- Jason Young is the cofounder of MindBlown Labs, a financial innovation lab that uses games and technology to educate and motivate people to make better financial decisions.
- While he was a student at Harvard, Young's family was evicted from their home. He says the experience profoundly affected him, and inspired him to improve his own financial literacy and teach others in his community how to save and invest.
- Young says parents can teach their kids financial literacy by giving them a small allowance, encouraging them to save up money for small goals like buying a favorite toy, and teaching them the benefits of delayed gratification.
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I came home from Harvard during Christmas break of my sophomore year to find that my family was being evicted. We were shut out of our home, and had to stay in a motel for several days. My mom moved in with other family members for a little while until she could get back on her feet.
Seeing my family get evicted was an experience that stuck with me over the years, and inspired me to make better financial decisions and to help others do the same. I eventually graduated from college with a degree in economics, went to work at Merrill Lynch in their private wealth management division, and later worked for a fintech startup focused on helping young adults make better investment decisions.
Since then, I've learned that my family's experience was not rare. According to research from Princeton University in 2016, an average of 3.6 million eviction cases are filed in the US annually. Systemic racism in financial services and housing practices has been well-documented. Black families, in particular, are often the target of predatory practices and subsequently, eviction rates are disproportionately high in minority communities and are often the precursor to homelessness and poverty.
Because of that Christmas experience, and others like it, I decided to dedicate my career to empowering my community with the tools for financial literacy. I believe we can combat racial inequality using financial empowerment, beginning at home and at an early age.
Even though my mom struggled with financial decisions and had credit card debt, she had the foresight to teach me some basic lessons about money, and signed me up for my first bank account when I was five. Getting me a bank account and giving me an allowance were two of the best things she ever did for me.
Having a small allowance was empowering, and taught me the value of money
Even though I was surrounded by people who were struggling financially, both within my family and my community, I learned that I had the power to set my own goals, save towards those goals, and ultimately achieve them.
Because I was determined to help my family, I started earning money at 9 years old by selling candy at school. The skills that I gained as a child empowered me to set a goal and go for it — such as going to a college, and later buying my first home at 24 years old.
After a few years of working in finance and tech, I noticed that a lot of the prosperity being newly generated by the tech industry in Northern California was not reaching the communities that had lived there for generations. I wanted to do something that would change that, so I created the Oakland-based Hidden Genius Project, which works to train and mentor black male youth in technology creation, entrepreneurship, and leadership skills. I also cofounded MindBlown Labs, a financial wellness innovation lab that works to motivate kids — particularly in underserved communities — to save and invest in the future. We create tools like Thrive n' Shine, a free gaming app geared to kids from 8 to 14 years old, where players can make thousands of financial decisions similar to those they'd make in real life. The game helps increase students' financial confidence as well as their real-life savings behaviors.
Research also shows that financial literacy education and parental support can lead to improvements in financial prosperity. Here are four things parents and caregivers can do to support their children's financial health and help bridge this divide.
1. Give your kids an allowance, and make them responsible for it
The sooner that they learn that money is a tool, the better.
2. Create a game out of saving money
Challenge your kids, in a playful way, to save as little as $1 a week. It's important to make the connection between what excites the child (such as toys, candy, games, etc.) and how saving one's allowance can be used to achieve those things.
3. Teach your kids the benefits of delayed gratification
When your child asks for something, it's an opportunity to talk to them about how you make your money — that you have to work, that there are bills, and that you have to make decisions on what to spend your money on. It's about what your priorities are and what you value.
4. Combine the allowance with household chores, or having the child get a part-time job when it's time
People may say their child is too young, but you'd be surprised at what kids can understand. This doesn't mean kids will never make bad choices, but the important thing is that they have the opportunity to learn from them, when it's not too late. Kids can earn at a young age that there's no better feeling than saving up and getting something you really want.
This type of learning supports financial literacy, and people who are financially literate are more likely to plan and save for retirement, have non-retirement savings, and better manage their debt. They are also less likely to be financially vulnerable to scams on bad investments. Though financial literacy is not the only tool to bridge the divide of racial inequity, it is a powerful one, and one worth investing in.
These lessons may not fully sink in until they're in their 20s, but if you work on financial literacy with your kids while they're young, one day they'll understand the full relevance and power of the gift you've given them. It's a gift worth giving, one you can give easily and early.
Jason Young is the cofounder of MindBlown Labs, a financial wellness innovation lab that uses gamification and behavioral economics to engage, educate, and motivate people to make better financial and life decisions.
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