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Enrich your kids with financial savvy

Updated: May 3, 2013 12:14PM

Originally published: May 13, 2004

Here’s a shocking statistic: More people filed for bankruptcy in 2002 than graduated from college! The Education Department estimates that 1.3 million bachelors’ degrees were granted, while during the same period 1.46 million people filed for bankruptcy.

Another shocking statistic: An estimated 30 percent of the Chicago work force doesn’t have a banking relationship. Those workers pay extra for everything from cashing a paycheck to paying a bill, while they could enjoy free or almost-free checking available at many banks.

That makes MoneySmart week in Chicago an especially relevant topic for this column. Financial ignorance is expensive. And it’s hereditary. If adults don’t learn about money, they can’t teach their children. We have generations of Chicagoans who are mired in debt, afraid to talk to financial institutions, and unable to get above the bottom rung of the ladder.

Money literacy

MoneySmart week is about changing all that. It’s about bringing financial education programs to non-threatening places -- like local public libraries and schools. It’s about convincing people not to be intimidated by the system, but instead to join it. And it’s about understanding that it’s never too late -- or too early -- to learn about managing your money.

The Chicago Sun-Times is doing its part. In conjunction with the Chicago Community Trust and Banco Popular, Chicago teachers in grades K-12 can receive a set of 30 copies of a special section on money, written especially for children. Call (312) 321-4910 for details.

Recognizing the importance of education, Kay Kamin, financial editor of Today’s Chicago Woman, created an essay contest for Chicago schoolchildren. At the press conference kickoff of MoneySmart week, the finalists were introduced. All submitted essays and then faced a panel of adults who asked intimidating questions. The MoneySmart finalists were: Kris Brady, Clissold School; Gregory Huey, Leif Erickson Scholastic Academy; sisters Maritza and Michelle Martinez of Zapata Academy; Jennifer Shanahan, Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School; and Mario Gage, Ariel Community Academy.

The impressive trophy, with the MoneySavvy Piggy Bank mounted on top, was presented by Federal Reserve Bank President Michael Moskow to 12-year-old Gage, who gave an impressive presentation including tips for financial success, concluding with instructions to “always save some of your money.”

How did Mario Gage get to be so money smart? His parents are the motivating force. Dad, Bruce Gage, is a successful entrepreneur and owner of the upscale men’s store Mario Uomo at 1017 W. Washington St. Mom, Michelle Gage, is a human resources executive with the Chicago Park District. They made a priority out of talking -- and teaching -- money to their two children.

Mario’s idol: Ariel Capital Management Chairman John Rogers, whose investment management company partnered with the school. Their program gives each first-grade class $20,000 of real money, invested in the firm’s Ariel Fund and in the Nuveen Growth Fund. By eighth grade, the class “helps” make investment decisions in the funds. At graduation the original investment goes back to the next first-grade class, while the excess profits will go to scholarships or a community gift.

Be an ambassador

Check the daily list of MoneySmart week activites in the Business section. Then attend -- and tell a few people about what’s going on. You, too, can be a MoneySmart ambassador. And that’s The Savage Truth.

Terry Savage is a registered investment adviser, and appears weekly on WMAQ-Channel 5’s 4:30 p.m. newscast. Distributed by Creators Syndicate.

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