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Personal Finance Columnists Discuss Financial Literacy and Paying for College at Harvard Ed School Event

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Personal finance columnists discussed developing financial literacy skills among children and teenagers at a Harvard Graduate School of Education webinar on Wednesday.

Ron Lieber of the New York Times and Michelle Singletary of the Washington Post articulated the role parents play in the formation of their children’s financial habits. The conversation was moderated by Uche B. Amaechi ’99, a lecturer on education at HGSE.

Singletary, who writes a column called “The Color of Money” for the Washington Post, said that discussions about finances with kids should begin early on.

“The moment your kid asks for anything — anything that costs money — that’s when you have the conversation,” she said. “I literally was talking to my children in the car seat about money, and I am not exaggerating.”

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Lieber, who writes his column “Your Money” for the New York Times, said that parents should welcome conversations about money with their children, even if “you’re not sure, tactically, exactly what you want to say.”

“As long as the kid or the kids know that their questions are welcome and that they are valued, and that this is an appropriate topic of conversation, and you really do want to answer, but maybe just not right now,” Lieber said.

“It’s fine not to know every answer to every money question,” he added. “None of us do, even the experts.”

Singletary said that financial literacy skills are important for young people because “money is everything.”

“You are going to have to deal with this money thing for your entire life,” she said. “It’s so important to learn it — and learn it early — so you can avoid a lot of the mistakes that a lot older adults make and really often can’t recover from.”

During the event, the panelists also acknowledged decisions on where to attend college and how to pay for it can be difficult for many students and their families.

Lieber, who in addition to his column is the author of “The Price You Pay For College,” called on schools to provide specialized financial literacy classes, such as a semester-long course that is “built entirely around the machinery of providing and paying for an undergraduate education.”

“This is a rich trove of both emotional and financially technical turf that you could easily spend a semester covering, and I’ve never seen anybody do it before in a high-school classroom,” he said.

Singletary also noted the role of parents in conversations revolving around the pressure to get into elite colleges and the associated financial costs.

Lieber said that a conversation occurring well before students begin to think about applying is “essential.”

“You don’t want heartache and heartbreak in the spring of your kid’s senior year,” Lieber said.

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