BRAVO FOR SESAME STREET AND RON LIEBER, NY TIMES

Too Young for Finance? Think Again

By RON LIEBER

One of the best things about being around preschool-age children is that they are a blank slate awaiting your imprint. All of the big questions come up before first grade — God and death, jail and fairies — and most 4-year-olds will believe pretty much any answer you give them.

Until recently, however, few people made much effort to get children this age to think hard about money. Why go all pecuniary on a child who has barely mastered counting?

In the wake of the financial crisis, however, and the realization that individuals share at least some blame for the bubbles, a number of people and organizations have taken up the cause of helping the next generation of grown-ups form better habits at an earlier age.

The JumpStart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy recently expanded its target age group to include the pre-kindergarten set. A new book called “Pretty Penny Sets Up Shop” tells the story of a young girl who sets up a “small mall” in her grandmother’s attic to pay for her grandmother’s surprise party.

And then there’s Sesame Street, which has a broader reach than any nonprofit group, publisher or even the Head Start program. This week, Sesame entered the fray, too, with a series of videos and other material aimed at teaching its audience about spending, saving and sharing.

There is no definitive proof that any of this will make a lasting impact. “It would be 20 years before we would know the results,” said Laura Levine, JumpStart’s executive director, who served on Sesame Street’s advisory panel.

But the beauty of watching young children absorb these lessons and answering their questions is that it can make you more aware of the financial examples you set. Every shopping trip and holiday gift can become a teaching moment about hard choices, patience and generosity.

So here are how the lessons break down:

SAVE The title of Sesame Street’s package of videos also serves to sum up its component parts: “For Me, For You, For Later.” The literal representation of it are the three labels that come with the DVD in a kit that you can pick up free at any PNC Bank, which is Sesame Street’s partner in the project. You can also download the labels and other print materials on the Web; I’ve linked to the Sesame and PNC sites from the online version of this column.

The three labels read “Spending,” “Saving” and “Sharing.” Children are supposed to affix them to three clear plastic jars where they can drop their coins and bills.

None of this is particularly new. In fact, a company called Snigglezoo Entertainment has been using puppets called the Money Mammals for years. They sing about the virtues of saving, sharing and spending, the very same terms that Sesame Street uses.

John Lanza, Snigglezoo’s self-described chief mammal, said he was still processing the similarities and declined to comment further. Jeanette Betancourt, Sesame Workshop’s senior vice president for outreach and educational practices, said it had been aware of Snigglezoo’s (and many other) trademarks around the terms and noted that the words were in wide use. Nevertheless, she added that Sesame used the words in a unique way for its own specific purposes.

But only Sesame has Elmo, and millions of children are very likely to try to mimic his behavior. In the video, he’s trying to save $5 to buy a “stupendous” ball from a street vendor. At one point, he turns down ice cream so he doesn’t lose ground on reaching his ultimate goal.

This moment goes by in a flash, but it is a crucial one. It isn’t easy for a child (Elmo is perpetually 3 1/2 years old) to give up something pleasurable in the moment in exchange for something bigger and better later on.

If you need evidence of this, pop some corn, grab the family, flip on YouTube and search for the (absolutely hysterical) marshmallow tests. Researchers put the confection in front of small children and tell them they can have one now if they’d like, though if they leave it on the table they can have two later on. Then, they leave the room and flip the switch on the camera to see what the children do.

Many devour the marshmallow before the tester even leaves the room, but that doesn’t have to be a permanent condition.

“I think there is a lot about this process that is a learned skill,” said Russell N. James III, who teaches in the financial planning division at Texas Tech University. “It’s like soccer or other physical skills, where you can coach them. And you want to give them opportunities where they can exercise those skills.”

That’s where the piggy banks and the jars come in. And when Mr. James’s 6-year-old daughter coveted the Nook e-reader that her older sister got for Christmas, he told her that if she did not touch the holiday money she had received from her grandparents for 30 days he would give her the rest of the money she needed for the Nook.

“A year would be too long,” he said. “Because you want them to practice a lot and do it several times under different circumstances.”

SPEND This is the easy part for children, at least at first glance. What’s much harder, however, is determining what different things are worth.

Sesame Street takes a couple of stabs at this in the public service announcements that accompany its main video, where Beth Kobliner, author of “Get a Financial Life” (Fireside, 2009) and an occasional contributor to The New York Times, appears alongside Elmo. In one segment, Elmo has to decide between two apples and one mango for the same price.

In another, various children decide between larger sizes of six paints and smaller sizes of 12 for the same price or bigger packages of plain pencils and smaller packages of colored ones.

The “Pretty Penny” book has a slightly more sophisticated take on this. Penny must decide how much to sell her various items for in the mall, and she manages to do it without any help from grown-ups.

No preschooler I know could pull this off, but the book’s author, Devon Kinch, said the actual prices were less important than the idea of relative value. “The prices are just talking points for parents to jump in and talk about these ideas,” she said. “Some things can be fixed, and others are slightly damaged or new. It’s a conversation-starter.”

SHARE Designating one jar or part of the piggy bank for “sharing” instead of “giving,” is a smart twist, as it builds on play date and preschool skills that many children are already learning.

Some parents may worry about teaching charity so soon, lest their offspring be frightened by exposure to deprivation and poverty before they are ready to place it all in context.

It’s not such a leap to share money with those in your community, however, whether it’s donating to the local zoo or passing it along to your house of worship. In one of the Sesame Street segments, a child buys food for cats that a local animal rescue service is caring for.

Sharing with friends in need is a fine idea, too, though Sesame’s depiction of this is rather odd. Cookie Monster, who even in 2011 still has trouble with impulse control, ends up eating the dollar he was planning to spend on cookies. So Elmo hands over a dollar.

Cookie hardly seems like the most worthy recipient of a disciplined saver’s largess, though the Sesame staff seem to think that young viewers will treat this as some kind of inside joke. “He plays the role of a typical preschooler who may be having a really hard time with the question of why he can’t have something right now,” said Gary Knell, Sesame Workshop’s president and chief executive. “They sort of get the message that, ‘Gee, I don’t really want to be like him. But I can laugh at him.’ ”

EARN The Sesame video package introduces the idea that there are lots of ways to make a little bit of money on the side if you’re industrious. Elmo earns a few bucks by folding clothes and helping Luis fix a broken ice cream machine.

The “Pretty Penny” book ties all these themes together in a particularly linear package. With no money saved, Penny must earn the money she needs to spend on a special occasion to share with her grandmother. This was no accident, said Ms. Kinch, the author, who has struggled with debt in the past and carefully picked the topic for what will be a four-book series.

“They are constant themes in everyone’s life: Do you have it? Do you need it? How do you get it and what do you do with it?” she said. “It impossible to teach one of the money themes without overlapping another one.”

8 Responses

  1. West coast boys — can you give east coast boys the answer as to enforcing discovery.

  2. To the Boy’s Back East – Nolo Cigar /

    Cannot Do as your trying to avoid a Recap. The QSPE by virtue of being isolated and depositing the Common Trust Azzzzzets . . .can issue shares back to the Depositor. So your NA is getting twice the bang for the Euro (LOL) Note is none th eless divested of its value. Live note – no basisi in assets. Judge won’t get it and that’s in your favor.

    Remember, discovery will decypher the use term financial asset’ as it refers to either a part of a financial asset …..[accordance with IASB Board] or a part of a group of similar financial assets) or, otherwise, a financial asset (or a group of similar financial assets in its entirety. Your trying to capitate a variable for a fixed and cannot do ! get out of here …..LOL. IASB from horses mouth (EURO trash Haaa) – – -An entity shall derecognise a financial asset when, and only when: (a) (b) the contractual rights to the cash flows from the financial asset expire; or it transfers the financial asset as set out (cited) and the transfer qualifies for derecognition in accordance with a a trigger. Embedded — but still controlling (…and willfully oppresive )

    An entity transfers a financial asset if, and only if, it either:
    1. transfers the contractual rights to receive the cash flows of the financial asset; or
    2. retains the contractual rights to receive the cash flows of the financial asset, but assumes a contractual obligation to pay the cash flows to one or more recipients in an arrangement that meets the conditions . Soliman

  3. Another one bites the dust!

    MERS MERS MERS MERS MERS MERS

    COURTHOUSE — Montgomery County Recorder of Deeds Nancy Becker is urging registers of deeds across state and the country to withdraw public money from any banks affiliated with the Mortgage Electronic Registry System (MERS), which she claims is undermining the practice of accurate land recording.

    In recent years, mortgages have been assigned and reassigned multiple times, and when a bank or other entity doesn’t properly report these transfers, it makes it very difficult for homeowners to determine who holds their mortgages.

    “It clouds the chain of title, and it’s prohibiting (officials) from recording revenues they should be recording,” Becker said.

    Since 2004, she estimates the county has lost $15 million in fees from 139,798 mortgages recorded via the electronic recording system that fails to reflect assignments. Becker said she fields calls about once a month from a homeowner seeking help finding proof a mortgage has been satisfied, so the person can sell their house.

    “The problem is finding out where or with what firm a mortgage is assigned,” she said.

    According to mersinc.org, MERS operates the only national, centralized database that tracks mortgage loans, “building on the public county land record systems to make mortgage loan information more accessible and transparent.” The database reportedly links homeowners to their servicers and is used by communities to identify parties responsible for vacant properties, and by law enforcement to combat mortgage fraud.

    John L. O’Brien Jr., a Massachusetts Register of Deeds in Salem, who has written letters to his state officials over the past year about the MERS fallout, caught Becker’s attention recently.

    “MERS has attempted to undermine my authority as Register of Deeds and in doing so has violated state property laws,” O’Brien wrote in a March 10 letter to state Attorney General Martha Coakley. “MERS must be made to pay back the fees that are owed to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts but also and equally as important to repair the chain of title of property and restore the integrity of the land recordation systems both here and across the country.”

    This week, Becker sent similar letters to county Treasurer Tom Ellis, Pennsylvania Treasurer Rob McCord and the state’s Acting Attorney General William Ryan Jr., saying that she had joined the nationwide effort against financial institutions that have partnered with electronic recording service, including Wells Fargo, Bank of America, PNC and Sovereign, among others, which she alleges are “circumventing” proper recording.

    “It’s just sloppy, sloppy work,” she said.

    The electronic system is referred to in many county mortgage documents this way: “MERS is a separate corporation that is acting as sole nominee for Lender and Lender’s successors and assigns. MERS is the mortgagee (lender) under this security instrument.”

    “What I’d like to get out to new homebuyers is that, if they’re going to settlement and they see their bank slash MERS, to be cautious,” she said.

    Since discovering the descrepancies, Becker has pulled the county funds out of Wells Fargo and transferred the money into Univest National Bank and Trust Company, a smaller local bank based in Souderton. The bank had been approached by MERS but decided not to partner with the cyber registry.

    “They’re just a really good conservative bank,” the Recorder of Deeds said.

    This week, MERSCORP Inc., and its subsidiary, MERS Inc. agreed to review their internal procedures and processes after the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and other federal agencies “identified certain deficiencies and unsafe or unsound practices by MERS and MERSCORP that present financial, operational, compliance, legal and reputational risks to MERSCORP and MERS, and to the participating Members,” according to a consent order dated April 13.

    In connection with services related to tracking, registering residential mortgage loans and initiating foreclosures, MERS and MERSCORP “have failed to exercise appropriate oversight, management supervision and corporate governance, and have failed to devote adequate financial, staffing, training, and legal resources to ensure proper administration and delivery of services to Examined Members,” according to court papers.

  4. uprootedone

    perfect – & thank you!!
    just sowes to gho ya… the bank will just fuk ANYONE – with impunity & malice . And unfortunate huh?ha!
    unfortunate the story is not the judge telling his story AFTER THE EVICTION. should be interesting to see how this shit unfolds.

  5. http://www.scribd.com/doc/53168759/Rjn-Onewest-Consent-Agreement-With-the-Office-of-Thrift-Supervision-04-16-2011

    The Onewest Bank FSB documents speak for themself. Onewest Bank FSB has filed false and fraudulent documents in Federal Courts.

    Yes this happened to me in the Federal Court and they were caught by the Honorable Thomas B. Donovan Federal Judge. Onewest Bank and Onewest Bank as agent for Deutsche Bank lack Standing and their declarations are not credible.

    Res Judicata——————

  6. uprootedone

    Love it.

  7. You Gotta Read this one

    Ohio Judge Peter Sikora was looking to take advantage of the lowest mortgage interest rates in decades and refinance his eight-bedroom, lakefront Cleveland home, so he contacted his bank, JPMorgan Chase. With property values in decline in Cleveland, Chase said no to refinancing but told the judge to apply for a loan modification instead. The judge followed JPMorgan Chase’s advice to the letter and as a result has fallen a year behind on his nearly $1 million mortgage… hasn’t paid his property taxes… and now has ended up in foreclosure.

    So, all I can think of to say is… don’t you just hate these irresponsible sub-prime borrowers who should never have been allowed to buy their homes in the first place and now think they’re entitled to loan modifications? I know I sure do. Maybe if the judge had called a scammer and paid an up front fee… he would have gotten his loan modified… no, wait… that’s not right… maybe if he had called a lawyer he would have… wait, no… he is a lawyer, right. Well, maybe if he… oh wait, I know… MAYBE IF HE HAD NOT BELIEVED THE LIES TOLD BY JPMORGAN CHASE… yeah, that’s sure as shootin’ where he went wrong.

    According to a story in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, that I’m betting mysteriously isn’t going to get a lot of national attention…

    “The bank advised me that the only way they would consider a loan modification would be if I fell behind on my payments,” said Sikora, 59, a judge since 1989. “I took their advice and put the money aside.”

    The judge has now pinned his hopes on an upcoming mediation session to keep him in his Edgewater Drive home, which according to the Cuyahoga County Auditor’s Office, appraises at $844,000. Sikora told the Plain Dealer in a telephone interview that he has the money to make his mortgage payments, and that the only reason he’s in foreclosure is that he followed the advice of officials at JPMorgan Chase & Co.

    Sikora, who was elected in 2008 as president of the Ohio Association of Juvenile Court Judges, also said that he was surprised when, back in June, right smack dab in the middle of his negotiations with JPMorgan Chase, the bank went ahead and filed the foreclosure lawsuit against him seeking $999,000, including $6,400 in unpaid property taxes.

    According to Sikora…

    “It’s unfortunate that it’s gotten to this situation, I’ve been talking with them for more than a year, but the bank hasn’t been responsive.”

    JPMorgan Chase hasn’t been responsive? Well, that can’t be right, can it? Aren’t we all so surprised that Chase wasn’t responsive? And the fact that Chase would file for foreclosure while in the middle of negotiating with him over a loan modification… that they told him he should apply for by stopping making his mortgage payments… well, frankly I’m just shocked, aren’t you? Totally taken aback, I’d have to say.

    I’ll tell you what’s really surprising to me… there are two things:

    A judge worked with JPMorgan Chase for over a year to get his mortgage modified, ended up in foreclosure… and all he has to say is that it’s “unfortunate”.

    Bank of America hasn’t done this to a judge yet.
    Oh, and there was one more thing in the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s story that didn’t surprise me in the least…

    “The attorney for JP Morgan Chase did not return a phone call.”

    No surprise there.

  8. OH– really caught my eye – as I have a toddler nephew who loves Elmo.

    Here is the problem — Elmo and his Sesame Street Group — also represent honesty and ethics. Do you know the way to honesty and ethics (Sesame Street)??

    Savings?? How?? Income earnings were taken away from America — outsourced.

    We have lived a decade of high interest rates — everywhere you turn — and no one (Cookie Monster) — whoops — I meant Banks – said that this is wrong.

    But, Mr. Ben Bernanke has recently fixed these high rates for Wall Street and banks by implementing Quantitative Easing — low rates for those of his choice. Hmmmm– as I see it – credit cards still have high rates — and so do the adjustable rate mortgages that still exist — in the banks’ “theory” at least. Renegotiate?? Not according to the banks. New loans?? just try to get a new borrowing. Save?? at Mr. Bernanke’s low rates??? A fool to invest in inflated stock market. .

    Sesame Street — a place where people care about each other. Wall Street — a very different story book.

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