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Karen Holland Financial Education Social Entrepreneur

by Team Sammy

Social Entrepreneur and Founder of Gifting Sense . org

We are pleased to have Karen Holland share with us some “First” childhood money memories and tips.

Welcome and thank you Karen!

About Karen Holland

Karen is the founder of Gifting Sense, a nonprofit enterprise, that helps kids experience first-hand why thinking before buying is such a powerful and rewarding life skill. Gifting Sense was runner-up to the University of Chicago at the 2022 MAIA awards in the “Best Non-Profit School-Aged Financial Education Program” category.

Karen grew up in two General Motor’s towns: St. Therese, Quebec and Oshawa, Ontario. Her father is a retired Mechanical Engineer who worked for GM his entire career. Her mother was an impressively frugal and creative kindergarten teacher.

Discover more about Karen and her journey into financial education at:

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The $9 Burgundy Timex

The first purchase I can remember making with my own money, was a $9.00 burgundy Timex watch at the end of the summer just before Fifth Grade.

A neighborhood friend and I had a paper route; that watch was my earned reward for putting together and delivering many,  many, many, newspapers in the hot, humid, Ontario sun.

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A "4-Digit" Bank Account

I was in Grade 12 the first time I had a  “4-digit” bank account, that is $1,000.00.

I was saving up for university and had worked at the  local Police Station all summer accepting the money for parking tickets.

As you can imagine, very few people enjoy paying parking tickets, so that too was money well-earned.

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Guess What?

My mother was an excellent manager of household finances. To ensure that we too always  “thought before we bought” she gave us a monthly allowance beginning in Grade 8, which was meant for all our expenses outside of meals enjoyed at home, a winter coat, and some typical  back-to-school items our parents would buy for us.

Forty-two years later I can still recall  spending way more than I should have on a pair penny loafers, in the fall of Grade 9.

I couldn’t meet my friends at the movies, or even buy the much coveted “Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific”  shampoo for months afterwards.

Guess what? I never again bought something capable of so  much crowding out!

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My Mother's Daughter

I am my mother’s daughter and have always been a careful spender. And as I have aged, waste has begun to bother me more and more. Which is why If I could only teach a child one money habit, it would be the one I do teach: how to think before you buy!

I believe that thinking  before buying (TBB) is the cornerstone of financial literacy, which is why I’ve tried to make it as  easy as possible for young people to acquire the habit of TBB during the time in their lives when their money stories are still being developed.

So many adults today lament the fact that they were never taught things like wise spending habits. I’d really like to change that. I don’t see why  we can’t teach every middle school student in the developed (and beyond) world how to think  before they buy in one 45-60 minute class. 

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TBB - "Think Before Buying"

TBB is a powerful and rewarding, not boring, life skill! It is a seriously effective disappointment avoidance tool, and if mastered before entering high school, gives children from all economic realities a site line as to how they can spend less than they make when they become adult  income earners.

When you know how to spend less than you make, you know how to create  the small but necessary investable surplus required to be able to make use of the many tools available to build personal financial freedom, such as emergency funds, home-purchase, college, or retirement savings plans.

Investable surpluses do not have to be big, but they need  to exist to create personal financial freedom.

Thoughtful Spending

Most adults know that they should spend less than they make and then invest the difference – the trick is how – how do you live in a way that lets you spend less than you make?

We start by having kids take a little bit of time to make sure they understand how much actual money they need to make a purchase (including for example how much sales tax and shipping add to a  seemingly small online purchase, or how much safe transportation, snacks and souvenirs add to  the cost of attending a sporting event), and how much they will be able to use and appreciate an item or experience before any final decisions are made.

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Kids Are Smart

Kids are so smart, they very quickly figure out thinking before buying is both easy, and important – because it helps them avoid both FOMO and buyer’s remorse!

To wit, at the end of  workshops, we regularly hear comments like “I just never thought about it that way.” or my  personal favorite: “That was way better than I thought it was going to be!”

Financial lessons  are so overly associated with limits and denial that even unsuspecting middle-schoolers dread them at first glance. But calculating the DIMS-Does It Make Sense?® Score for a possible purchase only takes about three minutes - and acts as a very effective speed bump - slowing kids down just enough to help them avoid making a purchase/ request they may well regret.

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Teaching Tips

I often use sports and driving metaphors in workshops because they resonate with kids: 

Managing personal finances is not entirely dissimilar to team sports in that to “win” you need  both offense (earning power) and defense (wise spending habits).

History teaches us that financial offense alone isn’t enough. Look at all the celebrities and professional athletes who had tremendous earning power, but never experienced personal financial peace, because their impressive incomes weren’t matched with appropriate spending habits. At Gifting Sense, we teach financial defense!

I also think of the work we do at Gifting Sense as “Driver’s Ed”, and youth debit cards as “Graduated Licensing”.

In a perfect world, you’d have both - kids learning how to spend wisely and then initially practicing in an environment with guardrails. I personally don’t believe that youth debit cards on their own can successfully build financial capability. Why? Because it doesn’t matter that you can’t drive after midnight if you don’t know how to drive safely in the first place!

Favorite Money Quote

In closing, Sam always asks his guests for their favorite quote about money. Although I  teach kids long before they earn enough to pay income tax, we do always discuss sales tax in workshops, and I have always loved actor Bill Murray’s quip that “The best way to teach your  kids about taxes is by eating 30% of their ice cream.”

For who among us hasn’t experienced the same kind of unpleasant shock that unsuspecting ice cream sharers feel when someone takes a “bigger bite” than anticipated - upon discovering how much sales tax can add to the total cost of a purchase, or how little take-home pay there is in our first post-secondary paycheck, after  income tax has been deducted?

Thank you Karen!!!

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