“For Me, For You, For Later”: Financial Foundations from Elmo and Friends

by Lynn B. Johnson on March 27, 2013

In an era when the 400 richest Americans account for the same amount of collective wealth as 62% of the nation’s entire population combined and the United States is the fourth most wealth-unequal country in the world, something is grievously wrong with the way income is earned, saved, and distributed. Fortunately, someone has come to the rescue of our next generation, encouraging them to “spend, save, and share” the money they earn. Who is this economic powerhouse preaching to our kids?

Elmo, of course.

Sesame Workshop has produced a package of financial information for children, their parents, and caregivers. “For Me, For You, For Later: First Steps to Spending, Sharing, and Saving™” is a bilingual multimedia kit produced with funds from PNC Bank and PNC Grow Up Great. It was “created to help families share experiences in developing financial basics that will impact their children now and in the future.” The kit is available at libraries, and the information is also posted online.

The kit contains a DVD, a parent/caregiver guide, and an activity book for children. I watched the DVD with my four-year-old and he was entranced. Part of that is because he wants to be Elmo when he grows up –and also because he was the one who found the kit at the library– but the easy-to-follow storyline captured his interest as well.

Elmo has a dollar to spend. He wants to purchase a Stupendous Ball, but that costs $5. Not willing to spend his dollar on the less-expensive Stinky Ball, he consults with Luis. Luis tells Elmo that people get money by working and starts him on the path to employment by letting him help fix an ice-cream machine.

(“I wish I had a job to save money,” my son commented. Me too, honey.)

Luis also gives Elmo a jar in which to save his money, advising the furry monster, “If you save your money and don’t spend it, you’ll have enough to buy the Stupendous Ball.”

Parents can contrast this lesson with the fact that only 58% of consumers reported having savings in 2012, according to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling’s 2012 Consumer Financial Literacy Survey.

Elmo spends the next few days helping his friends with chores and getting paid for his effort. Ultimately, the dollar he gets in the mail from his Nana puts him to his goal. He has saved five dollars and is ready to purchase the Stupendous Ball.

Right before the transaction occurs, Cookie Monster appears, distraught. Cookie was on his way to the bakery to buy a cookie for a dollar, but was so hungry that he ate the dollar, instead. Now he has no money to purchase a cookie.

Elmo to the rescue! Elmo shares a dollar with Cookie Monster. This is on-trend: charitable giving increased by nearly 4% from 2010 to 2011, according to the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University’s 2012 report.

Elmo no longer has the money to purchase the Stupendous Ball, but the Fantastic Ball is his favorite color and only costs $4. Elmo purchases the toy and the video ends.

After the story, there are five segments about different aspects of financial transactions. Here’s a basic overview:

  • Miss Beth, a human, helps Elmo to learn about how to use three different jars to store his money: one each for saving, spending, and sharing. A sheet included in the activity packet includes Spanish/English signs that can be colored and then affixed to each of these money jars.
  • In another segment, “Helping Others,” Elmo learns that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to help less fortunate people. Elmo helps Miss Beth finish a care package for a needy child by drawing a cheery card.
  • “Learning to Wait” lets children know that “saving is a kind of waiting” that can really pay off.
  • “Making Choices” enforces the idea that children already make many choices each day – such as which clothes to wear, what to eat for breakfast, and which playground activities to participate in – and explains that choosing things to buy is no different. At the end of this segment, Elmo chooses to buy two apples for $1, in order to share one with Miss Beth.

The Spanish/English bilingual activity book includes coloring pages and games about how the Sesame Street characters make wise financial choices. The Guide for Parents and Caregivers helps grown-ups guide children toward wise money decisions by “building a strong foundation” so your child can “become a financially responsible adult.”

All in all, the kit is a terrific resource –one that every parent should look for or click to. It makes me wonder, though, when “the poorest 47% of Americans have no wealth,” how these children are going to get the money to learn how to share, save, and spend. Maybe Sesame Workshop can tackle that topic next time; I’m guessing Oscar the Grouch might be the star of that show… maybe alongside the Koch brothers, or the Walton siblings.

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