Why I Am Excited About This Book…
Raising children is a big responsibility. We as parents try to teach our young kids to be kind to one another, be polite, eat healthy, do homework… we provide music education, sports lessons and academic tutors. When they get a bit older we remind them to make smart decisions, drive safely, let me know when you get home. We talk about manners, good habits, values, responsibilities and goals. We teach family traditions and pass on recipes. The list of suggestions, lessons and discussions about so many topics are all part of child rearing, yet often there is something that is not explored enough, and that is MONEY and FINANCES.
Author and finance guru, Tom Henske has written a much needed book, It Makes Total Cents, to guide parents on how to discuss money with their children. Easy to read with conversation starters and a simple to follow plan, It Makes Total Cents reminds parents that the topic of money is not taboo, and a basic understanding of personal finance, not usually taught in school, is extremely important for financial autonomy and success in the adult world. Henske provides twelve valuable lessons for the parent to read, one a month…about budgeting, saving, charity, insurance, etc. He then has a 10 minute corresponding podcast to prepare you for the monthly conversation with your child. He sends you a Tik Tok for you to forward to your child…YES! A Tik Tok! What better way to engage your already savvy social media offspring? And then, at dinner you casually bring up the monthly topic for discussion.
It Makes Total Cents indeed makes total sense. This is comprehensive, valuable advice and information from Tom Henske to you and your family – we needed this push to ensure we as parents are not making monthly rent payments to apartments in different cities all over the country in addition to covering the usual insurance, cell phone and Netflix family plans while we dream of retirement.
Q & A with Tom Henske
This book is an incredible tool for parents with young children at home allowing them to start educating about money from the beginning. With that said, I found it just as important, enlightening and a great reminder for me even though my kids are in their 20s, because money and finances are topics we will discuss and have to know about for our entire lives.
Q: How did you come up with the idea to write this book?
A: The Total Cents Project has been in the works for 17 years. My son was two years old and we moved to an affluent town. I thought to myself, “How am I going to make sure he doesn’t become entitled and learns the value of a dollar?” It was at that time when I was introduced to our country’s guru on financial literacy, Joline Godfrey. She gave me two of the most important hours of my professional life and shared all the work she’d done and her outlook on where our country needed to go to provide a better path for teaching kids about money.
Q: Is the book for parents or the kids?
A: It’s funny that you ask this as the book was 100% intended to be for parents. But I’ve gotten hundreds of pictures with the parent’s child holding the book which means the kids are excited to learn. I guess that is the world’s way of saying, “For your next book, it should be one for kids.” But I feel like there are already a few of those out there but none that speak to parenting on the subject. I wanted to be unique in what we were offering and clearly it’s hit a nerve with parents who are buying the book.
Q: Do parents have to follow your plan exactly as it is laid out or is there flexibility?
A: I’m a former collegiate soccer player. In soccer there are no real plays. Basically the whistle starts the game and you’ve got to be flexible because while you might have a game plan, you can never predict where the ball is going to bounce, how the wind is going to blow, calls the referee will make, etc. And just like when I create a financial plan for a family, it has flexibility, because an inflexible plan only takes one curve ball to ruin. I think we also need to have some flexibility in how we teach kids about money- not only in the classroom but at home too.
For example, I have written about the 12 lessons that I deem to be the most important money lessons in order to give your kids the basic foundation. I put them in an order that I think makes sense, but there is no reason to be bound by that order. If your child has a problem with money safety at school (which is Lesson 12), there is no reason you can’t put off Lesson 2 (budgeting) until next month and strike while the money safety subject is fresh and relevant. In my opinion, that also helps solve the question that kids often complain about in school, “When am I ever going to use this in real life?” A helpful guide like It Makes Total Cents (and I consider it more of a guide than a book the way people traditionally think about it), has to be interesting, not overly complex, actionable and flexible. That was the goal and I hope I’ve accomplished those qualities.
Q: What gave you the idea to include technology to go along with the book? (podcast and TikTok)
A: You have to reach both parents and kids in the language that they speak….in the way THEY like to learn. I had to put my ego aside like any expert, as we want to show the readers how smart we are…in 600 pages. But the best place to get parents’ attention is while they are in a car, on a walk, on the cardio equipment at the gym, or while they are waiting for their child’s sports practice to end. The solution to that style of learning for parents- podcasts. The Westport Library stepped right up to help. In 2019 they had done a transformation from a library of just books to one of amazing audio and video equipment, sound rooms, and the experts who can help the everyday person (me!) to use it for the greater good. They didn’t hesitate to suggest that I should use their resources. They were patient in teaching me how everything works, and collaborating with them has been one of the most enjoyable experiences of this entire project. Wow, are we lucky to have a library like we do in Westport.
Ok the TikToks. That’s everyone’s favorite question about this endeavor. When parents first hear that I’m using TikTok as part of the Total Cents platform they feel like I’ve gone to the dark side. But they quickly learn that all we’ve done is turn what parents often refer to in vain when they say the words “Social Media” and I’ve said, “If you can’t beat them…join them.” Wouldn’t it be great if kids start opening up our Total Cents education TikToks, which now prompts the algorithms to put more personal finance TikToks in their feed? And if parents have piqued their child’s interest on the subject, those kids might actually stop for 20 seconds to watch personal finance TikToks that come into their feed. How cool is that? Maybe parents will start encouraging their child to look at social media. Maybe not? The future will tell.
Q: How do we access the podcast and the TikTok?
A: Personally, I find it annoying when I want to learn about a topic and I blow an hour going down the Google Black Hole to finally get to what I want. I wanted to make it easy for the reader, so I put everything on www.totalcents.com and categorized it under each of the 12 lessons. Let’s say a parent wants more information on how to teach budgeting to their child. After they finish a chapter, they’ll find a QR code which brings them directly to that lesson’s designated page on our website. They will clearly see the 6-10 minute podcast episode that goes with that chapter which is me coaching the parents on how to have the financial conversation, the TikTok that goes with that chapter which they can copy the link and text to their child (don’t email…kids don’t love email), and then I put almost 20 years of my accumulated knowledge of third party resources whether they be school lesson plans, youtube videos, articles, you name it. And I keep getting more from parents who email me saying, “I found this video on ______. It would go great on your resources page.” Meaning, this isn’t a ME…it’s a WE. And when parents can collect all these best practices I have a spot to store them which helps us all win. Our country wins. And eventually the world will win.
Q: Do the parents or the kids need to have TikTok loaded on the phone in order to send it to the child?
A: No. They can view the TikTok without having an account. It’s just like viewing a YouTube video.
Q: Some universities give their finance students the opportunity to invest with a designated amount of the schools’ money on behalf of the school. This is great learning exercise for those kids who are studying finance, but what about all the other students who need to support themselves after college and are not learning about money in school? Is it ever too late to teach our older children?
A: My personal opinion is that if the Total Cents mission catches on, the next step will be that colleges can be the next best place to start to make strides in making teaching kids about money the norm. Unfortunately, high schools are strapped with limited resources and a mountain of items that the states mandate they HAVE TO teach. It is only mandatory in 9 states for kids to take a standalone class on personal finance to graduate. To me, that is mind boggling.
I don’t know if any colleges currently make it mandatory for students to take a personal finance class in order to graduate which really surprises me. If the goal is to get a college student ready for the real world, what is more “real world” than having to deal with money. Aren’t we supposed to set them up for success? Then I don’t see why giving them a foundation on money doesn’t fit that mission.
Q: What would you want the parents who read your book to take away from it?
A: As parents, we will do anything to get our kids on a better path. I’ve watched parents spend lots of time and money on: tutors, music lessons, private coaches for sports, you name it. My goal is to put teaching kids about money on that list. I think I’ve taken the financial commitment off the list of worries as Total Cents’ only price is for the 126 page book. I’ve minimized the time commitment out of it as it’s just reading 5-8 pages and listening to a 6-10 minute podcast episode. You were going to have conversations with your kids at dinner or on long car rides anyway, so that’s not a new time commitment that you have to put into this endeavor.
What I desire parents to think is, “I’ve got to take ownership of this topic because if I don’t, my kids might not get off on the right foot, it could snowball, there would be lots of unnecessary stress in their lives, and we all know that stress leads to bad health. I won’t do that to my kid. I’ve got this.”
Q: How can we purchase It Makes Total Cents?
A: Funny that you ask this. The easy answer is Amazon. But my vision is that financial advisors around the country will gift this book to their clients and take the lead on solving this problem our country has. With 250,000 financial advisors nationwide, 83,000 accountants that prepare individual tax returns, and 70,000 estate planning attorneys, that is a pretty good starting point. Hopefully that will inspire others to get to a demographic of people who don’t have any of those advisors and when that happens, look out, we are really going to be effectuating change.
Q: Who came up with the title? I love it!
A: Another funny story. I was sitting with the Director of a library when we were having a conversation about what a cool title would be. Together, we came up with Total $ENSE….We were almost to the finish-line when a person knowledgeable in online search said, “You have a problem. Using the dollar sign ($) for the S while cute and witty, presents all sorts of problems for search and domain names.” We had to pivot to use CENTS which now I actually like better.
About the Author
Tom Henske has been a leader in the financial industry for nearly three decades. Tom started his career in financial planning in 1994, with Cowan Financial Group. Shortly thereafter, he started his own company, Henske Advisors. In 2003, they were acquired by National Financial Partners (merging them into Lenox Advisors) which went public shortly thereafter. Tom remained an equity partner until 2020 when he retired to focus solely on matters of life insurance and building Total Cents.
While the seven financial professional designations after his name demonstrate his qualifications, it is his 11 years of coaching high school varsity soccer and the parenting of his two teenage children that have made him a real expert. A 2x All-American and 3x NCAA Division I Soccer Champion at the University of Virginia, Tom has again found victory in his mission to provide a better way for parents to develop a generation of money-smart kids. He invites you to join him on the journey.
Tom Henske CFP®, ChFC, CLU, CTS, CFS, CLTC, CES.