Oh, the money you'll save!
A Dr. Seuss story may not conjure up images of Wall Street, but believe it or not, many Dr. Seuss (a.k.a. Theodor Geisel) classics can teach us quite a bit about personal finance. From the trouble with indecision, as portrayed in "Hunches in Bunches," to the importance of finding a career that you love ("Oh, the Places You'll Go!"), the good doctor encouraged bright minds to follow their hearts, question the world and value the things that can't be bought over money itself.
At MainStreet, we feel there's no better way to start a conversation about money with your children than by sharing a terrific story. So in honor of Dr. Seuss's birthday and National Reading Day, here are the eight money lessons Dr. Seuss tried to teach us, along with some expert tips to get your children thinking about finance.
Never Choose? You'll Always Lose
"It's awfully awfully awful when you can't make up your mind!" -- "Hunches in Bunches"
"Hunches in Bunches" centers on a boy who can't seem to decide what to do one day. He sits in his room pondering all the things he could do -- play football, eat six hot dogs or go outside -- but just when it seems that he's made up his mind, he finds a reason to go against it, leaving the day's activities in limbo.
In terms of personal finance, indecision stems from a lack of financial literacy, says Lori Mackey, founder of prosperity4kids.com, a site that creates personal finance learning materials for children. "If you have more education, you feel more comfortable about making [money] decisions. But a lot of people feel paralyzed because they don't know enough and aren't confident enough to make those decisions." The takeaway from Hunches, then, is that money is a choice, Mackey says. "You have choices with the friends you're going to pick. You have a choice to spend it or save it. Think before you do it."
Help your children make positive money decisions by encouraging them to follow their gut, says Mackey. Ask them, "What does that voice say to you? If something doesn't feel right, don't do it."
Get a Career to Have No Fear
"You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose." -- "Oh, The Places You'll Go!"
There's a reason newly minted college grads often receive the children's classic "Oh, The Places You'll Go!" as a well-wishing gift: The book discusses all the opportunities that are available to you, notes Mackey. "When you own your career, you're going to own your financial direction. If you own it and you take control of it, that applies to personal finance, too. Are you going to set a plan in place and make it happen?"
While what we do with our lives and our money is our choice, if we stay trapped in indecision, or allow others to choose for us, we essentially lose the freedom to think for ourselves.
Seuss's "Daisy-Head Mayzie" portrays a young girl who sprouts a daisy from her head that makes her incredibly rich and famous, but the story echoes the old adage that money can't buy you happiness when Daisy discovers she feels all alone despite her great wealth.
"Money gives you choices, freedom and security to do what you're passionate about," says Mackey, but it should never define one intangible thing like your happiness or who you are. "When you have only one idea about money that can be a problem. When you strip everything away from anybody, they would always go and help someone or do something that they care about."
Be Clean to Save Green
"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not." -- "The Lorax"
A cautionary tale about the dangers of polluting the environment for personal or industrial gain, "The Lorax" has probably made many readers think twice about recycling their Coke bottles. Still, too few adults strive to reuse and recycle as much as they can, laments Mackey. "It all goes into supply and demand, and our resources are going to go away if we don't reuse, recycle and rethink," she says.
Get your children to think about the ways they can help their environment, and possibly cut utility costs by asking, What's important to you? "That will bring out what a child's passions are," says Mackey, which will make them feel empowered to help Mother Nature. "Not everybody's the same, but if we all give back, we can make a difference in all areas."
Every Pill Brings a Bill
"When at last we are sure you've been properly filled, then a few paper forms must be properly filled so that you and your heirs may be properly billed." -- "You're Only Old Once"
Growing old and relying on doctors to check up on you all the time can be a big headache, but Dr. Seuss has a way of making the expensive ordeal seem hilarious. But Seuss, who isn't really a doctor, wants you to know that one day, you too will have to pay hefty medical bills and you'll want your wallet to be prepared.
As parents, you're probably not comfortable yet with discussing sticky subjects like retirement or long-term care with your child, but you can start a conversation about "where they'd like to be when they grow up," says Mackey. "I ask my children, 'do you want to be wealthy or do you want to be poor?' That will get them thinking about the kind of life they'd like to have."
"I do not like green eggs and ham, I do not like them Sam I am!" -- "Green Eggs and Ham"
The theme of this tale, says Mackey, is that if you try it, you might like it. "So many people don't know how to invest, and then they don't do it, but I say, 'Just try it!' People are so scared to try something that it just paralyzes them." If things aren't working, or rather, the ham tastes like spam, then you need to try something else. "I tell my kids, if something's not working, do the opposite," Mackey says.
Choose to Do the Job for You
"This was no time for play. This no time for fun. This was no time for games. There was work to be done." -- "The Cat in the Hat Comes Back"
When the Cat in the Hat returns to visit his young friends, it isn't all fun and games. There is snow to be shoveled and a house to be cleaned. The story teaches the value of hard work and the importance of being dedicated to whatever you decide to pursue.
"I always say to my kids, 'you have to enjoy what you're doing or you won't make any money,'" Mackey jokes. "This will empower you to make more later. The feeling is worthless when you do something half-way. When you give it all you've got, that's priceless."
Always Want What You've Got
"One droopy-droop feather. That's all that she had. And, oh! That one feather made Gertrude so sad." -- Gertrude McFuzz
In the short story collection "Yertle the Turtle," Gertrude McFuzz describes a young girl-bird who envies her peers' more bountiful plumage. She complains to her uncle that it isn't fair, but unable to simply be happy with what she has, her uncle eventually lets on that eating one berry from the pill-berry vine will help her grow one more feather. Of course instead of eating just one, Gertrude goes overboard and eats 36 -- so many that she becomes too heavy to fly.
"For kids, I think the hardest part is watching them feel like less of a person because someone has more than they have," says Mackey. "But I always ask my children, 'Who bought it?' They don't know the value and importance of it, and it really turns into a self-esteem issue." The moral of this story: Love what you've got. "You really never know what somebody else's situation is," adds Mackey. "Be careful what you wish for because you just don't know."