When Rob Phelan’s son was born, he started looking for a book he could use to teach him the basics of money – something age-appropriate that tackled personal finance in a fun and easy to understand.
He found none. So Phelan – a math and personal finance teacher at Middletown High School – decided to write one himself.
“M is for Money,” a colorful picture book that guides readers through the ABCs of dollars and cents, was released on November 13. This is Phelan’s second published book, following “The Simple StartUp,” his 2020 guide for students interested in starting their own businesses.
“I wanted to write a book that would help encourage parents, caregivers and teachers to start talking about money in a comfortable and safe way,” Phelan said.
Written for a target audience of ages 3 to 8, “M is for Money” focuses on one letter of the alphabet on each page and a money word that begins with that letter. The book explains each word in simple language and provides an illustration that shows the word being used in a positive way, Phelan said.
Along the way, the “Stash the Squirrel” character engages readers by asking them questions about each target word: “What would you use an allowance for?” “What can you buy for $1? “How do you like to help people?” “How can you make money?”
“It provides a very simple platform for the child and adult to start talking about money and allows adults to perhaps avoid [embarassment] that we might feel because we haven’t handled money very well in the past,” Phelan said.
Phelan wasn’t always the personal finance champion he is now.
When he started dating the woman who would become his wife, she was the “financial person” in their relationship. But before she got married, she told him she wanted his help with financial decisions and asked him to learn more about how to manage money.
So he started diving into personal finance, he recalls, listening to podcasts and eventually hosting a workshop at Catoctin High School — where he was teaching at the time — that allowed parents and teens to learn together. the money.
He’s also partnered with “Choose FI,” a Richmond, Va.-based podcast, to create a free financial literacy program for K-12 students.
Financial responsibility “should be seen as an essential life skill that we should learn in school,” Phelan said. He pointed to research that shows students who learn about personal finance in school make better financial decisions, including those involving credit card and student loan debt and home ownership.
It’s a trend he’s seen among his own students, he said.
“They’re just making smarter decisions,” he said, “whether to stay in state for college, or do two years of community college and then go to four years, or take a program certification instead of going to college.”
Phelan was mentoring a young group of entrepreneurs when he started writing “M is for Money” and decided to use the process as an educational opportunity.
Using online fundraising platform “Kickstarter”, Phelan raised approximately $14,000 – enough to fund the full cost of producing, illustrating and publishing “M is for Money”.
“It was a really cool experience that I think made doing a project like this so fun,” he said, “because there’s not a ton of money put on my side where I’m like, ‘Oh, I’ve got to sell 10,000 books that’s in my basement right now because otherwise I’m going to lose money.'”
In writing “M is for Money”, Phelan wanted to create a book that spoke to everyone – not just people who looked like him.
Besides Stash the Squirrel, “M is for Money” features 60 different characters, each unique in appearance, family structure and abilities, Phelan said.
“It was definitely meant to be a book that as many kids as possible could see themselves in,” he said.
Phelan donated about 750 copies of “M is for Money” to the Maryland Book Bank and to schools and libraries across the state, he said. Middletown Valley Bank, Nymeo Federal Credit Union and First United also picked up copies of the book to give to parents opening bank accounts for their children.
It has been gratifying to hear from teachers who have read “M is for Money” to their students and used it to design personal finance workshops. Parents have also contacted him to tell him how the book has made it easier to talk about money with their kids, Phelan said.
Now he finally has the book for his son he was looking for. He has read “M is for Money” several times with his 2-year-old and the child can recognize many of the terms defined in its pages.
The little boy reports the book when he sees it at friends’ homes, in libraries or at Curious Iguana in downtown Frederick, Phelan said.
“He’s like, ‘Oh, that’s daddy’s book!'”
Follow Angela Roberts on Twitter: @24_angier