By Chelsea Emery
NEW YORK, July 11 Reuters) - My seven-year-old daughter, Annabelle, recently attended her third spa party in the last 18 months. She put cucumbers on her eyes, wore a chocolate mask on her face and got her toenails polished by adult attendants.
In contrast, her 8-year-old friend Aleksandar had a birthday party in which he asked for donations for a $400 Lego “Death Star” puzzle, rather than individual gifts.
Is it any wonder that Annabelle and her girlfriends want to spend their allowance on nail polish, while Aleksandar, having raised the money to buy his Lego set, has begun saving for a sports car?
Perhaps pressured by subtle social cues to value appearance over saving, many girls still grow up without adequate money and investing skills despite their success in the classroom and a proliferation of programs designed to teach kids about money.
Young women are “substantially” less financially literate than their male counterparts and less likely to correctly answer questions about interest rates, inflation and risk diversification, according to a 2010 study of more than 7,400 young adults by researchers at Harvard, Dartmouth and the University of Pennsylvania.
Make no mistake: all parents need to teach their children - boys and girls - about money. But girls encounter different social and environmental messages, and those messages can be financially crippling. It’s now common to find girls’ clothing with slogans like “I (heart) shopping,” something that never appears in the boys’ department.
“(My boys) don’t get invited to spa parties,” says Mary Blanusa, a vice president at the Council for Economic Education in New York and Aleksandar’s mother. “If I had girls, I’m sure it would be different. There’s a lot of pressure on girls to have certain things and look a certain way.”
But there are some ways parents can subvert subtle spa-party messages to raise money-smart women. And it’s never too early to start.
Annabelle has been begging for a lemonade stand for three years. I wasn’t initially thrilled with the idea but now plan to help her budget, price, produce and sell homemade lemonade to nurture her entrepreneurial and financial skills.
How valuable is this lesson? Some 61 percent of 301 people responsible for hiring at their companies said it is important for an employee to be “entrepreneurial,” according to a 2008 Junior Achievement survey, conducted by Gallup. A lemonade stand is one way to teach math skills and encourage entrepreneurship.
The Girl Scouts have come a long way from cookie sales. The organization, known for community service projects, field trips and those cookies, now awards badges for “money manager,” “financing my future” and “budgeting.”
That’s intentional. “We are trying to teach girls how to have courage, confidence and character, and that includes entrepreneurship, good saving and spending habits,” says Davia Temin, vice chair of the Girl Scouts of the USA and chief executive of crisis management firm Temin and Co.
“If women see money as only to be used to acquire stuff, they’re missing out on the power that money brings you, which is safety, security, power and influence,” says Temin.
Some 86 percent of teens learn about money management from their parents, rather than school, online or friends, according to the 2012 Junior Achievement USA/Allstate Foundation “Teens and Personal Finance” survey.
Create a budget before you go to the mall or the grocery, and tell your girls how much you have to spend. They’ll soon see how quickly it disappears. Encourage them to write their own budget and let them suffer the consequences of not having money for a favorite toy after blowing it on a impulse purchase.
Parents say their girls feel more pressure than boys to use their money on the latest trendy clothing. That means girls need extra guidance in making appropriate purchases, says Katherine Nixon, chief investment officer for the personal financial services business of Northern Trust Corp.
“I try to keep my girls very grounded in separating needs versus wants,” says Nixon, the mother of two girls (nine and 16 years old) and a boy, 13. “I find myself not having to do that with my son. You’re fighting an uphill battle with that social pressure.”
To help girls establish priorities, share household bills.
“Go over the charges and show her, ‘this is what we’ve spent on clothing, this is what it costs to go on vacation,’” says Nixon.
To help you help your kids, there are a host of free online tools, including Edward Jones’ money-smart kid program ().
What to do for the birthday girl who asks for makeup, the latest boots or a spa party?
Consider hosting an active party such as bowling, or give non-appearance gifts such as a colorful piggy bank with separate money slots for “save,” “spend,” “donate” and “invest,” found on toy retailer websites such as Amazon.com.
Check out classic games, like Hasbro Inc’s Monopoly or The Game of Life. Buy her shares in companies that make products that are catnip for kids. Is she a fan of natural macaroni and cheese maker Annie’s Inc? How about cereal from Kellogg Co or toys from Mattel Inc?
Or you can follow the lead of Ganesh Subramanian, a director of business development finance for Sanofi Pharmaceuticals and a father of four. He gave his son Anik, then nine, the option of having a birthday party or having $300 to put into a bank account.
Anik chose the deposit, then bought shares of SPDR Dow Jones Industrial Average ETF.
Subramanian plans to make the same offer to his younger son and twin daughters when they turn nine.
Will his girls, now six, accept the cash over a party? Probably, since they have their brother’s example, says Subramanian.
“I’m hoping (the desire for big parties) is just a phase and they’ll grow out of it,” he says.
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