Helping kids 'sow' goals for the new year

CNN Student News -04/06/15
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Story highlights

  • A new company encourages children to set goals and have their loved ones help fund them
  • Part of the company's mission is teaching financial literacy skills to children
  • Only 25% of people under 30 in the United States own stocks or a fund that invests in them, a survey says

Kelly Wallace is CNN's digital correspondent and editor-at-large covering family, career and life. Read her other columns, and follow her reports at CNN Parents and on Twitter.

(CNN)While many of us -- even those of us who despise making New Year's resolutions -- will undoubtedly set a few personal goals for the new year, we don't often think about encouraging our children to do the same.

I know that in our household, I'm already thinking about getting back to our "no treats until the weekend" mantra and starting to establish more time for writing after school, but those are my goals for my daughters, not their own.
Wouldn't it make more sense for them to think about what they would like to accomplish and come up with a way for it to happen?
    That's exactly the thinking behind Sow, a new savings platform for children that allows their family and friends to fund their goals, such as saving for college or a brand new bicycle, as opposed to giving them useless gifts.
    Tanya Van Court, the chief executive officer of Sow, and her children, Gabrielle and Hendrix
    The idea is the brainchild of Tanya Van Court, a longtime digital media executive and mother of two. When Van Court's daughter, Gabrielle, was about to turn 9, she told her mom what she wanted for her birthday: enough money to start an investment account (yes, an investment account, and she wasn't even 9 yet!) and buy a new bicycle.
    "I looked at this 8-year-old and thought, 'Oh my gosh, those are amazing goals for an 8-year-old to have.' " But Van Court, of Brooklyn, New York, thought her daughter probably wouldn't get enough money to pay for either of her dreams. She was right.
    Instead, her presents included a Make Your Own Chewing Gum Kit, a butterfly garden (all the butterflies were dead once she opened the package) and yet another rainbow loom. It was then that Van Court said she realized that gift-giving for young people was "really broken."
    "We're turning (children) into being mini-consumers who have far too much and as a result value far too little," she said in an interview. There are financial exchanges during kids' birthdays, around religious holidays or at the start of the new year, and yet nothing meaningful comes out of them, she thought.
    "That's when I said, 'Wow, this is something that our country really needs, the world really needs.' We need to help young people think about how to save money towards goals that are meaningful instead of spending all their money on goods that are meaningless and truly meaningless to them."
    Tanya Van Court with her children Gabrielle, 10, and Hendrix, 6
    With Sow, which launched this month, students can create a profile for themselves or parents can create one for their children, like this one for Van Court's son, Hendrix, who is 6. The children then decide what they want to sow -- what their goals are for saving, what they hope to share with the less fortunate and what they want to buy. They then can invite their family and friends to see what they are saving for and ultimately get gifts for their birthday, the holidays or the new year that are much more meaningful than a gift that just might end up sitting in their room unopened.

    'If you know better, you do better'

    Sow's mission is not just about putting an end to useless gift-giving and gift-receiving, but also aims to build financial literacy skills that are sorely lacking among children and even adults, said Van Court.
    Consider some of the statistics that Van Court shared during a recent Ted-like talk for The Platform, a diverse group of tech entrepreneurs, professionals, venture capitalists and investors. Only 25% of people under 30 years old own stocks or a fund that invests in stocks, says a survey by Bankrate Money Pulse, which means that 75% of people under 30 are either not saving at all, saving in a savings account or tucking the money under a mattress or in their backpacks, she said.
    Now think about saving $100,000 in a savings account for 30 years versus investing in stocks. Three decades later, using average rates of return for savings accounts and the stock market, you would have about $105,000 if you invested in a savings account and $761,000 if you invested in stocks, said Van Court.
    "How could our young people be making such a blatantly disadvantageous decision?" she asks. "As my grandmother would say, 'If you know better, you do better.' They don't know better because we're not teaching them better. We're not teaching them to understand or speak financial language."
    There is no question that families' economic circumstances have shifted since the financial downturn in 2008, but Van Court says that despite the recession and years of increasing unemployment, nearly two-thirds of moms from all income levels who were surveyed by Sow believe their kids already have too much stuff and wished there were a better way to celebrate birthdays and holidays.
    "These statistics tell me that something ain't right," said Van Court. "We as a nation are tipping the scales away from saving, and buying stuff, stuff and more stuff."
    Sow wants to put a "big dent" in the problem by working with, influencing and providing tools for young people in the United States. By focusing on giving goals instead of goods, children can see how they can save for the future, share with others and also spend money on things that really matter to them.
    When an adult gives them $30, and gives them $10 for saving, $10 for a cause and $10 for something they want, it communicates a number of things to kids, she says. First, it makes them goal-oriented, and "we know that goal creation is the first step to wealth creation," she said.
    Second, it helps them understand that holidays and birthdays are not just about them and their wants and needs.
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    Finally, setting and saving for goals can help them be successful in today's world. A study by Washington University in St. Louis found that kids who have college funds are seven times more likely to go to college than young people who don't have a college fund. It didn't matter how much they had in that fund, said Van Court. It's just the notion that they have a college fund that makes them believe that they are going to college.
    So, as my children sort through all the gifts they've gotten for Hanukkah and Christmas -- the ones they like and the ones they don't -- I'll be putting them in front of a laptop and helping them create their own Sow profiles.
    Beyond the amazing benefits of teaching them to set goals and save for them, there's the benefit of no longer having to stress when anyone asks what they want for their birthday or Hanukkah or Christmas.
    Help fund their goals. It couldn't be any simpler than that.
    What do you think is the best way to help children set goals for the new year? Share your thoughts with Kelly Wallace on Twitter @kellywallacetv or CNN Parents on Facebook.