I’m very excited to have been asked to host John Lanza during his blog tour as he promotes his “Money Mammals” series. I received a copy of the children’s book “Joe the Monkey Learns to Share” to review in advance of this tour. In this sweet story, which reminded me a bit of the “Berenstain’s Bears”, a young monkey learns to share and to be fiscally responsible by creating three jars of money: one to save, one to spend, and one to give to charity. Joe the Monkey seeks to find a charity to support, while his family and friends tell him that sometimes a charity will find him. By the end, he has found the perfect way to spend his money designated for charity.
I had some questions for Mr. Lanza for our part of his tour:
BBNB: How did you come up with the idea for your money mammals series?
When our first child was about six months old, we were discussing our vision for our little girl and what we thought would be really important for our her to know as she grew older. We were both in sync that raising a money smart, “money comfortable” kid was really important. When we looked into it, we realized there was virtually nothing out there aimed at making financial literacy learning fun for kids. We knew that if we could take a pretty dry subject and make it fun for kids, we would “prime the pump” and make the kids more receptive to financial literacy lessons. I had been tossing the main character, Joe the Monkey, around in my head for years. With The Money Mammals, he suddenly had a direction…and friends.
BBNB: Do you think kids today are less fiscally responsible than kids in the past? How do you think modern culture has changed children’s view of money?
People are certainly less fiscally responsible. And numerous studies point out that most kids learn their financial literacy behaviors from their parents so it’s not surprising that kids are not learning the best habits from their parents in a lot of cases. We put far too much value on stuff in our culture and you literally can’t get out of the way of marketing. It feels like every empty surface is being filled with messages to spend. This is particularly problematic for young people because kids under 8 have a very difficult time distinguishing between fact and fiction in marketing messages.
BBNB: Can you talk a little about the other books and items in the series?
Being a dad has been very informative in developing The Money Mammals. Both books and the DVD were inspired by my kids. In the first book, Joe the Monkey Saves for a Goal, the intrepid leader of The Money Mammals learns to save for a goal with a little help from his friends. We had a lot of success in saving for goals in our family and I wanted to share that with other families through the book. In the second book, I tackle charitable giving. In Joe the Monkey Learns to Share, our fearless monkey learns that finding a meaningful charity is the key to making giving something really fulfilling. In my own life, we use a three jar system – Share, Save and Spend Smart. Kids pretty easily learn to save and spend their allowance money, but sharing takes a little more work. I wanted to come up with a story that would be meaningful to my own kids and children everywhere.
BBNB: What do you see coming up for the money mammals?
We’re always developing new content for all different areas. If there’s a way to get kids excited about making smart money choices, distinguishing between needs and wants and learning to delaying gratification, we’ll try it. We just launched a new website for our Saving Money Is Fun Kids Club program that is licensed by credit unions across the country. It has games and educational activities for kids that emphasize our “We’ll Share & Save & Spend Smart Too” mantra. We’re working on an iPad app based on the first book and I hope to have my third book (about Spending Smart) out before next year. We’re also going to continue doing live tours at schools with some of the partner credit unions with which we work. We never stop moving.
BBNB: I loved this book because of the focus on giving to charity. This is important in our house. Do you think most families today focus on charitable giving, or have charities taken a backseat to just getting by in today’s harsh economy?
My kids go to a charter school, which truly takes a village so I see a lot of people who give a lot of their own time for that cause and many others. My wife is incredible – she’s always donating her time and money to worthy causes. I also think the web has enabled people to find incredibly personal and important causes that are really meaningful to them. For example, at donorschoose.org, you can give money to help teachers help their students in so many different ways. What a great way to make an impact. I sometimes feel like we’re in the golden age of charitable giving.
BBNB: Charitable giving goes hand in hand with volunteering and helping others. Do you think children should have more opportunities to do service through school? Or should they wait until high school?
I tend not to be an advocate of waiting to try and accomplish anything meaningful. Just as we promote the idea that kids should learn to make smart money choices early, I think the more opportunities to share that money or their time through service projects, the better. We have a program called Big Sunday where we live in Southern California. Thousands of people engage in a weekend of service projects to help their own communities and families can participate together.
BBNB: I’m a parent of two school age children. What do you think are the best things I can do to help my children learn to be fiscally responsible?
Start early. The goal is to help build good habits now so you’re not having to break bad habits later. Think of it like reading to your kids. You start teaching them way before they can read to build the foundation for later literacy. Then you want them to keep reading and building on that knowledge. Same with money. Keep it simple and focus on making smart money choices by giving them an allowance. Don’t tie allowance to chores either, particularly little chores you would require of them regardless of whether you paid them an allowance or not (like making the bed, clearing the table, etc.). Remember the purpose of an allowance – to teach kids to make good choices. You can teach them the connection between hard work and earning money by giving them bigger chores like mowing the lawn or raking the leaves. Keep an open dialogue about money and strive to raise “money comfortable” kids who understand the money is just a means, not and end.
Thanks for your time with us, Mr. Lanza!
See John on You Tube: