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Posted May 6, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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The gift of thrift

Sara Voigt speaks
Sara Voigt, business development officer and lender for Farmers & Merchants Bank in Edinburg, speaks to a group of Ashby-Lee Elementary School third-graders on Monday about saving their money. Rich Cooley/Daily

George Breighner listens
George Breighner, 8, a third-grader at Ashby-Lee Elementary School, listens to a talk about saving money on Monday morning. Rich Cooley/Daily

Two bunnies and two bankers teach schoolchildren how to save their money

By James Heffernan -- jheffernan@nvdaily.com

MT. JACKSON -- "Money is running through our fingers, Max," Ruby informs her little brother during a day of shopping for a birthday gift for their grandmother.

After paying for the bus fare, a set of vampire teeth with oozing cherry syrup, a trip to the coin laundry and Max's lunch, the bunny siblings have only $5 left -- a far cry from the $100 needed to buy Grandma a music box with skating ballerinas at Rosalinda's Gift Shop, and barely enough for a backup present: a pair of bluebird earrings that play "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning."

When Max spends their last dollar on a pair of glow-in-the-dark vampire teeth, he and Ruby are forced to use his lucky quarter to call Grandma for a ride home.

There's a little Max and Ruby -- the cartoon creations of acclaimed children's author and illustrator Rosemary Wells -- in all of us when it comes to money. In Wells' book "Bunny Money," Ruby, the responsible older sister, has a goal, having saved a walletful of bills, but Max nearly foils their plans with his wasteful spending.

Farmers & Merchants Bank representatives used the book on Monday to help a group of third-graders at Ashby-Lee Elementary School understand how decisions they make can impact the amount of money they have. The workshop was part of the National Teach Children to Save Program, sponsored by the American Bankers Association.

"Max spent some of their money on silly things. What could they have done differently?" Sara Voigt, business development officer and lender with F&M in Edinburg, asked the group.

Hands shoot up in the air.

"Not buy the first set of teeth."

"Eat a smaller lunch."

"And how could Max and Ruby have saved some of their money?" Voigt asked.

"They could have put it in the bank."

Good advice, and exactly the response that F&M and other financial institutions around the country want to hear.

"Studies show that kids aren't learning the skills they need to make smart financial decisions as adults," said Dean Withers, president and CEO of F&M. "Communities and schools teach other life skills, such as driving a car, but we don't spend enough time teaching financial skills."

The program, which ties in with the Virginia Standards of Learning, helps fill that gap by teaching concepts such as saving, interest, budgeting and determining needs versus wants.

"It's important for them to understand the importance of saving their money," said teacher Cheryl Shifflett.

"Saving is important, and so is spending wisely," especially in tough economic times, said fellow instructor Koren Dellinger.

The message appeared to resonate on Monday.

Zakari Hottle, 9, said he recently received $215 for his birthday.

"I spent $15 of it and put the rest in the bank," he said.

Camryn Rosenberger, 8, said she wants to save her money to be able to attend Bridgewater College one day, just like her mom.

Others said they are socking away cash for a house, a car and clothes.

Voigt pointed out that banks "pay you for holding on to your money" in the form of interest earned.

Sue Olson, vice president of marketing with F&M, said this is the second year the Timberville-based bank has been offering savings lessons to area schoolchildren, and the results are encouraging.

"I think they're well on their way," she said.

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