Most financial gurus will tell you that it’s foolish to spend all your money instead of saving it — that’s money management 101. But Neale Godfrey says it’s equally foolish to save it all. “The real best thing to do is to be a saver and a spender,” Godfrey says. “You know extreme savers when you see them. It’s the person who, when you’re eating out with them and it comes time for the check, they don’t get out their pocketbook.”
Godfrey, who was one of the first female executives at Chase Manhattan bank in 1972, has made a career of teaching children how to be responsible with money, both in saving and in spending. She first passed on her financial smarts to her own children, then the millions who have read her 27 books on the subject published since the 1980s. Today Godfrey is a columnist for Forbes and has created an app — Greenstreet Commons — to teach kids about money.
Godfrey will speak at the Princeton Chamber of Commerce luncheonn on Thursday, January 7, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Princeton Marriott. Tickets are $70, $50 for members. For more information, visit www.princetonchamber.org or call 609-924-1776.
In a way, Godfrey’s career as a finance expert began at age 10. She grew up in Caldwell, the daughter of a ballerina and an entrepreneur. “They didn’t teach me about money, but I was always involved in money,” Godfrey says. One day the young Godfrey was walking through the woods kicking rocks. Picking one up, she had a sudden idea — she could paint initials on rocks and sell them at a local boutique. “I thought, basically, that people would be stupid enough to pay for it,” she says. She was right. She convinced the boutique owner that initialed rocks could be a hot commodity, and by the end of the summer, she had made $400, a fortune to a 10-year-old in the early 1960s.
At the time, Godfrey leaned towards the “extreme saver” end of things, and by the end of high school she had put aside enough money to pay for her entire college tuition. She studied at the School of International Service at American University, majoring in Latin American economics, and ended up in New York after graduation looking for a job. At the time, Chase was looking to train and hire women, and she reasoned that banking was close enough to economics.
She excelled at her job, and soon became one of a very small number of female banking executives as head of her own division. She says she engineered the financing for the DuPont-Conoco merger in 1981, which at the time was the largest merger in history. “I was the only woman in the room,” she says.
But being one of the few women at the top wasn’t easy. “There was no question I was treated differently,” she says. “I always needed to know the answer, and I always needed to be right. I was not the only woman, but I was one of the few, and most of my customers had never seen a woman in my position. One of my clients was WalMart, and I met Sam Walton and he said he had never seen a woman banker before.”
After 13 years at Chase, Godfrey says she came to believe her career at the company had reached its peak. “I had kind of topped out, and I knew I wasn’t going above the level of division executive,” she says. “There was no question that it was because I was a woman. But I didn’t resent it; it was just the way it was.”
In the 1980s Godfrey’s career turned towards serving two groups of people who had traditionally been ignored by the banking community: women and children. For a while she was president of the First Women’s Bank of New York. “While there, I watched women become disempowered handling their own finances,” she says. “They were uncomfortable handling money.” After doing some research Godfrey concluded it was because no one had taught them how to handle money when they were young.
Around the same time, Godfrey was raising two children of her own. She was determined that her own kids should not suffer the same disadvantage when it came to financial education, so she looked around for a children’s book on money. “We went from bookstore to bookstore and we couldn’t find any books teaching about money,” she says. So Godfrey decided to start her own.
Godfrey says she approached Simon and Schuster, then the world’s largest publisher, with the idea for a children’s book about money, and was rejected because there was apparently not a market for it, as evidenced by the fact that there were no children’s books about money management. Looking for a way to break the circular logic, Godfrey opened an institution called the Children’s Bank. At tiny kid-height teller windows at the FAO Schwarz toy store, children could deposit money and open their own checking accounts.
She also managed a leveraged buyout of a division of MacMillan under the proviso that they would publish her first book. It sold 50,000 copies. Between the book and the children’s bank, she finally convinced Simon and Schuster that there was interest in the topic. She got out of the children’s banking business as soon as the institution had served its purpose of garnering publicity for her book idea.
Godfrey’s 1994 book, “Money Doesn’t Grow on Trees: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Financially Responsible Children,” sold more than 1 million copies and was featured on the Oprah Winfrey show. It has been revised and republished as recently as 2006.
Godfrey’s talk at the Princeton Chamber will focus on how to raise financially responsible children. The most important lesson, she says, is to teach them that the only way to get money is to earn it. “There’s no entitlement program in life. It’s not that I whine for it and I get it,” she says. She advises giving kids a way to earn money by doing certain household chores, like vacuuming and laundry, so that they can learn housekeeping skills and money management at the same time.
She says parents should help the children manage the money they earn by splitting it between three purposes: giving some to charity, spending some for instant gratification, and saving the rest towards larger goals. When the kids are about 10, she recommends having them pick a stock and put their savings money into it. It doesn’t matter if the stock does well or not, just that they learn how the market works and get involved in following the news.
“I want the kids to be connected to the real world,” she says.