly habit,” she said. “And the way to do that is by not putting big numbers in front of a child. Kids can deposit a penny, 5 cents, and still get a prize every time.”
“We like to keep the kids motivated and have a set goal in mind,” Krynsky said. “So we created a dry-erase thermostat chart and told students at Lowell that if they could collectively deposit $2,500 in their accounts, Umpqua would throw them an ice cream party. From the start of the program in September to the end of Christmas, the students had deposited $3,600 collectively to reach that goal. Now they’re aiming to reach $6,500.”
The children not only learn life-long financial management skills but also that saving for specific goals are crucial. “If you have good saving and work habits when you’re 6 years old, you’ll have those same habits when you’re 26 and 56 and so on,” Toste said.
The spending goals most kids have on their mind are for toys and new games, but some are thinking long-term.
Robby Frondozo, said his 8-year-old, Aidan, always says he’s saving up for college and, of course, toys, too. “Aidan has learned to appreciate the value of money and has a sense of pride because he works for it,” he said.
“Aidan has almost $600 in his account now since he started saving. Not all working money, of course — some from his birthday and for getting good grades,” Frondozo said. “We always stress it’s not about how much money a person gives you for your work; it’s about what you did to earn it.”
Another parent, Nicole Van Suhr, said her second-grade daughter Simone is much more aware of what material things cost.
“If she wants to buy a Starbucks drink that is $3 and has only earned $1.30 that week, she realizes the difference between what she wants and needs,” Van Suhr said. “It’s amazing that she’s been so diligent about saving, and she’s thinking long-term. She says she is saving for a trip to Argentina or saving for a new family car.”
Nationwide, programs like this are being launched to teach future generations good saving habits and work ethic, and it can only be a good thing. With millions of American in credit card or loan debt today, teaching children the importance of savings and not borrowing could help prevent economic crisis in the future.
“If you connect all the dots, a program like this not only helps young individuals at the core, it helps society in the long run as our future generations will have learned to be money-savvy and fiscally responsible, said King, Lowell’s principal.
Teach Children to Save Day is a part of a national program developed by the American Bankers Association’s Education Foundation to teach children about the importance of saving. Teach Children to Save Day will take place April 24 and 25 this year.
For more information in how to get your children or school involved, visit www.aba.com/abaef/teachchildrentosave.htm.