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Business

Elisabeth Donati Teaches Kids How to Play — and Win — the Money Game

Camp Millionaire founder makes financial literacy her mission and passion

Reading, writing, arithmetic ... and financial literacy? If Elisabeth Donati has anything to do with it, financial literacy will become an integral part of a child’s education.

Elisabeth Donati, founder of Camp Millionaire, came to financial literacy as an adult — and realized she wasn't alone. 'It's an incredible life skill we all need to have, but it's not part of what the general population thinks is necessary,' she says.
Elisabeth Donati, founder of Camp Millionaire, came to financial literacy as an adult — and realized she wasn’t alone. “It’s an incredible life skill we all need to have, but it’s not part of what the general population thinks is necessary,” she says. (Donati family photo)

“Almost all of the financial literacy curriculums out there are boring,” said Donati, owner of Creative Wealth International, which licenses financial literacy programs and develops products to educate in an effective way. “They’re taught with terrible lesson plans, and they’re not interesting or relevant.”

“Financial literacy has to be mandated by the federal government and by local school districts,” she said. “With the No Child Left Behind Act, I always say it’s the act that left every child behind.”

In 2002, Donati founded Camp Millionaire, a two-day camp for children aged 10 to 14, to teach them sound financial habits, including three principles:

» Pay yourself first.

» Put your money to work for you.

» If you can’t afford it in cash, you can’t afford it at all.

The Money Game, a product designed by Donati and her staff, is the basis of the camp, and Donati said the kids learn crucial lessons while having fun playing the game.

“The programs that I developed are interactive, relevant and fun, and kids love them and learn from them,” she said. “The whole thing is interactive.”

“The kids are up and moving around the room, with music going. They pay themselves first, then invest in their assets. They learn how to become financially free because they end up financially free in the game.”

Financial literacy must be engaging to be learned well, she says.

“Our programs are incredibly effective because they’re so experiential,” Donati said. “Kids experiencing these lessons with their whole. They aren’t just listening to someone talk, which is boring.”

Activities at Camp Millionaire include games, contests, role playing and musical chairs.

“There’s a great budget activity where kids get to see what it takes to run a household, which I is a really important lesson. We build businesses and take them public,” Donati said. “The kids are busy and having fun, and it makes the whole program very playful.”

“Detractors who say financial education doesn’t work don’t take into account how pervasive financial lessons need to be in the overall curriculum to effectively teach students about money,” said Donati.

“There are many studies that say financial education doesn’t work,” she said. “Most financial education doesn’t. If you went to school between the ages of 0 and 18 and had one semester of math, I’d venture to say that teaching math didn’t work either!”

“The subject of learning to manage and invest your money is complicated, and there’s more to it than algebra or geometry,” she continued. “Imagine if you had one swimming lesson, would you learn how to swim? No. Financial literacy needs to be taught several years in a row.”

Prior to teaching finance, Donati was a personal fitness trainer.

“I needed to teach my clients how they could take care of themselves better,” she said. “Even though the subject has changed, my passion for helping people better themselves has remained intact.”

Donati became interested in finance when she realized she didn’t know anything about money.

“I was in my late 30s ...,” she recalled. “I grew up on a farm and could take care of myself in most ways, but I was upset that nobody taught me about finances. (Financial literacy) is an incredible life skill we all need to have, but it’s not part of what the general education system thinks is necessary.”

Financial literacy has made some headway into incorporation in Santa Barbara schools.

Donati said Lola Paredes, an instructor at Dos Pueblos High School, has been using Camp Millionaire and the Money Game to teach financial education every Friday for the past two years.

“The students never miss Friday,” Donati said. “They love playing the Money Game.”

If more than two students from one school sign up for Camp Millionaire, Donati donates $25 to the school’s parent-teacher-student (PTSA) organization.

“Business, the stock market and real estate are the primary ways people become financially free,” said Donati, who offers simple advice for people looking to do well financially.

“Stop spending money on stuff that isn’t making you money,” she advised. “Read every book you can about investing and managing your money. Go to seminars. You can teach yourself; that’s what I did.”

“If you’re already making money, save it to invest it.”

Starting a business online is a lucrative venture.

“Know that it doesn’t take a lot of money to start a business,” Donati said. “Starting a business, especially an online business, is one of the easiest things to go. Lots of kids aged 15 to 25 have found out how to make tens of thousands of dollars a month with internet businesses.”

Speaking by telephone from the British Virgin Islands, Donati has been doing internet marketing for an organic farm in the Caribbean.

“I was here two years ago for a couple of hours during a cruise, and I thought how nice it would be to live there for a little while,” she said. “I decided to stop talking about it and just do it. The best way to teach is to lead by example.”

The next Camp Millionaire will be held March 26-27. Additional Camp Millionaire events will be available July 30-31 and Oct. 22-23. Click here for more information about Camp Millionaire. Click here for more information about Creative Wealth International.

Noozhawk business writer Taylor Orr can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @NoozhawkBiz, @Noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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