“She’s making me do Crossfit, Jamie.”
So began my phone call with Eva Baker, the mastermind teenpreneur behind Teens Got Cents.
When I dialed the number on her “contact” page, I actually got her mother, Charlotte, on the phone — which is unsurprising, since Eva started the blog at the tender age of 16. (The page has since been updated.)
Today she’s 20, and a full-blown, professional personal finance blogger.
I even ran into her at FinCon, the community’s seminal event — which she attended after hosting her own conference. And, apparently, while doing Crossfit.
In short: Eva Baker’s not scared of hard work and no stranger to success.
And as the de facto expert on teenage personal finance, we knew we’d learn some key tips for young Penny Hoarders by chatting with her — whether you’re a teen yourself, or teaching your kids.
How This Smart Teen Became a Personal Finance Blogger
Like many, Eva’s dream career started a little bit by accident.
Eva’s stay-at-home mother Charlotte, a homeschool teacher, was going through a divorce — and struggling to regain her financial footing.
A friend recommended Dave Ramsey’s “The Total Money Makeover,” and in her “new, frugal mindset,” Charlotte hit the library to pick up the book.
“Unfortunately for 15-year-old me,” Eva says, “the library only had the audiobook available.” Suddenly, she was “stuck listening to this old dude talk about money” every time she got in the car with her mom.
But for some reason, Ramsey’s words struck a chord with teenage Eva, who started saving toward a $1,000 emergency fund — and soon surpassed that goal.
At the same time, she was busy brainstorming the major high school project she’d need to complete for her junior and senior year.
Her mom wanted her to choose something that focused on communication and people skills, and would be applicable and meaningful in the real world. Since her brother had started a non-profit for his project, she had a tough act to follow.
That’s when it hit her.
She realized her new money knowledge “wasn’t the norm” for people her age. In fact, quite the opposite: Personal finance is conspicuously absent in the American classroom.
And despite the plethora of free financial resources available online, Eva found none of them were specifically directed toward teenagers.
So with her mom’s help, she set up a blog to fill that space, a resource “by teens, for teens” — and Teens Got Cents was born.
How to Teach Financial Literacy for Teens
You may wonder what a 16-year-old girl had to say about personal finance.
It’s a fair question. Even Eva says that, “as a teen,” she was “not an expert on anything.”
Instead, she wrote stories other teens could relate to: buyer’s remorse after purchasing a cute but out-of-budget pair of earrings; the process of buying her first car.
Soon, her storytelling skills started translating to opportunities.
Teens Got Cents attracted attention from local businesses and press in Eva’s hometown of Jacksonville, Florida, and she started saying “yes” to opportunities to bring her business offline.
She soon landed brand ambassador gigs, took public speaking engagements and wrote for local financial companies under her own brand. Today, her blogging business is her full-time job, and earns over $5,000 a month. And she still attends part-time college classes to work toward her A.A.
In her unlikely career as a personal finance guru, Eva’s learned a ton about what’s missing in financial education.
Here are some of her best takeaways for teenagers hungry for better financial sense — and parents eager to teach it.
1. Teens do care about finances.
Sometimes, teens get a bad rap when it comes to issues of responsibility. And Eva admits “a lot of times, teens do just blow it off” when it comes to finances.
But she’s found it might have more to do with missing resources than lack of interest.
Eva often connects with teens in underserved communities, who have big dreams. They want to save up for a car or a college education.
They understand they need to learn how to handle their money to achieve those goals. And they see the financial mistakes their families and neighbors are making, and want to avoid the same pitfalls.
They just don’t know how to do so — or where to get help.
“If you take the time to be purposeful with [teens], they are interested,” Eva says.
“It really is a problem of just education,” she explains. “If someone would step up and take the time with them, things would be really different.”
So the very first step? Don’t neglect teaching your own children about personal finance.
Until our educational system improves, you might be the best resource they have — and if you ignore the topic, it could be devastating for your child’s financial future.
2. It doesn’t have to be complicated.
Charlotte was a business major in college, and she knew the importance of teaching her kids about money. So she started training them young — and simply.
She broke out good, old-fashioned envelopes to teach Eva about budgeting at the ripe age of 5. Eva’s used the system throughout her life, saving for new clothes, Christmas gifts and even her car with paper envelopes. She only recently traded them for an app that digitally simulates the simple system.
Although it’s low-tech, the envelope method’s effective — so much so that Eva still brings actual, paper envelopes with her today when she’s teaching teens one-on-one.
3. Be open with your kids about money.
Eva believes a lot of parents “don’t feel qualified” to teach their kids about personal finance.
But it’s as simple as being honest about your own experiences with money.
Eva’s parents got the kids directly involved with household expenses.
“We would sit down and help with the grocery budget,” she says, “and even plan meals for the week.”
Plus, her parents weren’t afraid to bring their own financial foibles into the educational picture. They admitted when they made financial mistakes and discussed how they planned to fix them.
As a result, personal finance was a familiar topic, giving Eva a solid foundation for handling her own money — and the knowledge she needed to grow her eventual business.
4. Give teens real responsibility.
When Eva turned 14, her parents increased her allowance and made her responsible for purchasing all of her own clothing.
Charlotte went shopping with her for the first year, teaching her how to shop sales racks and find good deals. But when it came down to it, a whole budget category was in her own hands.
“That was real,” Eva recalls. And it was a learning experience that stuck with her, making money lessons tangible.
“I think that giving your child or teen that kind of responsibility… makes it real life,” Eva says.
“That’s what’s going to teach them how to manage their money well.”
Money Lessons for a Financially Literate Life
Considering money touches every aspect of our lives, it’s amazing how little we learn about it in school. It’s a serious problem, which can lead to a devastating lack of financial literacy in adulthood.
So if you have kids, it’s worth your time to spearhead their financial education. And if you need some brushing-up of your own, never fear.
Once you’ve got your own finances in order — or at least on their way — get junior in on it, too. After all, the most important, fundamental money lessons apply whether you’re 5 or 50…
… and no matter your age group, you can probably operate an envelope.
Your Turn: What did you waste money on when you were 16?
Disclosure: We don’t hesitate to pick pennies off the sidewalk when we spot them. But the affiliate links in this post help our earnings grow even quicker. Plus, it’s a lot cleaner than sidewalk money.
Jamie Cattanach is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. Her writing has also been featured at The Write Life, Word Riot, Nashville Review and elsewhere. Find @JamieCattanach on Twitter to wave hello.