Make Your Kid a Money Genius (Even If You’re Not)

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Make Your Kid A Money Genius (Even If You're Not): A Parents' Guide for Kids 3 to 23I’ve been writing about personal finances for almost six years now. I like to think I’ve got a good grasp of it.

I’ve also performed in work positions where I needed at least a cursory understanding of developmental and educational psychology. I like to think I performed pretty well in those jobs, too.

But the intersection of finances and developmental psychology? While I think I’ve been doing some great things to teach my kids about money, I recently picked up a book that taught me there’s a lot that I didn’t know.

Make Your Kid a Money Genius (Even if You’re Not)

That book was Beth Kobliner’s most recent tome: Make Your Kid a Money Genius (Even if You’re Not). Kobliner is a leading authority on personal finance for young people with a laundry list of impressive work experience, including serving as a member of the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability under Barack Obama.

The basics that I had already been doing were within her text: teach your kids about opportunity costs, delayed gratification and savings. Teach them that mom and dad have to work to bring home money to pay for our home and food and toys.

But Kobliner opened up doors to me that I didn’t even know were there. Much of her work is based on scientific studies that I never knew had been performed, yet the engaging read went quickly and didn’t feel anything like a white paper.

The Book’s Construction

I read the book start to finish, but its construction allows you to pick and choose sections to read that are applicable to your current stage of parenting.

Each chapter is divided up into sections for “Preschool”, “Elementary School”, “Middle School”, “High School”, “College” and “Young Adulthood”. If your kid is 12, you don’t have to sift through what you should have been doing when they were three, or what you will have to do when they’re 20.

It covers a vast array of topics, many of which I had never thought about introducing to my preschoolers:

  • Savings
  • Hard Work
  • Debt
  • Smart Spending
  • Insurance
  • Investing
  • Giving Back
  • College

My kids came home from school with a fire safety packet the other day. We got to the crucial rule of not going back inside the house after you get out. Whatever toy or possession you want to retrieve is not worth risking your life.

I never would have thought of it before, but since I had read Kobliner’s book, I took the opportunity to explain to them, in the most basic of ways, renters’ insurance. It reassured them that their favorite toys and blankets would be replaced without mommy having to work fifty million hours to compensate for the costs.

There is also a section on financial advice for parents at the end. If you don’t have your money game together, it’s a quick primer to help you do the big important things easily so you don’t come off as a hypocrite to your kids. Also, having your stuff together will make your life better, period.

While there were some things I knew in the text, there was plenty that I didn’t. Here are some of the most interesting things that stuck out to me.

Our Daughters’ Money Gap

Culturally, we tend to talk to our sons more about money than our daughters. Our sons grow up feeling more confident about money because we have these conversations with them so often, and we therefore think they are inherently better with money. This holds particularly true on the topic of investing.

It might not be something that we are doing consciously; it may be a cultural subtext that is so deeply ingrained in us that we don’t realize we’re perpetuating it.

Kobliner points out that this is doubly detrimental because when our daughters enter the workforce, they are faced with the very real gender pay gap. They’re making less than their male peers and, because we didn’t address the topic properly in their youth, they feel less confident handling the money they do have.

My parents were by no means feminists, but I do consider myself very fortunate that this was not the case in my home when I was growing up. I plan to be intentionally aware of equity in financial education as I raise my own children after discovering this fact.

Teaching Kids to Wait and Save

I knew that distraction was a good way to avert tantrums in toddlers and, to a certain extent, preschoolers, but I had never thought to apply this tactic to financial lessons.

Kobliner encourages parents to, among other strategies, play fun games in checkout lines or even bust out videos on the phone. Then, once you’re out of the store, praise the child for not freaking out even though they really wanted that overpriced candy bar.

They may not be aware of what’s happening in the moment, but the positive reinforcement afterwards starts building neural pathways that encourage delayed gratification and can even stave off credit card abuse when they’re older.

College Jobs Can Be Beneficial

It turns out working up to 20 hours per week can boost a college student’s grades—but only if it’s on-campus. Off-campus jobs don’t show the same correlation. So don’t turn your nose up at those work-study opportunities offered on the FAFSA!

The Science of Happiness

I’ve written on the science of happiness before—and how money only contributes to about 10% of it. Kobliner cites a new(er) book, though, that asserts that we’re happier with many small purchases spread out throughout the year as opposed to one or two big ones annually.

So maybe skip that huge vacation and instead take a bunch of smaller weekend trips. I’m going to struggle with following this advice, but it makes logical sense.

The Engagement Ring Matters

Apparently there have been studies done about the correlation between engagement ring costs and divorce rates. Those that spent between $2,000 and $4,000 on the ring were 1.3 times more likely to get divorced than those that only spent between $500 and $2,000. You now have a non-financial reason to be stingy.

Saving for College Increases Attendance

So here’s some financially backwards psychology for you: children who know their parents are saving for their college as early as preschool are more likely to actually go to college. The crazy part? This is especially true when the household income level is less than $50,000.

Why do I think that’s crazy? If you’re from a household that makes less than $50,000 per year, you’re likely going to get full Pell and state grants, qualify for a ton of financial aid at the school level, and have a lot of scholarships open to you because of your economic status. These are the families who, in my educated opinion, are most likely to get full funding without their own savings.

Even though it doesn’t make the most financial sense, especially considering those with incomes under $50,000 likely aren’t fully funding retirement accounts, I can see how this is a situation where psychology may win out and play a massive role in that child’s future earning opportunities.

Ivy League Does Improve the Marginalizeds’ Earning Power

My biggest regret surrounding my college education is that I didn’t apply to the Ivy League school of my dreams. In retrospect, I probably would have gotten in, and I probably would have gotten enough financial aid to allow me to graduate traditionally.

However, I know that the name on your degree doesn’t affect your earning power. Unless, as I learned from Kobliner, you are Latino, black, from a low-income household or are a first-generation college grad. Kobliner says this may be because of the network you gain at these schools, and therefore the access to opportunity.

I agree with that, but will go a step further in my own, personal assumptions: that Ivy League name may help combat racism and classism, which both negatively impact wage gaps.

If you have a child who is in one of these marginalized groups, know that Ivy League schools typically have very large endowments that can often make their tuition free or at least far cheaper than some private, or even state, schools. If your child has the academic acumen to get in, it’s well worth applying. Don’t write them off as too expensive.

One last note on higher ed—Kobliner is a bit pessimistic about funding education through scholarships or graduating debt-free. I tend to be on the other end of that spectrum as there’s a lot of money left on the table every year because most students don’t aggressively pursue scholarships, and many don’t even apply for the FAFSA. This may be the only point of possible contention I had with the entire text.


Highly. I know I’ve told you a lot I learned from the book, but trust me when I say there is so much more. There are techniques I will be using today with my preschoolers, and techniques I’ll be coming back to the book to reference as my children grow older. If you want to learn a better way to teach your child to be a financially-capable adult, this is a must-read.

*I have been compensated for my time reading and reviewing this book. Regardless, all opinions are 100% my own and 100% honest.*

11 thoughts on “Make Your Kid a Money Genius (Even If You’re Not)

  1. The Green Swan

    Thanks for the recommendation! My little one is almost 3 and I have been eagerly awaiting the time when I can begin teaching him the basics. I’m definitely going to check this book out! Sounds like some very interesting tips and suggestions that I wouldn’t have necessarily thought of.

    Having an Ivy League name on the diploma certainly doesn’t hurt and chances for success are probably higher. But it may be hard justifying the cost. I went to a directional university and turned out fine…and I’m in the same role as a Princeton grad 4 years my elder. I go back and forth on this myself.

    Thanks again for the recommendation!

    1. Femme Frugality

      It is a really great book! And that name only helps certain populations—studies only show that it helps Latino/Black populations or those who are economically disadvantaged/first generation college grads.

      And with the amount of aid you can get at these places, they can actually end up being WAY cheaper than alternatives that we tend to think are more reasonable despite that shocking sticker price. That’s the reason I wish I had applied, myself. My private school, I learned later, is actually more expensive than Ivy League because of their lack of financial aid to their students. The most expensive in the nation a few years back, though I haven’t looked up the data since then.

      Definitely pick this up. While I enjoy opining about higher ed, Kobliner covers SO much more, too! And at three, it is wise to start now! One other thing she found was that money habits are usually established by age 7—surprising!

  2. Andrew@LivingRichCheaply

    Sounds interesting. This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about as my kids get older. I have a 3 1/2 year old and a 6 month old…still young but really want to have a plan on how to teach them about money. One of the best ways to teach money to children is to just be a good financial role model. It’ll be hypocritical to lecture your kid about not buying that expensive candy bar if you grab that magazine off the rack at checkout.

    1. Femme Frugality

      For sure, Andrew! Ironically enough, Beth addresses that same bit of wisdom in the book. We can’t do one thing and then expect our kids to do another. We’ve got to own our behavior!

  3. Michael

    Great suggestion, Femme! I am going to check this book out. I have been teaching my kids about money. This book looks likea resource that will effectively help me teach my kiddos about money.

  4. Abbi

    That sounds like an interesting book. I find that detail on engagement rings interesting. My husband and I should be good as mine was not expensive. 🙂 We have been married over 18 years now so we have a good start towards a long marriage. 🙂

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