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Jed Kim was working on launching “Million Bazillion,” a personal finance podcast for children, when the pandemic happened. In each episode Kim plays a financially unsavvy version of himself and learns money lessons after making some poor choices. Before launching the show, he shifted the narrative to help families who may be having a hard time meeting their financial goals during the pandemic. Easy Money talked to Kim about why he thinks it’s better to talk to your children about your finances and how to approach the conversation.
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This interview has been lightly edited for style and clarity.
We began making “Million Bazillion” well before the coronavirus crisis, and we’d already decided we needed to focus on a lot of the basics of how money and the economy work. The recession didn’t change that, but it really shaped the way we approached our topics. For example, in our episode on saving money, we made a special point to talk about the reasons why it’s impossible for a lot of people to save.
Another impact was more personal. I have a toddler, and his mom and I both work. It was a tense couple of months of trying and failing to make time for work before we finally figured out a system that would allow us to get our stuff done. Meanwhile, because of grant funding, we had a hard deadline to get the podcast done. That made me feel extra pressure for all the time lost.
I’m no money genius. I spent a lot of my adult life in debt. Any financial knowledge I’ve gained has not come from any decisions I’ve made but rather from having to report on it. I got hired by Marketplace, because I was able to tell stories through sound. Working for them was a crash course in economics.
That’s why it was so important to us to make a financial literacy podcast for kids. The earlier they can start making better decisions, the better they’ll be.
I went to the University of Chicago — an institution revered for its economics research — without taking a single econ course. I can’t help thinking that if I had, I would’ve been smarter with my financial decisions a lot earlier in life.
Don’t be so eager to pigeonhole yourself so early in life! If you’re in college, take some classes that don’t apply to your degree. You’re probably going to switch careers anyway.
I’ve had to play a lot of catch-up in getting to financial health and understanding. That’s partly why we decided to make my character in the podcast so unsavvy when it comes to money. It’s not far from the truth. And we know from the data that I’m not alone — too many Americans are far behind in their financial literacy.
That’s helped in how we frame our show. Throughout our episodes, I learn lessons along with our listeners. To that end, it’s actually helped to be a bit of a blank slate. I don’t feel much shame in asking elementary questions of experts that someone with an MBA wouldn’t be caught dead asking.
Whether or not you’re explicitly talking about money to your kids, they’re watching you and internalizing lessons. The danger of not talking about it with them is that they may be internalizing incorrect lessons.
I’m reminded of a story a colleague shared that when she was little, her father took her and her siblings out for ice cream. She refused to get any. Later, while the other kids were eating, her father asked why she didn’t want any. She burst into tears and said, “because you pay too much in taxes!”
She’d overheard her father complaining about taxes and mistakenly thought things were so dire that she had to sacrifice for her family.
You may be uncomfortable talking about money with your kids, but they need to learn, if only to give them more certainty about how the world works and what their place is in it.
Not talking about it is the biggest mistake. I grew up in a family that didn’t talk about money. I just knew we didn’t have much, and I felt guilty asking for things. But, man, did I want them. Then, when I started making my own money, I kind of went overboard with the freedom.
Even if you don’t have much money, it’s important to help your kids learn to budget and work on their future thinking.
Whenever I see numbers on how much I should have invested into a retirement account by this point in my life, I want to hide in a hole. Things aren’t as dire as they could be, but I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.
Hopefully, my career will continue unabated, and I can keep squirreling stuff away. Podcasting is a little tough, though. A lot of it is project based, and it’s a hustle to stay employed.
It was a big moment when my partner and I both finished paying off our student loans. And I’d recently paid off my credit card debt as well. It’s amazing to see savings grow when you’re no longer under someone else’s thumb.
“Why are you buying that? We don’t need that. Put that back.”
Image: Nastia Kobzarenko
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