Personal Finance Education: What’s Wrong with this Picture?

December 2, 2008 by  
Filed under Debt and Credit, Financial Planning

My local paper ran a lifestyle piece yesterday titled “Use Santa to Teach Lesson on Money.”   The writer of the article quoted Susan Beacham, the founder of   I had never heard of this web-based organization, but being a big proponent of personal finance education, I thought I would take a look to see what it was all about.  I didn’t like what I found. 

Most of what I found on the Money Savvy Generation site was what I expected, including the ubiquitous “shop online” feature.  I decided to browse the gift section to see if there was anything that I could recommend to others looking to educate the younger members of their families.  That’s when I came across this photo that I have reproduced from the MSG shopping site.  This is the amazing, fantabulous “CardGuard” product that Money Savvy Generation is offering as a “new for teens” gift for children 12-16. 

The “CardGuard” is supposed to be a “sleek card carrier” so that your child can “leave that bulky wallet behind.”  Of course- why carry a wallet when all you really need are your “cards?”  After all, cash is for nerds, geeks, and other outcasts from the “cool and savvy” teendom.

Take a close look at the photo.  You don’t see a student ID or even a debit card, even though these are talked about in the promotional text.  Instead, what you see are images of a Chase Visa card and an American Express Business Platinum card!  Yes, the “money savvy” 12-16 year old must learn to leave the cash at home and venture out with brand-name credit cards. For only $7.50, the CardGuard can make that possible!  Plus, the CardGuard comes in different colors but the plastic is clear, making it easy for you to flash your credit card bling to all of your friends.  How cool is that? 

By now I am accustomed to brand placement advertising in movies and TV shows, but come on folks.  Do we really want to be promoting Amex Business Platinum and Chase Visa services and products to kids that can’t even drive?  I don’t.  How about we hold off on the credit card promotion until these kids have a full time job and the maturity that goes with it?  No- I am not nitpicking.  There are plenty of subliminal messages out there promoting bad money habits.  We don’t need another explicit one specifically directed at 12-16 year-olds.

Here is the problem.  The consumer credit mindset has become so deeply ingrained in our culture that it is almost impossible to escape it.  We are like horror flick zombies who, once infected by the credit-driven consumption bug, are mindlessly but obsessively passing it on to others who come close to us, including the so-called “Money Savvy Generation.”  

Can we please – once and for all – turn to a new page in educating our youth about money?  Can that page not feature credit cards as part of a product-pitch?

i have to concede that that owners of are plenty savvy.  They are in the business of selling stuff, including goofy credit card holders for kids.  I would not be surprised if they are also being compensated for showing credit cards in their ads.  Why not?  It’s all about making a buck or two isn’t it.

I suppose it’s possible I could have these MSG folks all wrong and that they really are all about properly educating youth in matters of personal finance.   The MSG website is full of claims of industry recognition for its founder.  If so, get the stupid credit cards out of the photo!  Put an ID card or even a debit card in there.  How hard could that be?

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8 Responses to “Personal Finance Education: What’s Wrong with this Picture?”
  1. CreditMom says:

    I enjoyed your post. Aren’t we in enough trouble with credit at this point? I am steering my kids away from credit as long as I can and showing them how to live debt free…or close to it!

  2. vilkri says:

    The intention of the website may be good, but the picture definitely sends the wrong message. How does the saying go? A picture says more than a thousand words. – I have to wonder what the real intent of this website is?

  3. This article is hysterical! I am so glad you pointed this out. Finance education should be about how to budget and deal with your finance. Credit cards are money you DON’T have therefore, shouldn’t be in the equation especially for children. I just did a post about how I paid off my credit card debt and talked about building up my debt WHILE in college. These jerks set up kiosks to sign you up for your first credit card in minutes and give away free stuff…let’s face it most college kids fall for free stuff. We should be educating children about the pitfalls of credit and to be skeptical when someone is selling something. Thanks for this one…cracked me up!

  4. I think you’re spot-on in your assessment of these folks. They are in the business of educating children about money, but I suspect the true motivator for their site is to sell, sell, sell. Financial education isn’t their goal, it’s their product. They’re not the only ones, either- there are plenty of authors (and bloggers, for that matter) who are in the business of dispensing advice and products as a purely commerical pursuit. It’s capitalism at its finest, but it contributes very little to society. It actually brings to mind your post from a few months back about the world needing fewer MBAs and more engineers. Perhaps we need fewer profit-motivated snake oil and more genuine financial education.

  5. I don’t disagree with what you say and I will not be ordering any CardGuards.

    However, it is precisely because credit cards are so prevalent in our society – and on our college campuses – that I am in favor of high school students owning and using a credit card prior to moving out. Credit cards are useful tools, but one needs to learn how to use them. I plan to give my children experience using cards and paying off the balance in full every month before they leave home.

  6. This is an outstanding post. Timely, important, and troubling. Heading into 2009, we’re going to learn about the next round of the financial crisis due to non-payment of credit card debt. We do not need plastic in the hands of junior high kids.

  7. @creditmom: I hope that means you will steer them away from credit cards because for too many parents, their only finance expertise is in the use of plastic.

    @vilkri: I believe the purpose of the site is too sell stuff, not to educate.

    @MGL: So true. If I read another “review” of some bank account or other product/service on a blog, I might go blind.

    RDS: Sorry – I don’t buy that theory. Until young adults become financially independent and achieve the maturity that goes with it, they cannot experience the true downside of consumer credit. They don’t really learn anything valuable walking around at 16 with a credit card.

    Stop: Tell your friends with children that because I am afraid we are fighing a losing battle.

  8. Just saw this story about our product. Spend some time on as this is where people can get education., however, is meant to sell product that helps kids manage the choices they have for money and how to set goals for those choices – so they can practice the skill of delayed gratification.

    The CardGuard is meant to help kids keep track of plastic. Gift cards, credit cards and debit cards. No, I am not a fan of credit – and I have long taught parents that the rule is coin before currency before checking, before debit before credit. But, credit is a reality that I hope to help kids learn to manage wisely – with tools like the CardGuard and the Money Savvy Pig.

    The CardGuard comes with a purchase tracker to get kids to stop and think about what they are doing – since plastic is too abstract for kids to get their heads around – and we hope that the purchase tracker will make this abstract concept more concrete.

    So far, my mission has been to create product to help parents help their kids manage their money choices. I give away my advice in my BLOG and my columns. We would rather have people purchase a tool that their kids can use than have them purchase a book that they will not have time to read.

    I appreciate the input and would love to know what you think of our banks or our children’s books or the curriculum we have built for elementary classrooms. I think you would be pleased with the good work we have done.

    Susan Beacham
    CEO and CO-Founder

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