Program banks on the future

Learn to Earn teaches children the value of saving money
By: Megan Wood, Gold Country News Service
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At 7 years old, Kate Hilton is learning what some adults still have yet to comprehend: saving money. Hilton brings her weekly dollar allowance to her school cafeteria to deposit in her savings account through Umpqua Bank’s Learn to Earn program. One of 94 schools participating in California, Valley View Elementary School in Rocklin began hosting the program two years ago after Parent Teacher Council President Diana Ruslin, brought the idea to principal Chuck Kilbourne. “I think there is a valuable lesson in saving money for the students,” Kilbourne said. “One that they will carry with them through young adulthood to adulthood, hopefully.” The Learn to Earn program began in 1996 in Humboldt County by Sarie Toste, a school superintendent who heard children on the playground talking about money. “She saw a need for students to learn about saving,” said Sarie’s daughter and Learn to Earn program director Colleen Toste. “Umpqua, which was at the time Humboldt Bank, was a community bank that was looking to do more in the community so it became a really unique partnership.” When a school opts to host the program, Umpqua representatives visit classrooms to give presentations to the students on the value of saving money. “We’ll ask the kids, if sometimes when they ask their parents for things, they get told ‘no,’” Colleen Toste said. “A lot of kids don’t realize that if they save their money, they can buy the things that they want on their own.” The representatives also help children come up with ideas on how to make money by doing chores at home or recycling. Older students get lessons in budgeting for bigger-ticket items like how to budget their money for a car over a span of several years while still paying for expenses like a cell phone or entertainment. To open a savings account, students are required to have at least a dollar, if a child doesn’t have a dollar Colleen said Umpqua will give the student a dollar to open their account. After that, deposits can be made from a single penny to several dollars. “It was important to my mom that this be available to all children,” Colleen Toste said. “We’re just as proud of the kids that deposit a penny as we are of the kids who deposit a dollar, just the fact that they’re learning to save makes us proud.” Incentive programs are also an important aspect to the Learn to Earn program to encourage children to continue saving and to show that saving money can be fun. Small toys like erasers or stickers are often given to children upon making their deposits. Occasionally, Umpqua officials will add an extra dollar to the child’s account if they make a deposit during a set time frame as an incentive to continue saving. “Kids need that instant gratification or a reward sometimes to make it a habit otherwise they don’t see a reason to do it,” Toste said. Children who open an account through the Learn to Earn program are given a vinyl moneybag for their backpack, a kid-sized record book to keep track of their deposits, a pencil and a quarter card for spare change. “We were able to work closely with the bank on this program to tailor it for our customers,” Toste said. “We’ve also taken it to middle schools but instead of setting up a table that kids might be hesitant to walk up to, we’ve installed drop boxes.” According to both Toste and Kilbourne, the program has also gotten positive reviews from parents who recognize that saving money and budgeting skills aren’t taught in the classroom, but in real life experiences. Judging by the numbers, the students love it too. Valley View has 222 student-savings accounts, the most of any school in California. Across town in Roseville,Blue Oaks Elementary School started its Learn to Earn program in November 2006 and has 86 accounts. Some kids are saving for a specific treat, like Kate who is trying to earn an iPod. While others are in it just to watch the number on their monthly bank statements grow. David Tremblay, a second-grader, said he is saving money so that when he was older he could buy food for his kids. “I think it’s really taught the students to think beyond today and start looking toward future goals like saving for something special,” Kilbourne said. “More importantly, it’s taught them to save younger.”