Parents, schools, banks teaching kids how to spend and save

abredeson@islandpacket.com

February 16, 2014 

Hilton Head Island Elementary School third graders KJ Holland, left, and Jacob Roca, center, assist first grader Andrew Jeffrey, right, in choosing an item for purchase during a South Carolina Bank and Trust minor savings program called the Trustee Club at Hilton Head Island Elementary School on February 7, 2014. A math coach at the school teams up with the bank on Fridays and sets up a little store where the kids can buy a variety of items. That way they can choose to either spend or save.

THEOPHIL SYSLO — Staff photo Buy Photo

When Jamie and Liz Bodie's children go shopping with their parents, they know what they might be able to have and what is out of the question. Unlike most children, they look at price tags instead of just begging for whatever they want.

The Bluffton family's oldest child, Skylar, 11, recently found a University of South Carolina jersey she really liked. She looked at the price tag, saw that it was $60, and knew it was a no-go.

"I didn't have to say, 'It's $60. We can't get it,' " Jamie said. "She went, 'Aw, crap.' She understood that she wouldn't pay $60."

The Bodies want to set their children up for a successful financial future. Primarily, they don't want them to make the same mistakes they made. They also want their kids to start saving money now so they can have the things they want when they get older without going into debt. Instilling these values into young people is something parents, as well as schools and banks in Beaufort County, are doing to give kids the tools they need for adulthood.

Jamie and Liz, who own the entertainment, event lighting and photo booth rental company JLK Events, have trained their children well. At ages 8, 10 and 11, these kids know that nothing is free in life and if you want nice things, then you have to work for them.

"As much as we possibly can, we want our children to do better than we did," Jamie said. "We were 40 before we realized we were financial idiots."

By 2008, the Bodies were $100,000 in debt, not including their mortgage. They enrolled in a Financial Peace University class in June of that year. The nine-week course by Dave Ramsey is a combination of video teaching, class discussions and small group activities meant to teach participants how to deal with money, with an emphasis on faith in God. Class members learn how to get out of debt and save money.

Piggy Banks

The importance of saving money is one of the first financial lessons kids receive in life -- whether it be for that video game they've been wanting or a class trip abroad. Some students locally are learning how to take their savings beyond the piggy bank.

Two local banks that offer special programs for children are First Federal and South Carolina Bank and Trust in Bluffton. Both work with schools to introduce students to the concept of saving.

A representative of SCBT visits Hilton Head Island Elementary School on Friday mornings to talk to students about savings accounts and to assist them with deposits. A math coach at the school collaborates with the bank by setting up a little store for the students. That way, they have the opportunity to choose between spending their money or putting it in savings.

"We teach the kids at a very early age the importance of saving," said branch manager Rose Jackson-Knighton. "When you establish it that young, it instills it in them. We make it fun so they want to save."

DEBT-FREE LIVES

The Bodie children have grown up with Ramsey's philosophy on money. Jamie said they have been exposed to it daily for years. They listen to his radio show on car trips. They have read the Dave Ramsey Jr. series of books. And they have seen it in action through their parents, who have worked hard to get out of debt and save for the future.

Within 25 months of following the program, the Bodies were debt free. That meant they got to meet Ramsey, the man behind Financial Peace University. They traveled to Tennessee and told their story on his radio program. Then the whole family let out a "debt-free scream," something many Financial Peace students dream of doing.

Jamie loved Ramsey's program so much that he began teaching it in 2009. He's currently helping teach a class at LowCountry Community Church in Bluffton. The Bodies' 10-year-old daughter, Rylee, is a member of that class.

The Bodies believe in the program so much, they even named their German Shepherd "Ramsey."

Jamie said he wants his children to understand there are three basic things people can and should do with the money they get: give it away, save it and spend it.

LITTLE LESSONS

Parents, naturally, want what is best for their children, but teaching the next generation how to handle their money can also "take a village."

On the first day of economics class, David Byrne shows his students at Beaufort Academy how long it would take to save $1 million using an online compound interest calculator.

"It's a real powerful tool for kids to see how their money grows, starting at a young age, starting with $10 or $20 a month," Byrne said. "I think most teenagers say, 'Oh, that's too much money. I don't have it.' " But when you really start to look at where their money goes, they say, 'Yeah, we could afford that.' "

When the Bodie children received money this past Christmas, Jamie and Liz told them they would match them 50 cents on the dollar if they would start putting their money toward a family vacation.

Jamie said they decided to match them "so they realize you don't just go on a vacation by just going, that it's a savings process and that there are opportunity costs with everything that you do. If you save that money up for vacation, then you can't buy a new scooter or a pair of roller skates or whatever the new thing is. You can't do both things with it. It's got to be one or the other, and that's something that's tough for kids to grasp because they want the here and the now."

"It's not easy for any of us," Liz chimed in with a chuckle.

Now everyone in the household has contributed money to the vacation fund, which is kept in a large water jug in their home.

The kids put in some of their Christmas money. They've given their money for doing chores. They've even given money from the Tooth Fairy.

Since starting the vacation fund at Christmas, the Bodies have set aside about $500. They hope to save more than $1,200 so they can go on a cruise in November.

FUTURE REWARDS

While there aren't usually immediate benefits from saving money, the SCBT program does reward kids along the way. The children who participate in the program are given special rewards for milestones, such as saving $5.

"The kids love it," Jackson-Knighton said. "And they watch their money grow."

First Federal in Bluffton has a similar program called the Squirrels Club.

Assistant financial center manager Denolis Polite is in charge of the local program, which works with students at Michael C. Riley Elementary School and Early Childhood Center and Red Cedar Elementary School. The Sun City Hilton Head branch of First Federal visits students at Okatie Elementary School.

The bank teaches students how to balance a register, fill out a deposit ticket and so forth.

Polite said some kids come in with pennies. Some bring in between $20 and $30 a month. Some bring checks for $100. Most kids bring in $5 a month.

Polite said when adults teach children to save their money, they are giving them a lifelong gift.

"We'll set up our children for a better start at life," she said.

The last assignment for students in Byrne's economics class is to research the average salaries people make in different careers and the average cost of living. Byrne said it has a sobering effect on the students.

"I always tell my students the first day of class ... that of all the classes they take in high school, I've always considered the econ class the most practical," Byrne said. "In America, we are driven by capitalism, and all of us want to be financially secure and responsible with our money. I consider it such an important class."

Byrne said he talks to his own children -- 5-year-old triplets -- about the importance of saving money, too. He also talks to them about the difference between needing something and wanting something.

That's a concept the Bodie children know well. That $60 USC jersey was not a necessity, and Skylar knew it. Being able to say no to things that are not needed is something that will benefit her the rest of her life.

The three Bodie kids know they have a lot of work ahead of them, but if they stick to what they've learned, they will be better off for it. They already know their parents won't be buying them cars, so they've been saving for about three years.

"And I won't be going, 'Well, we're not buying you a car' when they're 14 years old because they already know," Jamie said.

The kids also know their parents will not be paying for college. They will help, but they will not pay for all of it.

"We are their parents, and we do love them," he said. "But we love them enough to make them responsible with money so they'll have some."

Follow reporter Amy Coyne Bredeson at twitter.com/IPBG_Amy.

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