This Is Not a Joke: Citigroup Tells Parents How to Teach Kids About Managing Money

Last Updated Nov 1, 2011 4:40 PM EDT

Pop quiz to test your financial acumen -- who recently said the following?
It's important that children grow up to be prudent managers of their own money, including learning how to save diligently.
Is it A) Suze Orman; B) Big Bird; C) That really boring dude who says obvious things; D) Citigroup director of financial education Jonathan Clements? It obviously couldn't be field marshal Orman, the imperious personal finance expert, because the sentence doesn't end in an exclamation point. Our favorite 8'2" flightless crane (or whatever he is)? More of a Miss Piggy thing to say, really.

OK, you got me -- trick question! Because the answer is that those words to live by are courtesy of Citi's director of financial education ... whose job evidently requires him to say obvious things. You almost feel bad for Clements, formerly the WSJ's longtime personal finance columnist, at having to enter the dunk tank so bloggers like me can take pot-shots at the ludicrous notion of a Wall Street bank counseling even the humblest muppet on the virtues of financial prudence.

Fortunately, sympathy fades upon reading Clement's 2009 op-ed in the Journal -- after he had joined Citi -- whinnying about the unfairness of a proposed tax on financial bonuses awarded by companies that received at least $5 billion in taxpayer money. (One gem: "For the past year, I thought I was involved in building a wonderful, customer-friendly business that minimizes conflicts of interest, favors index funds and helps everyday Americans with their entire financial lives.")

Struggle session
Here's another lesson Clements, writing this week on Citi's corporate blog, has for America's children:
More pocket money less frequently. Instead of giving your kids $5 pocket money each week, give them $65 every three months. The larger sum will seem more precious and make them think harder about their purchases. And because the money has to last three months, they will be compelled to budget.
Sensible. But to really drive home the message, why not bring the scenario up to date by making it a little more challenging? Instead of giving your kids $65 once a quarter, make it once every six months. Also ask them to use their precious allowance to pay either the electricity bill or the mortgage. Nothing breeds responsibility like learning how to make wise financial choices.

My favorite nugget of wisdom from the company:
Talk about your own struggles. Today, your children may enjoy a comfortable existence in a middle-class home. But there's a good chance they will struggle financially when they first join the work force -- and you may want to prepare your kids by talking about any of your own struggles when you were new to the work world.
Your children also may enjoy an uncomfortable existence in a one-bedroom apartment after Citi illegally foreclosed on your home. Beauty part there is that the tighter confines encourages family members to spend time together sharing their edifying tales of financial struggle. After all, kids can learn a lot hearing about how you spent two years repeatedly sending loan-modification documents to the bank, which never, ever received them (Moral: Fax machines do the darndest things!).

What, me worry?
If you're like me, which is to say breathing, you may detect a Wall Street-sized irony in Citi -- a poster-child of financial recklessness known for abusing its own clients -- lecturing parents on how to teach their kids the finer points of money management. You may also interpret the bank's tin ear for such parody-defying irony as evidence of a company that doesn't have the vaguest idea of how it is perceived.

Or perhaps it's that to a company like Citi, concepts like responsibility and accountability are for saps, namely customers, and not for the financial companies that allegedly serve them. Clements writes:
[F]inancial values are often passed down to our children in the stories we tell. These stories can be far more powerful than any lecture you could deliver on the virtues of financial prudence.
He's right, of course. Everyone loves a good yarn. Have you heard the one about the Wall Street banker who loved children?

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  • Alain Sherter On Twitter»

    Alain Sherter is an award-winning business journalist who has written for The Deal, MarketWatch and Thomson Financial Media.

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