At some summer camps, the boys and girls will be skipping the campfire songs and three-legged races. Instead, they’ll be learning how to invest in stocks or launch startups.
With names like Camp Millionaire, MoolahU, Financial Investors Club of America and WhizBizKids, the camps are designed to appeal to parents who want to teach their children the basics of money management, or support budding Warren Buffetts and Steve Jobses who show an interest in business. The programs teach everything from basic financial concepts, like active and passive income, to skills such as building money through investments, or launching a startup.
The camps are a compelling summer activity at a time when financial literacy among young adults has foundered and schools lack time and budget to incorporate financial education into the mix. The Council for Economic Education reported in its 2018 Survey of the States that only 16 states require any economics course work during K-12, and only seven states require students to take courses in personal finance.
Citing concern about the lack of financial education available to students and curriculum training available to teachers, the JumpStart Coalition, a financial-literacy advocacy group, in April launched an initiative to expand financial education in schools by 25% between now and 2025.
But for some parents, there’s no need to wait for schools. They want to put summer vacations to good use. While devoting part of a summer to profit-and-loss statements isn’t every child’s idea of fun, some campers say they’re happy they did it.
“I liked that even at a young age, we were able to become entrepreneurs,” says Ben Aubin, a 15-year-old in Dallas who attended MoolahU at age 8, and since age 12 has worked with the program as an apprentice. “You didn’t need permission.”
After his first entrepreneurial adventure at camp at 8—developing a duct-tape bracelet with his team, then selling it and coming home with a small check—he says he became a “startups” guy. This spring, on his own, he launched his third app, a tool to help young drivers with learner’s permits track their hours behind the wheel.
Whether children learn about money through camps or in their classrooms, they need to gain a foundation early, says
a senior wealth strategist at PNC Wealth Management in Cleveland who has volunteered in high schools as an instructor for Junior Achievement, an independent nonprofit that offers business and financial education for children.
“Kids absolutely can learn financial literacy in schools as well as in camps,” Ms. Cochran says. “Both [approaches] will continue gaining traction. In the past 10 years, there’s been a greater awareness of the need for this education.”
Youngsters may need help with one area of financial literacy in particular: investing. PNC research among millennials shows they may have learned more about saving than about expanding their wealth via investing, given that their parents were raising them during the 2007-09 recession.
“Money is not an elective in life,” says
whose company Creative Wealth International launched Camp Millionaire day camps for youngsters ages 10 to 17 in Santa Barbara, Calif., in 2002.
“Money camps tend to appeal to two types of parents,” she says. “Wealthy parents who don’t feel they alone can teach their children about finances, and parents who wish they were more financially successful and don’t want their children to have to learn the hard way like they did.”
Camps’ pricing varies. MoolahU is $315 a week (more for food); while 10-day CampBizSmart can run to more than $4,000 with tuition, room and board at Santa Clara University. Camp Millionaire can go as low as $229—but that’s only for two days.
Most money camps are offered in a day-camp format, although Financial Investors Club’s overnight camps can span multiple weeks; it’s $2,499 for a week including room and board. (The club’s camps also require that students wear suits or business attire to college-campus seminars and on field trips to businesses and city financial districts.)
At MoolahU, a startups camp that launched in Austin, Texas, in 2005 and will soon debut in Singapore, young business minds ages 7 to 17 collaborate for a week to develop a business idea and prototype product, and get a loan from a “barracuda tank” of local business experts—who include established business minds like
of Hoovers.com and entrepreneurs such as the founders of an energy-drink company called Brain Juice.
From there, they sell their product, repay their borrowed money with interest and take turns occupying different leadership roles in their business. They also review a daily profit-and-loss statement and change course according to their findings.
Valerie Granoff’s son Aaron attended camp at age 10 in 2017. Before the family knew about the camp, Aaron was asking “us to explain the stock market to him and how investing works,” says Ms. Granoff, a psychotherapist in Austin. “I saw the camp online and thought, ‘This is right up his alley.’ ”
Ms. Granoff says Aaron’s biggest gains from the camp may have been in learning leadership skills—business modeling, course correcting, accountability and public speaking.
Outside of camp, Ms. Granoff and her husband have helped their son open a custodial brokerage account so he could invest in a stock of his choice. Initially, he chose
then switched to
—up 130% since his purchase.
“I told him not to get used to returns like that,” she says.
Dave Guzman’s son, Josh, attended MoolahU at 12 and 13 years old, in 2011 and 2012. While Josh, now 19, wasn’t necessarily motivated by strong financial interest—he wanted to earn his Boy Scout entrepreneurship badge—he wound up taking away business lessons such as stopping and pausing before making purchases, planning long term and managing his time.
“You couldn’t have paid him to talk when he went off to the camp,” Mr. Guzman says. “But when it was done he was more vocal and had more confidence.”
(The camp also has courses for parents, such as one on dealing with children who constantly demand money. And local businesspeople like Mr. Guzman, owner of an employee-wellness company, are brought in to help teach as entrepreneur mentors; he says the emphasis is on letting children draw information out of mentors as they need it, versus lecturing down to them.)
MoolahU’s 3,000 alums can stay engaged beyond summer through a school-year apprentice program that offers monthly meetings where participants can compare notes on personal investment gains and losses, develop networking skills, and take a deep dive into corporate financial statements with an eye toward understanding valuation, investment metrics and ratios, and operating trends in a given sector of the U.S. economy.
“The basic reason I started our program was to teach my daughter that money isn’t just for spending,” says
MoolahU’s founder and CEO. “When children are at school they learn the right answers they need to know to succeed, but when they create something new in an environment like this, they also learn from experimenting and from their failures and mistakes.”
Ways to make money
At Camp Millionaire, Ms. Donati says, youngsters learn that money can be earned through a salaried job where time is traded for money, or “made” by creating a business or income stream that delivers returns or passive income (rent, licensing fees, royalties, franchising fees, etc.).Because Camp Millionaire’s curriculum is sold to different individuals or organizations running the camps, exact camp formats may vary somewhat, but almost all feature a walking-distance field trip to local businesses.
“In camp, kids earn paychecks, pay taxes, learn to budget, how debt works, and, eventually, how to invest,” says
a former Merrill Lynch employee turned high-school teacher. For three years, Ms. Hill has led Camp Millionaire sessions for children ages 10 to 14 in Edmonds, Wash., an affluent waterfront village north of Seattle.
Coming into camp, most children didn’t understand stocks or bonds, she says. Some thought the investments were a form of real estate.
With the help of a local Edward Jones office and their parents’ custodial oversight, campers bought their own mutual funds—and they each now receive statements about their investment performance. The Edward Jones representative agreed to keep a continuing dialogue with interested campers about their investments.
“These kids are now coming in to see him with plastic bags of cash, and asking him how
are doing,” Ms. Hill says.
Ms. Hodges is a writer in Seattle. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Appeared in the June 4, 2018, print edition.