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Interview with Janet Bodnar
Columnist, Author, Deputy Editor

Q. Please tell us a little about your background?
A. I’m deputy editor of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine, where I’ve written about investing, money management, the economy—you name it. I’m also a nationally recognized expert on children’s and family finances, having written half a dozen books—including Raising Money Smart Kids (Kaplan) and Money Smart Women (Kaplan). (If you’re really interested in the whole bio, go to

Q. What drew you to writing about kids and money?
A. Well, back in the early 1990s Kiplinger wanted to publish a book about kids and money. I was an editor at Kiplinger (and presumably knew something about money) and I had three kids, so I was the logical choice to write the book. Plus, I was interested in the subject because it combined the personal and the financial. While I was researching the book, I wrote a couple of stories on kids and money for the magazine. And they took on a life of their own, turning into “Money-Smart Kids,” a syndicated column I’ve been writing weekly since 1993 (read it at I’m the only person who writes regularly on this subject for a national publication, and I cover everything from allowances to taxes to college. Money-Smart Kids was chosen by as one of top financial columns online.

Q. Who introduced you to saving and/or money and at what age?
A. Actually, nobody formally introduced me to saving or money when I was a kid. What I learned I picked up from my family situation. We didn’t have a lot of money, so I knew there were limits to what we could afford and I knew it was important to save money for the things I wanted. I won scholarships to pay for college, and when I started working I saved my money so that I could afford to pay for graduate school at Columbia University.

Q. Do you have a favorite place or container to save change? If so, would you tell us a little about it?
A. Yep, in my kitchen I have a funny wooden bank shaped like a dinosaur. You put the money in dino’s mouth, and it ends up in his tummy.

Q. What do you think the biggest challenge parents face when it comes to teaching children about money?
A. We in the U.S. are fortunate to live in such an affluent society. It’s tough to say no to our kids when so often we can afford to say yes.

Q. What's your best tip for parents on teaching children about money?
A. Have confidence in yourself. Even if you don’t consider yourself a financial expert, you know more than your kids do. And believe it or not. you have more influence with them than do their peers or the media.

Q. What's the biggest mistake you think parents make when it comes to teaching children about money?
A. Other than giving in whenever their kids ask for something, the biggest mistake parents make is not discussing money with their kids, or brushing kids off when they bring it up. I think that’s because parents either don’t feel comfortable with the subject or just don’t know how to respond.

Q. Are you pro allowance? Briefly, why or why not?
A. I am VERY pro allowance. I always say that kids will spend unlimited amounts of money as long as it belongs to their parents. When their money is on the line, it’s a whole new ball game. And the best way to give them hands-on experience with managing cash and setting priorities is with an allowance—which I define as a fixed amount of money children receive on a regular schedule, with the understanding that they will pay for certain agreed-upon expenses.

Q. At what age do you think credit card education should begin?
A. In middle school and high school you can start by explaining the basics—for example, that a credit card is not free money. Buying on credit is like taking out a loan, and when you take out a loan you will be charged a very high rate of interest. Kids are clueless about stuff like that.

Q. At what age do you think parents should allow children to have a credit card?
A. Kids shouldn’t have a credit card till they’re at least a senior in college and have had experience managing a checking account and a debit card on their own.

Q. If you could only give a child one piece of advice on money, what would it be?
A. I guess it should be something practical, like start saving when you’re young and you’ll have great gobs of money later. But I’d also like kids to have a healthy attitude toward money. So I’d tell them that it’s a useful tool. They shouldn’t be afraid of it, nor should they be greedy. It can make their lives more pleasant, but it really can’t buy happiness.

Q. What's your favorite family activity?
A. We do lots of things together—sporting events, travel, movies, our annual family vacation at the beach—but my favorite thing is just having dinner together, with everyone jockeying to get a word in edgewise.

Q. What's your favorite money quote or saying?
A. “Kids will spend unlimited amounts of money—as long as it belongs to Mom and Dad. When their money is on the line, it’s a whole new ball game.” Yeah, I know, I said it (see question above), but I like it. :-)

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