Camp Cash teaches preteens about finance

Katherine Martin

The University hosted 10 boys, from ages 11-14, at Camp Cash, a program that teaches the importance of money management and budgeting. The camp ran from June 21-July 2.

Jan Brakefield, assistant professor of consumer sciences, started Camp Cash three years ago in hopes that students would learn to be accountable and make good financial decisions.

“I think the main lesson is that they exercise good stewardship over the money they will have in years to come,” she said.

Camp Cash is aimed toward middle school students with an A or B grade point average who are willing to work hard. The idea for Camp Cash came after experiencing failure when working with high school students.

“I have been trying for many years to find a community service project like this, and I’ve spent many years with high school students and got nowhere,” Brakefield said.

After reading about the middle school age group, Brakefield said she realized she needed to reach students before high school.

“I learned that the middle school age group eagerly soaks up information, whereas high school students filter it out,” she said.

The key to getting the campers to understand complex ideas like budgeting, credit use and investing, Brakefield said, is to break up the ideas into smaller pieces.

“We then relate that little bite into something they can understand,” she said.

Brakefield said she and four other Camp Cash counselors relate the ideas to things like sports and pets. She ultimately hopes the graduates of Camp Cash will come to the University and major in financial planning.

Over the past three years of Camp Cash, attendance has not grown, which has been a disappointment for Brakefield.

“I do all I can to communicate,” she said. “I target all the local middle schools by sending information to principals and counselors. I do posters, fliers and contact the media. I also use all of the University’s means, like intra-campus mail and sending fliers to all faculty members.”

Brakefield said she thinks the idea of a camp about money doesn’t seem fun or cool to middle school students.

“I ask upfront on the application why they are coming to the camp,” Brakefield said. “Some are straightforward and answer that their mom is making them come.”

Staying ahead of the students so they have fun and learn valuable lessons at the same time is key, Brakefield said.

“Teaching techniques like delayed gratification and building a savings account can save the family money now,” she said, “but more importantly, [it can] lead young people down a path of wise financial planning in the future.”

Nathan Cross, an eighth grader at Rock Quarry Middle School, said his mother heard about the camp and thought it would be a good experience for him.

“My mom thought it would be good for me because as soon as I get money, I want to spend it,” Cross said. “She said it’s like the money is burning a hole in my pocket.”

The camp was not only about learning how to take care of money, Cross said. It was fun, too. He said the campers played games, like financial soccer, in the computer labs and won prizes for getting answers right.

“We also got to tour the football stadium and locker room,” Cross said, showing a picture on his cell phone of himself in a Julio Jones jersey and helmet.

Cross said he wants to be a doctor and Camp Cash will help him manage his bills in a smart way.

James Roberts, a freshman at Northridge High School, said he heard his dad, a professor at the University, talking about Camp Cash and thought it would be both fun and educational.

“No matter what job you want to have, [Camp Cash] can help anybody,” Roberts said. “I would highly recommend it to kids my age.”