Read an Excerpt
Q. Mom, I know you said you didn't have any cash, so why can't you just use one of those little plastic cards maybe that gray one with the blue star on the top?
A. Boy, have you lost your mind? Do you think money grows on trees?
Think for a second of all the funny things you heard your parents say to you about money: "Girl, do I need to have you committed?" "Boy, you'd better get a job, 'cause you're crazy if you think I'm gonna pay $300 for a jacket for a nine-year-old!" Sound familiar? Money can ignite some of the funniest comments in our households. Unfortunately, sometimes our relationship with money, for all the humor it inspires, contributes to many of our problems as a people. The way we've been encouraged to relate to this necessary resource is what In the Black is all about. It's about helping our kids develop healthier relationships with money no matter what our own patterns have been. It's about helping you, the parent, get a grip on your own unique relationship with money so that you can have a positive influence on your child's relationship with it.
Remember what happened when a tooth would fall out of your mouth? The next morning a nice shiny half-dollar would magically appear under your pillow. And we'd sing praises to the tooth fairy, right? Today's kids don't appreciate such niceties. In fact, a half-dollar doesn't go as far as it once did. I used to think that a dollar was big-time money didn't you? When I'd get a birthday card from an aunt or a grandparent, and that crisp dollar bill would fall out onto the floor, I thought I was in the money. Ah, those were the good old days. Kids nowadays look at you as if you're crazy for even thinking of giving them a dollar for their birthday.
The Winans sing a song that asks us to bring back the days of yea and nay, when things were simple. I wish we could, but let's face it: Our kids are growing up in a time that is anything but simple. Complex and complicated don't begin to tickle the surface of the world our kids are growing up in, so we have to equip them for the realities of their world.
If you're like me, you have a thousand and one things to do from the time you get up in the morning until the second you reach over and turn off the bedside lamp. You may even be saying, "Teach my kids about money? C'mon, Fran, I have enough on my plate already." What I'm asking you to do is about as enticing as going to the dentist. You know you need to do it, but that doesn't make it any easier.
Don't fool yourself. Time isn't the only thing that's stopping you and other black parents from talking to kids about money. Money has never been an easy subject for anyone to discuss. And what's worse is that for us African Americans, the topic has been even more troublesome. Some of our parents have used money as a tool of manipulation, a symbol of affluence or position, a deadly weapon, or a show of love none of which is an appropriate use for this critical resource. Some sociologists have said that our money woes stem from slavery (the old faithful excuse for all our issues). They claim that our history of deprivation has illuminated the value of money in the black community. While there may certainly be some validity to this theory, there is still no reason for us to continue to pass down unhealthy behaviors. Regardless of the reasons, my hope is that you will address this issue in an aggressive, no-nonsense fashion. And I hope that your children will at least have the chance to walk away with a better grip on their money patterns.
The most common question asked of me while I was promoting my book About My Sister's Business: The Black Woman's Road Map to Successful Entrepreneurship was "Is there a difference in what black women versus other groups need to know about starting their own businesses?" My answer was a resounding yes. Of course we must deal with different issues. In addition to the basic business start-up concerns, we must also tackle racism, sexism, ageism, and so on. So I wasn't surprised when I was asked the same question when we were planning In the Black. There are bookshelves across the country full of books that discuss teaching kids about money, some with sound, helpful advice that can apply to any kid, irrespective of race. But what is missing in those books are the issues that are plaguing black kids on a daily basis cultural twists, gangs, drugs, racism, and classism, factors that have the capacity to influence our kids' relationship with this important commodity.
When I started writing this book, I began examining my role as money educator in my home. Do I do a good job of instilling good values with my own child? I asked myself. The answer is yes, but I'm still a work in progress and always will be. It takes work and consistent effort. I'm as good as I am only because of the mistakes I've made in the past. Isn't experience always the best teacher? So as I continued working on this book, I became even more aware of the areas I wanted to cover to ensure that my daughter would be a smart and savvy money manager, and that I didn't pass on poor habits to her. This book will help other parents discover what I learned: that money education is one of the greatest gifts you can give your child. Let's stop the cycle of mismanagement, misuse, and abuse of money in the African-American community. Let's produce kids who can appreciate a hard day's work and the value of a dollar.
If you want to raise children who have a healthy relationship with money, you should buy this book. If you have identified one or two money demons within yourself that you don't want to pass on to your children, you need this book. If you want your children to develop a sense of confidence where finances and budgets are concerned, this book is for you. In other words, if you have children and are breathing air and reading this page, you would be doing yourself and your children a favor by buying this book.
A word of encouragement: If you're thinking that it's too late because your kids are in their late teen years and set in their ways, let me assure you that it's never too late. Life is a continual learning experience. Just pick up where it's most logical. If your children are facing issues such as running out of recreation money by Wednesday, then start talking to them about budgets and move right along. Opportunity is all around us. Be mindful, though, that you'll need to be as creative with your teenager as you are with your two-year-old. Old habits die hard, but they can and do die. So give it your best shot.
This book does not contain tons of financial jargon and equations. I'm not an economist, nor am I a financial wizard. And you needn't be, either. If you can add two and two, and you're willing to learn something on this journey, then you have nothing to worry about. The good news is that you don't have to work on Wall Street or have a portfolio of stocks, bonds, munis, and CDs to instill solid money values in your children. All you need is a willing heart. And a good dose of patience.
We'll talk budgets, strategy, and planning, but that's about as complicated as the words get. And if you run across a word that you aren't familiar with, do what I do: Pick up a dictionary and carry on. This is not a test. You will not receive grades. Your reward will be kids with good money skills.
Drugs, delinquency, and ignorance are killing our kids more than any other race in America. This book goes beyond money; it's about keeping our kids from falling prey to the lure of gangs and delinquency. It speaks to keeping our kids out of prison and juvenile delinquency homes during the most promising years of their lives. Let's give our kids a fair shot at life. Don't make money the all-consuming goal, as it often is perceived in the African-American community. It's not the reason for being. Let's teach our kids to control the effects of money and not have it control them.
This book boils down to one thing: values. Are you willing to instill in your kids healthy values regarding money? Our children live in a world vastly different from the one you and I grew up in and vastly different from the one many white or brown children grow up in but that doesn't mean values have changed. Our methods may need a bit of fine-tuning, but good, productive values have basically remained unchanged. But many other things have changed. Today, 50 percent of American marriages end in divorce; there's a good chance, then, that you're doing this on your own. You can still do it. Furthermore, if you don't assume the responsibility of being the primary teacher of sound money values in your household, your kids will learn them from someone else the neighborhood gang leader, peers, television or other media advertising, and so forth.
I don't know how you feel about this, but I find raising a child in this decade extremely challenging. I really believe we are raising children during the most difficult period of our history. I'm sure our parents felt the same way. The last thing I want is to have my child looking to someone else for any major life lessons. Boy! That's scary.
Little eyes see all. It's true. Nothing we do or say as parents gets past our kids, so why not take advantage of the attention we already have? If you steal or fudge, your kids are learning to do the same. If they see you being responsible and attentive with your finances, they'll be more inclined to do the same. And since our kids can either accept or reject the lessons we teach and the examples we set, we should supplement our actions with discussions about the values we're teaching. This way we'll know where our kids' heads are. Teach your kids and teach them well. They will be glad you took the time to care (even the teenagers who think they know it all), and they will be forever blessed because of it.
When my agent was approaching publishers about this book, one of the questions she was asked was "Why do we need a book like this for African Americans?" I found this question laughable. We have our own cultural nuances and, yes, dysfunctions, just like every other group of people. We treat our families in a particular way, we relate to education in our own way, and so forth. Our treatment of money has not escaped. That's why this book is needed. And if those reasons aren't enough, consider the following statistics:
- African Americans have one of the highest debt-to-income ratios in the United States, which means we consistently spend more than we make.
- African Americans have one of the highest credit card debts in the United States, which means we pull out our plastic in a heartbeat.
- A disproportionate number of African-American deaths are related to money, which means that we make these dead presidents too powerful in our communities and homes.
Need I go on?
This book is broken down into portions that allow you to get in touch with what you bring to this party the good, the bad, and the ugly. What are your money strengths and weaknesses? You see, if your grip is not tight, that might explain why your kids are misfits in this area. Plus, we can all sharpen our skills even those of us who are doing a good job already. The point is to know. Remember that '70s commercial "Do you know where your children are"? Well, where money is concerned, my preliminary research shows that we don't have a clue where our kids are. Some of us barely know where we are!
This book includes chapters devoted to particular age brackets: preschoolers, preteens, and teenagers. You'll find tools for dealing with money for children who fit into the particular age groups. Also, there are lots of questions, games, and exercises to make this fun. Yes, fun! Learning is fun if you make it that way.
Wouldn't it be nice to know what kind of adults our kids will be. To get a glimpse of this, we have to envision what kind of child we want them to become. Once we figure that out, we'll have a better idea of how to help them reach adulthood with the values and money skills we believe are important. This book has exercises with many questions, but there are no right or wrong answers. Your answers will assist you in determining what's important to you and what it is that you want your kids to value.
Copyright © 1998 by Fran Harris