When is a good time to teach kids the topic of money and finances? According to Clarissa and Monique, it’s never too early to start. We chatted to the two mums about financial education, their authorial venture, and who is more financially frugal between their respective spouses!
What comes to mind when the topic of financial literacy is brought up? Often, we think of savings and perhaps budgeting; however, it’s more than that. Unfortunately, this core skill is not explicitly taught in schools. So, when is a good time to touch on financial literacy with the little ones? According to Warren Buffet, teaching kids sound financial habits at an early age allows them to be successful when they reach adulthood. That’s something that Clarissa de la Paz and Monique Leonardo Carlos believe in, too.
“Before we can teach them investing and the mathematical formulas of money management, we need to start with values and habits as these are foundational principles they would need to manage their personal finance,” Clarissa explains. Monique adds, “It depends on how you present it and the language you use to engage the child in conversation.”
Thus, the two financial literacy advocates came together and came up with the Saffi Squirrel book series. Saffi Squirrel was born out of their desire to help families cultivate a positive relationship with money. The books help families introduce their kids to core values and habits through meaningful stories and thought-provoking activities. Something we’re definitely on board with.
We spoke to Clarissa and Monique (who are also big fans of HoneyKids!) to find out more about Saffi Squirrel, what their families thought of their authorial efforts, and more…
Interview with Clarissa de la Paz and Monique Leonardo Carlos, co-authors of the Saffi Squirrel book series
How did you develop the idea for your children’s book series?
Monique (M): When Clarissa came out with her first book, I Wish They Taught Money In School, I was pregnant with my first child, Mattina. I realised then that I wanted to be more proactive in raising my children to better understand finance. As an educator, my go-to resources are books. So Clarissa and I started our conversation about translating foundational money values and principles into a language children can easily relate to and understand.
What is Saffi Squirrel’s role in the book series?
M: We recognise that most children, even adults, are intrigued by animals. I researched animal habits when we were picking an animal for our project. My daughter Renee is a huge animal lover, and she reads a lot of animal information books. We talked about squirrels and how they collect and save acorns to eat during the colder months. Apparently, there are different kinds of squirrels, and we learned that grey squirrels are the ones that bury their acorns in various spots and only recover what they will eat. Those that don’t get eaten grow into oak trees! We liken that to diversifying your investments and how it takes time for investments to grow.
Clarissa (C): Saffi is a Greek name meaning wise. Saffi Squirrel only appears in the stories when children need to learn a new lesson. Saffi Squirrel also represents both of us. She’s the teacher who imparts lessons, similar to how we do it with our children.
M: Saffi Squirrel represents the Big People in a child’s life. She is an example of a knowledgeable character that guides the children in understanding the concepts more deeply and helps them apply the lessons in actual experiences.
Why did you decide to use your children as the protagonists in your book series?
C: It naturally happened. After all, the inspiration behind the stories is the conversations we’ve had with our children! They led us to learn what their interests are and the questions they have about money. Also, Monique and I are teachers at heart, so what better legacy to leave our children with than life skills and lessons they’ll need when they grow up.
M: For my part, I felt that using our own children would help make the stories relatable to other kids. We used actual questions our kids have asked us, situations that we’ve found ourselves in with them, and ways that we’ve resolved conflicts. After Clarissa laid out the money values for each book, it was easier for me to think of the storyline as I imagined how I would explain said values and skills to my children.
How did the two of you work on the books while being based in different countries?
We started writing the books in the middle of the pandemic, so everything was done online – through messenger, online calls, and email. The magic of the internet! We chatted daily and had weekly meetings; it seemed like we were working side by side together. Monique encourages adults who will read these stories to go a little bit deeper by sparking conversations through what we call “Big People Prompt (BPP)”. To best remember the lessons on money, you will find some quotable quotes and reminders throughout the stories.
Clarissa’s background in marketing brought the Saffi Says portions to life. Monique ends each book with a few activities that the entire family can do together – again, ensuring that the lessons from Saffi are applied in real life.
What were your families’ responses to your authorial efforts?
M: Our families are really proud of us. Our kids are excited to be in the books and love seeing themselves come to life in the pages. I think many friends are pretty happy with what we’ve done, seeing the importance and value of creating this for families.
C: Our children were very much involved in conceptualising Saffi Squirrel. We asked them what clothes they wanted their characters to wear, and we included their favourite toys and pets in the stories. We would read the initial storyline to them and adjust the lines based on their comments and reactions, as well as show them the artist’s sketches and colours. The most exciting part was seeing their reactions when we got the printed books. They were so proud of the books. It was priceless.
We incorporated one of the conversations I had with my daughter Alessi when she was five. She came home from school one day and asked for a digital watch because some of her classmates had one. On this page, we included a similar conversation where she said: “The glitter boots look so cool, and most of the girls in my class have them.”
What can we expect from future book series?
The first five books talk about money mindfulness, delayed gratification, abundance and creativity, dreaming big and believing in yourself, giving, and sharing. The second book series continues the foundational money values and habits. The stories will be about working hard and working smart, asking and receiving, gratitude and contentment, frugality and simplicity, honesty and integrity. Once we’ve imparted these money values and habits to our children, they will be ready to learn how money works and how to make money work for them.
The third book series will examine the five characters exploring different money vehicles such as investing and entrepreneurship. In parallel, we are creating webinars, courses and workbooks to put all these concepts into real-life applications.
When should financial education be taught to children? Are they ready to tackle the topic of money and financial literacy?
C: It’s never too early to teach our children financial education. We need to start with values and habits. Our first books teach money values and habits. You can read them the same way you read other books to your children.
Later on, as they learn math in school, we’ll teach them the mathematical formula behind how money works and how money can grow. We can teach them about investing as early as they learn the four basic operations and percentages. Parents need to tackle Financial Intelligence Quotient the same way they do with Intelligence Quotient, Emotional Intelligence Quotient, and Adversity Quotient.
How can parents mindfully start conversations with children on money and finances?
M: I think to be able to have mindful conversations with our children, we need to be able to have honest conversations with ourselves. We need to better understand our personal finances and relationship with money. Only then can we begin to talk to our children about money.
I’ve always believed that almost any topic, lesson, or concept can be introduced to even the youngest children. It depends on how you present it and the language you use to engage the child in conversation. Even a toddler can understand that needs come before wants, and a preschool child realises there are many ways to solve a problem.
Can you share a bit more about your respective families?
C: My husband, Miko, and I have been married for ten years. We are blessed with two beautiful children, Alessi and Basti. Miko and I have been working in Singapore for nine years; Miko’s in finance, and I’m in advertising. Alessi is the responsible big sister, very outspoken and clever. Basti is the joker in the family – always making funny faces, but also sweet and thoughtful.
Financial literacy is an advocacy we both share. Hence, we find time outside our full-time jobs to spread money consciousness. We value helping others, and spreading this advocacy is our world contribution.
M: We are a family of five based in Vancouver, BC. My husband Rus and I have been married for 13 years, and we have three children. Rus is a realtor and has been one of the key people that really opened my eyes to appreciating personal finance, investing, and business ownership. Mattina is our eldest, and she loves reading and writing stories. Renee is the middle child who loves crafting, animals, and drawing. Rafael is our youngest, and he loves the Avengers, robots, and dinosaurs.
We are a blended homeschool family by choice. The kids go to class twice a week, and I create and teach a curriculum for the remaining days. My husband and I own and operate a supplementary educational facility as well as a local doughnut shop. I also work part-time with a family resource program. Recently I signed a contract with a Canadian publisher for children’s books. Our little family is very close, and we love spending time with our two dogs, Ruby and Millie.
What do your kids think of your jobs and accomplishments?
C: Our kids are a bit young, so they may not really know the technicalities of what we do in our jobs. They are aware that I juggle between my job and our businesses. And they know that we need to work so we have money to spend for our needs and wants. We emphasise the importance of being excellent in your work, working hard and smart, and taking no shortcuts. Despite that, we remind them that accomplishments and results are secondary to doing it the right way. Our kids know that while it is important to be good at what you do, it is more important to be kind to others at all times.
M: My kids say I have too many jobs! They are very appreciative. We talk about how our work and businesses allow us to live in the home we are in and enable us to go on vacations together. They always say thank you and encourage me to sleep early! I think it gives them the drive and belief in themselves to accomplish whatever it is they set their heart on. Because we homeschool, they come with me when I need to work at our businesses or hear me making calls while they are studying.
Between you and your spouses, who is the more financially frugal?
C: I’m very fortunate that my husband and I share the same money values, habits and financial goals. We’re both frugal, and we hope our kids will pick that up too. We pay our credit cards in full every month, and we save and invest half of our combined income every month. We have a financial plan in place, and we talk about this to our children, parents, and siblings. Miko and I manage our money together.
M: I would say I am the more frugal one. My husband’s mindset has always been one of abundance, knowing he can make what he needs (and wants) to live the life he desires for himself and our family. I am more conservative by planning every meal on family trips so that I can make sandwiches for as many meals as possible!
Our thoughts on the Saffi Squirrel book series
We got our hands on the first five books – Renee’s Ginormous Bag, Rafael Stretches His Patience, Alessi’s Pot of Gold, Mattina Dreams Big, and Basti Builds a Home. Each book is brightly coloured and features adorable illustrations and easy-to-read letterings.
What we like about these books is the Big People Prompts peppered throughout the pages. The prompts encourage meaningful discussions, and you may even be surprised by some of the nuggets that your little ones share during those conversations! Though our mini reporters had more questions than responses, it still gave us room to address and elucidate the topics. Is it tricky to navigate? Sure, but it’s not something that you talk about once and close the chapter. Financial literacy should be continual discussions, and these books are helpful tools to facilitate that.
Another thing that we appreciate is the various activities appended at the end of the books. They act as an extension of the stories and allow the readers to exercise what they’ve read and learned. Final verdict? Better make space in your kid’s bookshelves (or table) for these educational books!
Use code HONEYKIDSASIA5 and enjoy a 5% discount for every purchase on the Saffi Squirrel website! Valid till 27 September 2022.
Thank you, Clarissa and Monique!
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.