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Article updated: 1/17/2013 10:24 AM

Naperville woman teaches kids the value of a dollar

By Susan Dibble

The three inner city middle school-age boys that Glenn Dougherty mentors used to look at money as a way to buy Xboxes and video games.

Now they're talking about saving, investing and being able to provide for their families in the future.

"They just look at things totally differently. They want to buy stocks. They're also doing better in school," he said. "They want a better life."

Dougherty attributes the change to the boys' attitudes to their participation in a Kids Wealth International Club summer camp run by Naperville resident Melanie Jane Nicolas.

"This is my passion -- to teach kids about money, entrepreneurship and life skills," said Nicolas, who founded the Kids Wealth International Club in 2010 to do just that.

"I recommend as soon as they understand what a want is and a need is, they basically start managing money. The earlier, the better for me."

It's not just kids from the inner city who need to learn how to manage money. Children from affluent families face challenges of their own, said Nicolas, who warns on her website that a child has a better chance of filing for bankruptcy than graduating from college.

"If you just hand everything over to kids and not teach them about money, the value of money and how to invest money, they're going to be lost when they grow up," she said. "Sometimes those financial challenges actually help people more because they are able to think about, 'how (do) we get out of this.'"

Financial freedom

Nicolas said her passion for teaching kids to manage money in ways that will make them wealthy was inspired by growing up in a middle class, Filipino-American family in which money was a source of conflict.

Her father, an entrepreneur who started his own contracting business, made good money but didn't know how to manage it. Her mother worked long hours as a nurse and saved funds, but nearly lost her pension when she encountered medical problems shortly before she retired.

The message she received from her parents was that a person had to work "really, really hard" for money. "I had a lot of limited mindset," she said.

Nicolas followed her mother into nursing, but was soon on her way to becoming an entrepreneur. Following the example of her older brother, she started investing in real estate in her early 20s. Then, after seven years of nursing, she left the field to become a partner in a home-care services company in which she still holds ownership.

Having other sources of income has allowed her to pursue her passion for teaching kids about money. She hopes to inspire them to seek financial freedom through what she calls the three pillars of wealth -- real estate, stocks and business.

"There are ways to create wealth as opposed to just having a job," she said. "Your thoughts, beliefs and attitudes determine your wealth potential."

Money camps

Nicolas holds her camps at Safety Town in Naperville, where she has a session for 10- to 14 year-olds planned for July 29 to Aug. 2 and a camp for 6- to 9-year-olds scheduled for Aug. 5 and 6. The camps include games and simulations to teach kids about money.

The older set also visits the vault of Naperville Bank and Trust, which offers a program for junior savers that allows them to earn a higher rate of interest than the average customer.

Camp costs are $497 for the two-day camp and $797 for the five-day camp. Discounts are available for parents and children who go through a minicamp first.

Nicolas also has founded the Association of Proud Parents Educating About Riches, which she said plans to give scholarships to children in families who cannot afford the price. About 150 kids and 100 parents have come through the camps so far, she said.

Other kids have been reached through a Savvy Business Club that her organization sponsors at Patterson Elementary School in Naperville. Nicolas also wants to start a Biz Building Camp to teach older kids how to become entrepreneurs.

"Our big vision is to actually license our program," she said.

Nicolas plans to launch a Internet home study program in April, Financial Literacy Month. She also is working on a book, "Raising Wealthy Kids: Seven Rules for Creating the First Financially Responsible Generation," that she said will be released soon.

A speaker on raising wealthy kids, Nicolas was a participant at Mega Partnering conference in Los Angeles late last year, where her fellow speakers included former Disney CEO Michael Eisner and retail business mogul Kathy Ireland.

"I basically take all these thoughts from millionaires and billionaires and put them in a kids' format," she said.

Round Lake Heights parent Reggie Fabian, whose children, Francis, 11, and Catherine, 6, attended a Kids Wealth International Club summer camp, said Nicols is effective in teaching financial principles to kids.

Since his children attended the camp, he's given them a weekly allowance that requires them to do certain chores and that allows them to manage their own money.

"They choose wisely now what they want to spend," he said. "I think they're more responsible with the money they have to spend."

Parents are models

Nicolas, a divorced mother of four children between the ages of 4 and 9, said she teaches her own children and other kids about the six jobs of money by having them divide their money among six actual jars.

The living jar that pays for the cost of items they want or need gets 50 percent. She recommends that the other 50 percent of any money a child receives be divided equally among the other five jars; financial freedom (investments), savings, education, play and donations.

Teaching children to give is an important part of money management, she said.

"I'm a firm believer that as we are blessed with gifts and funds and money, we should always give a portion of our income," she said. "It really broadens their mindset. It's not just about them."

Nicolas said she also believes children should have responsibilities in their home for which they are not paid. Her own children may earn more money by doing extra chores and actually negotiate a price with her, she said.

Parents play a huge role in how kids learn to handle money, she said. While parents still need to make major decisions, they should give kids a bigger voice in deciding how funds are spent, she said.

"They (parents) just kind of tell kids what to do, as opposed to asking them, 'What do you think you should do?'" she said. "It's really important to just watch what we say, what we do and how we experience money."

A longtime friend of Nicolas, Fabian said helping out in the camp his children attended was a learning experience for him.

"I don't want them to make the same mistakes I did when I was younger," he said. "I think it's a very positive experience and it's very helpful for kids."

For information on Nicolas or Kids Wealth International Club, call (877) 594-2543 or visit kwickid.com.

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