Somehow, I missed out on the joys of summer camp, unless you count watching Bill Murray in Meatballs about 700 times during my youth, and learning how to walk in time and play a baritone under the hot sun during two summers of band camp. Both--Bill Murray and band camp--were fun, but I've often wondered if my life might be a little more complete had I spent a week or two fishing and swimming and hanging out with kids my own age at a bunkhouse.
So at first I wasn't sure what to make of Money 101, a new personal finance summer camp for kids in the Washington, D.C. area. It doesn't sound like there will be a lot of sack races.
But it doesn't really matter. The kids can go to a summer camp with the sack races, the fishing hole and crafts table some other year. Maybe they won't learn how to sneak the camp owner's bed to the middle of the lake the way they did in Meatballs, but it sounds like a kid at a personal finance summer camp may leave with the skills that will let them figure out how to fund their own movie about summer camp. Not a bad trade-off.
Anyway, the camp is run by the company Math Tree, which specializes in math camps. Money 101, which will be offered for several weeks throughout the summer in places like Falls Church, Virginia and Potomac, Maryland, is aimed at kids from 13 to 15, though one of the camp's founders, Lynn Salvo, hints that they're considering opening it to older teenagers. "The response suggests that older teens, particularly as they are approaching college or already in college, are very interested," says Salvo, "and actually, so are their parents! Financial education is typically not taught in our schools, and what we're seeing is that people really want to fill this gap."
It's part of what I'm guessing will eventually become a trend. There are already a couple other personal finance summer camps out there. Camp Millionaire, for one, in Southlake, Texas, and the North Carolina Bankers Association has run Camp Challenge for over a decade.
Salvo says that they've designed Money 101, a half-day,10-day camp, to be fun and very hands-on, so that the campers learn "by doing, not just hearing," and that the campers spend about 30 minutes outdoors, so there is some physical activity. And while I'm sure Salvo and the other camp founders have plenty of fun outdoor activities planned, I'd love to suggest a couple personal finance outdoor games that could make it an even better camp.
For instance, they could have a tug-of-war contest, in which the kids would split into two teams: the campers against bankers. Between them, a big pool of mud. Then to make things realistic, we'd have twice as many kids on the side with the bankers.
My credit card foot race would be something similar. Some kids would get to be customers. The others, credit card executives. And then in the two-mile foot race, the credit card kids would be allowed to ride bicycles, or perhaps mopeds.
While either of those are unlikely to be activities at Money 101, despite my assurances that they would teach the youngsters a lot about personal finance in the real world, Salvo says she hopes that by the end of camp, kids learn that "there is a whole world out there trying to help you spend your money."
"That doesn't mean you have to be paranoid, and that doesn't mean you shouldn't ever enjoy life," says Salvo. "What it does mean is that it's critically important for kids (and adults!) to know their dreams and their goals, and to focus their financial efforts on what's most important for them. By knowing your dreams, you can live fully and be financially secure."
And if you can do all of that, then your own kids, too, can go to summer camp. It's an interesting circle.
Geoff Williams is a freelance journalist who often writes about personal finance. He also happens to be the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).
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