Thursday, June 22, 2006 | This time of year, every San Diego household with a child over five is no doubt abuzz with how to occupy their kids for the nearly three months of summer.

Camp is always a top choice and, if the latest issue of San Diego Family magazine is any indication, families now have more choices than ever before. When I was a kid, camp was basically a daylong excursion devoted to gluing noodles together to make art and identifying varieties of woodland berries and trees. Rich kids – clearly, I wasn’t one or I wouldn’t label them so pejoratively – got to actually go to a camp in the woods and learn to pitch tents, start fires and make up ghost stories. Lucky rich kids.

But today’s kids, rich or poor, can go to ballet camp, or zoo camp or water sports camp. There are also high-tech camps, science camps and chess camps.

Might I suggest a new one: The Money Camp? You’ll have to drive to Santa Barbara, but it’s Santa Barbara. Relax by the beach while your kid learns the magic of compound interest.

I reported on the alarming financial illiteracy of today’s youth in a recent column about the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy’s annual survey of high school seniors. The students on average scored just 52.4 percent in a financial literacy exam.

Jump$tart’s survey found that teens don’t understand many key concepts in personal finance. For example, only 14.2 percent of teens surveyed felt that stocks are likely to have higher average returns than savings bonds, savings accounts and checking accounts over the next 18 years in spite of the fact that there has never been an 18 year period when this was not true.

And separate surveys by the National Council on Economic Education have shown that nearly half of young people don’t understand saving and investing for retirement, the difference between inflation and recession, and how government spending affects them. All this lack of know-how has personal finance advocates worried about the future of our nation in the global economy.

Which is partly why Elizabeth Donati created The Money Camp in Santa Barbara in 2001.

Donati’s program is based on three pillars of financial independence: owning investments like stocks, owning real estate (as an investment) and owning your own business.

The Money Camp Executive Director Karen Dwyer says the camp is designed for kids over 10 who understand percentages. From there, camp instructors hone on a few principles such as saving more than you spend, and avoiding credit card debt.

Dwyer says most other personal finance educational programs for children and teens focus on mechanics like how to set up a checking account. The Money Camp focuses on how money works, or, the why.

For example, she says, why you should be “spending money on assets and things that grow passive income vs. what we call piddly crap.”

Dwyer says schools focused on core curriculum standards don’t have time to teach students about personal finance, while parents are often reluctant to discuss money in front of their kids.

“That’s the one thing you need to know about for the rest of your life,” says Dwyer. “No one else teaches you. Schools teach you about getting good grades, getting into college and getting a good job. No one teaches kids to think for themselves in terms of building wealth, owning a business and being an entrepreneur.”

The Money Camp includes student assignments like asking parents about their views on money. Field trips to bookstores teach campers about inventories and sales, while trips to banks and financial institutions unveil what goes on behind closed doors.

Dwyer says a major goal is to prevent kids from developing deeply seeded beliefs about money that prevent financial success. Those beliefs, passed on from parents, are often negative.

The Money Camp’s two- and three-day sessions range between $185 per child to $259 per child. The camp is not yet available in San Diego, but sessions are scheduled in Anaheim, Simi Valley, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and San Francisco.

You can also purchase The Money Camp at Home program for $69 or download an online version for just $29.

The Money Camp offers two-day sessions for adults who could learn a thing or two about how money works.

If The Money Camp and The Money Camp at Home aren’t for you, there are plenty of other resources.

  • The Jump$tart Coalition offers a clearinghouse of resource materials designed to help you start a conversation with your kids about money.
  • Merrill Lynch’s Investing Pays Off, or IPO, curriculum is free and covers 15 strategies for investing in your financial future. The curriculum is divided into three levels in age groups ranging from seven to 18.
  • The National Council on Economic Education ( offers educational programs for schools and individuals, including personal economics.
  • The Motley Fool offers extensive articles and investment guides designed specifically for teens.

Please contact Catherine Hockmuth directly at with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or send a letter to the editor.

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