What 2 Contest-Winning Kids Wish Other Kids Knew About Money

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It's never too early to teach your kids about money.

If you're looking for financial inspiration, look no further than 8-year-old Travis Brown and 12-year-old Amel Johns. Brown and Johns are two of the 10 winners of the 11th annual I Got Bank! Youth Essay and Art Contest, sponsored by OneUnited Bank, the largest black-owned bank in the U.S.

The nationwide contest started with reading I Got Bank! What My Granddad Taught Me About Money, by Teri Williams, President and COO of OneUnited. Once they'd read, the kids wrote an essay or created art to illustrate what they learned. The 10 winners each received $1,000.

We recently spoke with two of the winners to get their takes on personal finances and what they wish other kids knew about money.

Travis Brown

Travis Brown may only be eight, but the young man is wise beyond his years. He's also comically precocious. Here, Travis describes entering the OneUnited contest: "My mother told me about it. I said, 'I'll bet you I'm not going to win.' Three months later, I'm swimming in a pool of money."

Travis -- whose school recently allowed him to skip third grade and join the fourth-grade class -- created an art product infused with his unique sense of humor. For example, one part of his project is titled "Momma Always Says Money Don't Grow on Trees." Travis used fake 10- and 20-dollar bills to construct trees, then drew a big red line through both trees.

When asked what he planned to do with his $1,000 winnings, Travis's mother, Trimiki Brown, said to her son, "You're not going to touch it. We can put money in, but you can't take anything out. It has to grow."

Travis share three financial tips he considers essential:

  • "Actually, the best thing you can do with an allowance is to save it. You have no idea of what's going to happen."
  • "Kids need to learn to count money. For example, if you're in a store, the cashier may give you the wrong change. Four quarters may not mean much to you, but that dollar would mean a lot to a homeless person."
  • "It can seem a bit dull to learn about money, but money is going to eventually help you. Once you move on to college, you'll see maybe this isn't so dull after all."

Amel Johns

As Amel Johns speaks of her plans for the future, it's easy to forget that she's a 12-year-old. For Amel, who has been saving and investing since she was eight, planning for the life she hopes to lead one day has become second nature.

In Amel's winning essay, she related her money-saving experience to Williams' book's main character.

"When I was younger, my sister used to borrow money from me when she went shopping, and didn't pay me back," Amel said. "I tease her about it sometimes so that she remembers when she gets in college that she still owes me a little bit of money."

Amel makes it a point to say that her sister's financial habits have evolved since those days of borrowing from her. "Last year, my sister got a summer job, and put 30% of what she earned in the bank," Amel said, pride in her voice.

For Amel, financial savvy is about considering how money might benefit her in the future. For example, she added the $1,000 she won in the contest to her growing savings account in hopes of having enough to buy a car by the time she goes to college.

While other kids might become frustrated by how long it takes to save, Amel is the beneficiary of advice her mother received as a child growing up in Chicago. "Our parents taught us that little money makes big money," said Maisha Goss Johns, Amel's mother.

Amel, who says her mom and dad taught her about investing, says she was always a kid who put money from doing chores in her piggy bank. She's also a kid who knows how to make money. For example, Amel's aunt gave her "a lot of snacks" for her birthday. "I didn't want to eat them all, so I sold them at school and made $99 in one day."

While Amel is an outstanding AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) basketball player and hopes to earn a scholarship to college, she still saves for higher education, determined that her dreams will come true one way or the other.

As for what she wishes other kids knew, Amel says, "Once you put your money in the bank and see other people buying things you want, remember that you're saving for something big, and saving for things that will last for a long time."

Amel's mother knows that teaching kids about money is a lifelong process. She says it's important to teach kids about money and to model what's being taught. "If you're a kid and your parents spend a lot on things that are unnecessary, you grow up thinking that's the way to do it, and could end up without the money you need," she said.

If Travis and Amel are any indication, it's safe to assume that the rest of the 2021 I Got Bank! Youth Essay and Art Contest winners are also well on their way to successful financial lives. Here are the other eight big winners:

  • Gilana Freeman, 12, Dallas, Texas
  • Ariel Hartman, 10, Tamarac, Florida
  • Jackson Lennox, 12, Sunrise, Florida
  • Aziza McKay, 10, Dorchester, Massachusetts
  • Ada Nazneen, 10, Rocklin, California
  • Kylie Thurman, 9, Miami, Florida
  • Shalena Prakash, 11, Duarte, California
  • Christian Turner, 9, Los Angeles, California

According to Travis Brown, every child should have access to financial education. Here's how he sees it: "Kids aren't always going to have their parents to be their legs and eyes. Eventually, they're going to need to learn they're going into the real world, and the real world is not all cupcakes and rainbows. They're going to get a good dose of reality."

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