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TESS VIGELAND: I am so sorry to bring this up, but school’s about to start. For kids, it’s time to break out the backpacks and three-ring binders. All that’s left of summer camp are memories of bunk beds, bug juice, and balance sheets.
That’s right, campers! Not all of you spent your summers canoeing. Some used their time to become mini masters of the universe. We sent Caitlan Carroll off to money camp with sunscreen — and a microphone.
CAITLAN CARROLL: I walk into the second day of Camp Millionaire expecting to find a bunch of Alex P. Keatons. Remember him from the ’80s sitcom “Family Ties?”
ALEX P. KEATON: I had a normal childhood. I did the things that all kids do. I liked to color, liked to finger paint, to play the stock market.
Instead of three-piece suits and briefcases, I find about 30 fidgeting high school students in T-shirts and jeans. They’re taking a weekend out of summer vacation to learn about stock portfolios and compound and simple interest.
COUNSELOR: How many of you want to be wealthy and financially free by the time you are adults?
Camp Millionaire is one of many camps cropping up across the country that introduces kids to finance. Camper Tracy Liu says before this weekend she never gave her spending a second thought.
Tracy Liu: Honestly, I did not know how to keep my money. I just like put . . . totally for play and shopping and everything. But, you know, once you learn you think about the money a little more.
Liu stands near a set of big bottles filled with moola. Moola is the fake cash kids earn by doing things like identifying what dividends are or what it means to be highly leveraged.
Liu: In the jars over there is living, financial freedom, saving, education, play and donation. And you try . . . we have set up in percentages so then you know how much you would put within each category for the near future.
I work for a business show. So, I should know this stuff, right? Elisabeth Donati says it’s OK, lots of people don’t. That’s why she started Creative Wealth International, the company that runs Camp Millionaire. Donati coaches the kids on what she calls the three pillars of wealth: real estate, business and stocks.
ELISABETH DONATI: And all of a sudden the light bulb goes off and they think, “Oh, it’s this investing that makes me financially free, not working for a living.” And that’s what we want them to get.
Camp Millionaire’s lessons are pretty simple. They’re a combination of do-it-yourself investments and basic budgeting.
Simple or not, Penn State University Professor Cathy Bowen says most kids don’t learn them from family or in a classroom.
Cathy Bowen: You know it’s kind of strange that we can be taught a lot of things so that we can earn a living, but it seems strange that we’re never really taught how to manage our money in a formal setting.
Parents of these budding Warren Buffets pay $200 each for the weekend seminar. There’s also a variety of books and websites that teach kids about finance.
USC sociologist Karen Sternheimer says most families need help starting conversations about money.
Karen Sternheimer: We sometimes as adults buy things because we think they make us better people or we erroneously think they’re going to totally make us happy. And we don’t like to see that in ourselves, and I think that’s what makes it really difficult to talk about with kids.
Sternheimer says it’s never too early to start the conversation. By the time kids finish college, one-in-five will owe $5,000 on credit cards and at least $10,000 in loans.
Sternheimer: So the idea that we’ve been trying to keep kids separate from money, that’s a construction that is based in the way that we like to think about kids. It’s not necessarily based on what’s “best for kids.”
Back at camp, students are coming up with answers for a fill-in-the blank word game. Like . . .
Camper: Assets feed you, liabilities eat you.
Parent Sheri Fan says the camp’s made an impression on her daughter.
Sheri Fan: She says, “Mommy, they keep saying what’s financial freedom? I say, “To me, financial freedom is if you go out to a restaurant, you can order whatever you want and it’s not affecting your bank balance.”
Camp Millionaire definitely puts the emphasis on “freedom.” Campers plan their own businesses and create dream boards for the future.
The millionaires-in-training are now busy crunching numbers on how much it will cost to rent an apartment. One group of guys is already trimming expenses to balance their budget.
Boy camper: We cut out cars, bikes, eating out . . .
No haircuts, no TV . . . sounds pretty Spartan. One boy says it’ll be tough to live without a car. But he’s willing to make the sacrifice, if it guarantees him in later life the one thing he prizes most as a teenager — independence.
In Los Angeles, I’m Caitlan Carroll for Marketplace Money.
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