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Interview with Jane Bryant Quinn
Columnist Newsweek

Q. Please tell us a little about your background?
A. I grew up in Niagara Falls, NY. From age 16, I wanted to be a reporter. My roll model? Believe it or not, a comic strip, called Brenda Starr. She was a gorgeous redhead, a reporter and led an exciting life. I couldn't manage the redhead bit, but reporting has indeed been a wonderful life. I started out in newsletters and was assigned to Personal Finance as a beat. I didn't know much about it then, but I learned the field and loved covering it. As a reporter, you can talk to all the best people and they'll teach you things. I went from newsletters to writing a nationally syndicated newspaper column, then added a column in Newsweek magazine and one in Good Housekeeping, then added pieces for the CBS Morning News and CBS Evening News. I've written several books. The latest is Jane Bryant Quinn's Smart and Simple Financial Strategies for Busy People--a guide to the very best ways of managing your money well.

Q. What drew you to writing about kids and money?
A. Parents wonder how to introduce their kids to responsible financial management. Today, it's more important than ever--because of the credit cards given to teens, the banking and saving options, and the consumerist world we live in.

Q. Who introduced you to saving and/or money and at what age?
A. I worked to help pay for my college education--so I was saving from age 14 or so. I had a savings account, for earnings from babysitting and birthday money I received from my grandmothers. When I started working after school, I added my paycheck (or part of it!) to the account. We had bankbooks, back then, and the bank would add the interest to the book when you brought it in.

Q. Do you have a favorite place or container to save change? If so, would you tell us a little about it?
A. I don't save change. I'm a saver, but I do it through automatic deductions from my bank account. My kids started out with piggy banks but switched to boxes on their bedroom shelves. They much preferred dollar bills to dimes!

Q. What do you think the biggest challenge parents face when it comes to teaching children about money?
A. Their own money habits. You can tell kids to save and spend responsibly, but if you're a mess you're kids won't take you seriously. Also, I think it's hard to deliberately "teach." You can give kids information, but so often it just rolls off their back. Mostly, you teach by living a responsible life yourself.

Q. What's your best tip for parents on teaching children about money?
A. Talk, in the family, about your own savings and spending habits. You don't have to talk dollar amounts. But mention it, when you raise your retirement savings, clean up credit card debt or choose, say, a less expensive car so that you can save money for something else. When you shop with kids, talk about finding things on sale or why you chose an item that cost less than something you might have wanted more. Let your kids see you paying bills. Be frank about what you can and can't afford. The functioning of the family's money economy is a mystery to most kids. Bring it out from the shadows.

Q. What's the biggest mistake you think parents make when it comes to teaching children about money?
A. Not teaching them anything at all.

Q. Are you pro allowance? Briefly, why or why not?
A. I'm pro. An allowance helps kids learn to manage their money, and make spending decisions. Once my kids passed the toy-and-candy stage, we asked them to make up budgets, listing the cost of things they wanted to handle themselves. We gave them an allowance to match it and only rarely permitted them an advance. They always made it work.

Q. At what age do you think credit card education should begin?
A. As soon as kids are old enough to have them. Certainly before they go away to school, where they will be bombarded by "easy" credit card sign-ups. Kids should know about credit reports, and that every transaction they make will be recorded in a computer in the sky--and will follow them for seven long years. Missed payments seem like nothing, when you think you can catch up. Kids don't know that those missed payments turn into long-running black marks on their record. If you dare (!!), get a copy of your own credit record and show it to your kids. That helps make it real.

Q. At what age do you think parents should allow children to have a credit card?
A. I'd rather they started with debit cards, while they learn to match plastic with a fixed amount of money. Debit cards should be like an allowance--a monthly sum, intended to cover certain expenses. Only then should they move to credit cards.

Q. If you could only give a child one piece of advice on money, what would it be?
A. Keep your spending within your means. Don't count on parents or a credit card to bail you out. "Within your means" does NOT mean paying only the minimum on your credit card. If you can't pay in full, you're spending too much.

Q. What's your favorite family activity?
A. Games. When the kids were small, we used to sit on the bed and play board games of all kinds. We played word games and cars, when we rented a beach house for summer vacation. No TV, no video games. All family time.

Q. What's your favorite money quote or saying?
A. "Money often costs too much." Ralph Waldo Emerson. He's saying that an extra dollar isn't the most important thing in life.

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