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Teaching teens cash smarts

Money: The ‘Teens Cash Coach’ offers lessons in money management

Posted: September 9, 2010 7:00 p.m.
Updated: September 10, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Jake Abramson, 15, of Stevenson Ranch, creates a new design for a T-shirt on his laptop.

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Patti Handy has heard the story all too often — a teenager overdrafts several times in one day after swiping their debit card at the mall, Starbucks Coffee and lunch with friends. All the while, the teen is unaware they didn’t have enough money in their bank account. A $4 vanilla latte becomes a $49 pain-in-the-wallet fee owed to the bank, added to four more $25-35 fees.

But those fees can also reveal an important lesson for teens and parents, Handy said.

“It’s our responsibility to manage our money, not the banks,” Handy said.

Responsible money management is a lifestyle, Handy said, and it’s one the Valencia resident has promoted to youth around the country through boot camps, assemblies and workshops.

She calls herself the “Teens Cash Coach,” and her primary goal is to create self-reliant, financially successful teens. But she doesn’t do it with a slap on the wrist and a lecture. Handy engages, entertains and empowers.

The certified life coach questions kids, asking challenging but simple questions such as “What kind of life do you want to live?” She plays money games, provides resources and inspires teens to take control of their financial destinies.

Handy wrote “How to Ditch Your Allowance & Be Richer than Your Parents,” a book that takes readers through a spectrum of financial basics from how to write a check to information on investing and credit. Last year, Handy added another dimension to her coaching. With a boot camp that starts with a simple question of “What do you love to do?”

Handy has sparked a passion for entrepreneurship in several local youth. 

 “I want them to know they have choices because when we know we have choices, we’re happier as humans,” she said.

Parent responsibility
Handy has noticed a common detrimental spending habit amongst the youth she has taught. Peer pressure is nothing new but its lure continues to play heavily on youth, at the expense of their wallets. 

“There’s a lot of emotional spending going on,” she said.

Handy said she often sees similar “Keep up with the Joneses” patterns within parents. 

“Even as adults, we want to be accepted,” she said.

Kids follow that example, she said, “just with a different price tag.”

But parents need to take the reins of money management coaching, she said. Students aren’t coming home with textbooks on money management or homework lessons on savings accounts.

“They don’t get these tools in school,” Handy said. “Then they go into the world very unprepared for life.”

On her website, Handy credits her own parents for the invaluable money lessons they taught her at a young age. Handy received her bachelor’s degree in accounting and worked a combined 25 years in the banking and mortgage arena. She most recently served as a senior mortgage adviser for more than seven years.

Handy’s book was borne out of her desire to pass on money management lessons to her now 14-year-old son in an informative, yet conversational way. As Handy filled pages with advice on topics such as building good credit and good debt versus bad debt, she came to a revelation.

“I soon realized that every parent on the planet would love to give their child this information,” Handy writes in the book’s foreword.

“We as parents and coaches, we can plant the seed and guide them,” she said.

“Guide” is the key word, she said. There’s a difference between guiding kids through wise financial decisions and taking on the responsibilities or consequences for them. The latter sends the wrong message, Handy said.

“It’s the parents’ responsibility to start this conversation with their kids, whether they’re 6 or 16,” Handy said. “As soon as they start holding their kids accountable, stop playing ATM machines and set boundaries, the better prepared (the kids) are for dealing with the world.”

Money management
Typically, Handy coaches money management to groups ranging in age from 12 to 19. A junior high student may not struggle with the same financial responsibilities that a high schooler does, but getting the message across early on will have long-term effects, Handy said.

“If they understand at a very young age the dangers and pitfalls of not managing their money well, that carries into the high school years and beyond,” Handy said.

Teens are not oblivious to the blows of the recent recession — lost jobs, foreclosures or bankruptcies that their own parents or others might be experiencing around them.

Handy believes the struggling economy has led teens to be more receptive to her messages.

“They’re watching people around them struggle, and they don’t want that life,” she said. “It’s tragic but a good learning lesson.” 

Though hard for her to narrow down her coaching points, Handy honed in on three money values she tries to focus on when engaging teens:
* It’s who you are, not what you wear that counts.
* Try to be aware of what emotion is leading your spending.
* What kind of lifestyle do you want for yourself?

With the third, Handy tries to inspire a desire for financial freedom. Living a life that is not dependent on each paycheck takes work, Handy tells her students.

Still, trying to steer a teenager away from spending driven by peer pressure is no simple task.

“It’s who you are, not what you wear or the car you drive that really matters, and that’s hard for teens to buy into,” Handy said.

Handy pulls in examples from her own life to relate to the teens. She shares that while she was growing up, kids used to tease her and call her Olive Oyl, from Popeye, because of her skinny legs.

“I understand the peer pressure with which you are faced,” Handy writes to her audience in her book.

“Wealthy people realize that their financial peace is more important than other people’s opinions,” she continues later.

Handy began to notice a common desire in the teens she was coaching.

“I found that kids wanted to learn more about making money than managing it,” she said.

A new idea came about. She would inspire kids to make money and then teach them how to keep it. 

Handy began hosting entrepreneurship boot camps late last year. Since, she created a package that can be licensed and taught throughout the country.

All it took was a few questions and some tools to inspire 15-year-old Jake Abramson, of Stevenson Ranch. Since February, Jake has been designing T-shirts for skaters, as well as his company logo. He hopes to launch his business soon as he finalizes the design and puts together a marketing plan.

The idea sprouted and took off after Jake attended Handy’s boot camp. Handy asked him questions such as “What do you love to do?” and “How could you make money from that?”

“It made me realize how to have a passion for something and realize that’s what I want to do with my life,” he said.

Jake’s parents had noticed an entrepreneurial spark in their son, said mother, Debbie Abramson. Jake’s father owns a successful painting business that he started 23 years ago, and the teen has long admired his father’s entrepreneurship.

“He took a Photoshop all-day class with his dad,” Jake’s mother said. “After the very first night (of the boot camp), it inspired him.”

During the four-week workshop Jake received coaching and a workbook on putting together a business plan, marketing a business and more.

Whether she’s inspiring teens to consider business paths or teaching them about compounding interest, Handy hopes that she can “plant a seed.”

“With some kids it hits home, with others it might hit home a year from now,” Handy said. “They’ll take that seed I planted, and it’ll resonate at some point in the future with them.”

The “Teens Cash Coach” website is Handy recently received a position as vice president of business development for Mission Valley Bank. She would like to license her program to a local candidate who is interested in coaching teens about money management. Contact information is available at her website.

Readers can receive four free weeks of the money school video lessons, The Prosperous Teen, by signing up at Handy’s website.


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