Episode 28: Financial Literacy with Temple Grandin, PhD

On top of completely changing the trajectory of an entire industry by bettering animal welfare in corporately-owned settings, Temple Grandin is also a huge financial literacy advocate. And today, she’s joining us to talk about the best way to teach financial literacy skills to your Autistic child.

Light grey background with dark brown text reading ‘Financial Literacy for Autistic Kids with Temple Grandin, Season 3, Episode 5, MomAutismMoney.com' Image showing Mom Autism Money logo next to a woman looking up at a grey-white sky, dressed in a black cowboy shirt embellished with floral embroidery and rhinestones.

We’ll talk about an array of different topics including:

  • Managing an allowance.
  • Transforming money from an abstract concept into something more concrete and real.
  • Teaching kids how to save.
  • Teaching kids (and ourselves) about investing.
  • Teaching kids about debt.
  • Digital banking and debit cards for kids.

Press play to start educating yourself – money skills are important for our children!


Show Notes

Read Temple’s Books.

Learn more about Temple’s work at Colorado State University.

Go back and listen to the interview with ASAN’s Legal Director on Supported Decision Making vs Guardianship, and why establishing as much independence for your Autistic child as possible is imperative.

Roundup of best kids’ checking accounts from The College Investor.

Read The Simple Path to Wealth.

Full transcript

Brynne: Hi, everyone! Welcome to another week of Mom Autism Money. This week we’re very excited to be bringing you a conversation with Temple Grandin about financial literacy, and how we can teach it to our Autistic kids.

For the few people out there who aren’t familiar with Temple and her work, Temple Grandin is a professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University. Facilities she has designed for handling livestock are used by many companies around the world. She has also been instrumental in implementing animal welfare auditing programs that are used by McDonalds, Wendy’s, Whole Foods, and other corporations.

Temple has appeared on numerous TV shows such as 20/20 and Prime Time. Her books include: Thinking in Pictures, Livestock Handling and Transport and The Autistic Brain. Her books Animals in Translation and Visual Thinking have been on the New York Times Bestseller List. Temple was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in September 2017 and in 2022 was named a Colorado State University Distinguished Professor.

Now, today’s format is a little bit different from what you’re used to. It’s not a bad thing, but I do want to take a minute to address it so you know what’s going on. Usually, we record these episodes via an online platform where I have a little more control over the audio.

For this one, though, we recorded over the phone. The app I was using oddly but thankfully gave me better audio on Temple’s end than on my own, so I’ve edited out a lot of my own choppy questions.

Temple was also in transit when we recorded, so there are some spots where the audio drops out. I’ve done my best to edit those parts out, too.

So usually, you’d hear me asking questions and then the guest responding. But today, to spare you the pain of listening to the awful parts of my audio setup, I’m going to set up the question, giving you context for what Temple and I were talking about, and then you’ll hear her thoughts on the subject.

One more head’s up before we get into the meat of this episode: There is some light swearing in this one. We don’t think it’s anything you can’t handle, but if you are listening with littles in the background, it’s something we want to make you aware of so you can clear the room if you feel so compelled.

The first thing we’re going to talk about with Temple is teaching money basics to young children. Temple addresses it from the perspective of kids who are on the same place in the spectrum as she is, but I do want to stress that no matter what your child’s Autism presents like, teaching financial literacy is important.

If you go back to Season 1 Episode 7, we talked to the legal director of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network about supported decision making vs guardianship, and how each modicum of independence we give our children insulates them from abuse and other adverse scenarios that may pop up in their lives.

This is extremely important in the context of financial literacy, because we know that economic abuse accompanies 99% of all other cases of abuse. Whether it be physical, sexual or psychological, money is almost always involved. As parents of autistic kids, we know we’ve got to work a little harder on that front. The odds that our children will encounter these scenarios is enhanced compared to the general population, so every bit of defense we can give them for after they’re out of our own care is substantially more important.

Aside from dodging abusive situations, empowering our kids with financial literacy skills gives them the dignity of being able to make their own decisions – whether we agree with those decisions or not. Preparing them for as much independence as possible is important – regardless of where they are on the spectrum.

In America, we don’t teach our neurotypical kids enough about financial literacy. And when you pile on top of that speech goals and OT goals and behavioral goals, it might be tempting to push money lessons down the list. But financial literacy is just as important of a life skill to learn as any of those other things so we need to prioritize it.

Even if you hear Temple’s tips and think “My kids not anywhere near ready for that. Their autism presents differently than hers.” That’s okay. While I do think the strategies she talks about can be quite effective, the important thing is that you find a methodology that works for you and your family. Hopefully this conversation will inspire that forward action.

And if you’re kid’s autism does present the same way as Temple’s, you’re going to want to get ready to start taking notes.

We start off by talking about how we need to give our kids the opportunity to actually interact with money. With spending and saving. And not giving ourselves excuses as parents for why we ‘can’t’.

Temple: This is how you do it.

And it needs to start at seven or eight. And I go in the store and where we went in the summer, there was a little post office store where you could buy candy and stuff there and popsicles. I’d go in there and I’d buy popsicles in there myself. The were $0.05 back then. And I’m realizing how important it’s to learn this, and I learned it at a very young age.

And I’m appalled that you’ve got teenagers that have never gone in a store and bought something by themselves. It is ridiculous. I was buying things in a store by myself at seven and eight years old. Well, in my summer place, I could walk to the or bike to the little store at seven and eight, eight years old. At home we’d have to go downtown and then I’d go in the shop and buy the airplane.

These kids need to be going in the store. Let’s say you stopped to buy gas. All right, let’s do it really easy. The kid can go in and use some of their money to buy something in the shop there, or you take them to the Dollar Store once a week and they can buy little things there or they can decide to save. Give them $5, and start teaching that very young.

They have to take the child to that dollar store, but I think that’s really important. The people that work at the Dollar store. Okay, what do they get paid? How long does that person have to work in that store to buy something in that store? We need to teach that very, very young. It’ll be the best thing you ever did.

And the gas station store is a good place to go. You have to buy gas, so don’t gimme an excuse that you can’t take the kid to the store because there’s a store at every single gas station. So don’t give me an excuse. I just take a no nonsense really common sense approach to this. See, I also see it, I’m actually seeing gas station that I go to that I would do it at if I was teaching a kid.

So when you go to buy gas, that’s when you start teaching little kids about money and buying things. There’s a shop right there. Use it. There’s a lot of garbage that’s in that shop, but it’s there, and there’s no excuse that you can’t take ’em there because you gotta buy gas. So don’t give me an excuse.

Brynne: It’s so important to give our kids opportunities to save, spend, make financial decisions and even make financial mistakes while they’re still in our care so they can learn in the relative safety of their youth.

But what’s the best way to teach these skills to autistic kids? Well, Temple stresses the need to take money from an abstract concept and turn it into something concrete and real.

Temple: What you have to do with the little, with kids that are autistic, you’ve gotta make money real. Where money relates back to real things.

So I’m gonna give an example from my childhood. When I was seven and eight I got 50 cents a week for allowance. That’s equal to about $5 today. And I could buy five comics with it, 10 candy bars. But if I wanted a 69 cent toy airplane, I had to save up to it. And then one of my favorite toys was a hockey game, a table hockey set.

Like you play with another person?

Brynne: Yeah.

Temple: And I, I saw it in the toy store window and it was $21, and I calculated that that would be almost a year’s worth of allowance for the hockey table, which was a Christmas present, a $20 bill in my mind today is still a hockey table. Now it’s probably a $200 hockey table today, but I’ve gotta convert that money to real things.

I can think about plane tickets in amounts of money. That $230 if I shop right, could buy me a plane ticket halfway across the U.S. See, that’s converting money to real things, and I think we need to start with these kids early. Like this much money’s a McDonald’s meal, this much money like a trip to Disneyland.

When I’m pumping gas, I think if I work at the meat packing plant, I’d have to work half a shift to fill my car. See how that makes money real. Different amounts of money buy different things, and you teach it with specific examples. And I’d start these kids when they’re seven or eight, maybe on $5 a week for allowance. And the things that are allowance items you never buy, like candy bars for example, ice cream novelties at the gas station store.

You never buy those things. Those are allowance items. I know that now you can’t get a car now for $2,000. But you could in the early sixties. I still see the ads: Volkswagen Beetle, $2,000. You see, you have to make the money not abstract with specific examples. That’s the way you have to teach it. Money cannot be abstract. So let’s say, uh, you know, an older kid, I, you know, let’s say if you work at McDonald’s.

Let’s say you had a job at McDonald’s. How long would I have to work there to buy different things? That makes money real. If you have a job, maybe take one of the parents salary when when the kids may be 12 or so, show ’em how daddy or mommy works at work at some job. And this is how much I have to work at work to buy groceries. Just make it real.

And then you teach them to save. I had to save the two weeks to get that toy air plane. That’s really important. And I wanna start at seven or eight and I’d probably be with a $5 allowance at the dollar store and do exactly the same thing. And mom doesn’t buy stuff for the kid at the dollar store. Unless it’s groceries. But little fun discretionary items that kids like buy? For me it was kites, and little airplanes.

And, and, and candy and popsicles. Mother never bought that stuff. That came out of allowance. They were my, she considered those allowance items. She didn’t buy little, little balsa wood airplanes. I had to save up for those and I’m, and I’m realizing now just how important that was.

Brynne: Definitely, definitely.

Did you have to do chores to earn your allowance?

Temple: Yes. No, there was a certain amount of allowance that we were given and we did things like washing the car, we’d get more money. There was a base allowance. Now, regular chores, we were not paid for. Regular chores you didn’t, you didn’t get, um, like extra chores like washing the car you could get more money.

But things like making a bed, that was expected. We were not paid for things like making our bed.

Brynne: Okay this was really cool to me because I’m a really big money nerd. I know allowance is one of those things people tend to have really strong opinions on. Should I pay my kids for chores? Shouldn’t they be doing those things anyways – they’re not going to get rewards for it when they’re grown so why reward them now? Or should I give my kid an allowance at all?

What we end up seeing time and time again is that an allowance is good idea. Your kids aren’t going to get practice using their money unless they actually have money.

BUT, tying an allowance to basic chores is generally a bad idea. Because what that does is it gives the kid an opportunity to decide that the money isn’t worth it to them. Do the dishes for $5? They might decide, nah, it’s not worth it to me.

And now you’re involved in a power struggle where they’re not getting practice with the basic life skill of doing dishes, and they’re also not getting practice with money because they haven’t quote unquote earned it.

So generally speaking, we know that having an allowance tied to nothing but the date on the calendar is an effective strategy for teaching financial literacy.

And I absolutely love how Temple’s parents gave her opportunities to earn extra money with those extra, above-and-beyond chores. Maybe you offer your kid $10 to weed the garden so you don’t have to. Or $5 for washing the car.

This extra money is in addition to the base allowance that they get. So for ambitious kids who want to earn more or reach their savings goals more quickly, they have the opportunity to hustle and put in extra hours, teaching them valuable lessons for adulthood. And none of that interferes with their ability to manage their base allowance, even if they don’t do the extra chores.

You are completely allowed to disagree with this strategy. Like I said, this is a topic people have strong feelings on and we’re not here to interfere with your parenting philosophies.

But if you want to know best practices when we look at the data, the way Temple’s mother did it was spot on.

A lot has changed since the 1950s when Temple was learning these lessons. I often wonder how important it is to teach my kids about cash money, because by the time they’re grown, we might be living in a cashless economy. So I asked Temple about her views on teaching digital money management skills to 21st century kids.

Temple: I think they need to get the digital debit card. There’s a children’s banking card they offer. Maybe not seven and eight year olds. But maybe a little older. You get the the digital banking card and they start learning how to use that. That’s fine and they need to talk to look at the account. So they go to the dollar store, they buy some thing in the dollar store for $3 and then, and then they need to be talking, looking up on the phone and see how much money’s left in the account.

The card just doesn’t, just magically swipe. I would say maybe, uh, real little kids, I think I might do cash going in the gas station. But you get a little older. you want these children’s banking accounts. A lot of those have to have quite a bit of money in them. I don’t know if I want to put a $200 in something and give it to to a seven year old.

Brynne: Right, right.

Temple: But so I think I might use $5 bills for the seven year old and then a little bit older. They get the debit card account. And if there is a child’s debit card account, the parent can monitor, too. Yes, that’s available. I’ve looked into some of this stuff. That’s available and the child, I think, it has to have, you may have to have more money than what the parent maybe afford to put in it in some cases.

But there is a children’s debit card thing that you can get, but I wouldn’t do that for the real, I wanna start this at seven and eight, and I don’t think I’m gonna do debit cards. I think I’m gonna do cash starting off with the real young kids and I can do the gas station.

I want to give the parents no excuse for not doing this. Everybody, if they have a car, they’re gonna have to buy gas. That’s when the kids can go in and buy things. And they need to learn how to go in shop and buy stuff. And that’s something they’re not learning. I’m appalled. Fully verbal, autistic teenagers doing well that’ve never gone in a store, any kind of a store, and bought anything and talk to the staff in the store.

You have to make the money real. Debit, you know a debit card doesn’t magically swipe. The you gotta show them how the cash relates to the account balance and then I would gradually switch ’em over to that. That’s what I would do.

Brynne: I love this idea of using a kids’ debit card to start teaching digital financial literacy. Temple brings up a really great point about minimum account balances and fees, though. You want to make sure your kids’ account isn’t costing you money.

A great place to check for kids’ checking and savings accounts is the bank you already do business with. That way making deposits, withdrawals, and everything else is super convenient because it’s at the bank you’re already visiting to manage your own finances.

But, and this is a big but, you want to make sure you’re not incurring those fees before you open your account. Things you should look out for include minimum balance requirements. Sometimes if you don’t meet minimum balance requirements, you’ll only get a reduced interest rate, which might not be the biggest deal if you’re using it for children’s checking.

But sometimes, if you don’t meet that minimum balance requirement, you’ll actually incur a monthly maintenance fee. That’s something you want to avoid.

If you don’t need a physical branch location, Capital One has fee-free youth and teen checking accounts that can help you get the job done, but there are plenty of other options out there, too. I’m going to post a link in the show notes to a good roundup article done by our colleague Robert Farrington over at The College Investor so you can check out multiple options before opening an account to distribute that regular allowance.

Now, financial literacy is more than just income and spending. Like Temple talked about, it’s also saving, and in particular, saving so that you don’t go into debt over those things you ‘want’ but don’t necessarily need.

Let’s get into how the skills and habits you need to avoid predatory financing situations as an adult are actually built on those important lessons we learn as a kid.

Temple: I pay my credit cards off every month, always have. Well, I can’t believe the shit that people buy on credit and they end up in debt. Cause they buy a stupid couch, which they didn’t even need. Where they said, ‘no payments for two years.’ And they bought a stupid couch. Now they’ve gone into debt over that. Every time I go buy that store it makes me furious. I’ll never buy anything in there.

That’s the way they people into it and they’re going the debt and it’s disgusting. Every time I see their signs driving to the airport, I want to throw up. I wanna flip the bird at that store as I go by it. Getting people into debt is absolutely terrible. Well, I think it’s, it’s, I think it’s really, really bad, but I think we have to start teaching kids young about saving.

And that was done with me. I’ll, I’ll go over it again. Having saved, I had to save my allowance for two weeks to buy the 69 cent airplane.

Because it was more than my allowance and I’m realizing how important that was being taught that at seven and years old.

Now they don’t have airplanes at the gas station store, but they have plenty of crap in there that a kid’s gonna want. And, and for a lot of parents that are busy doing it at the gas station makes it easy. Now, if I was, you know, really busy and a parent, that’s why I would do it at the gas station. You’re right there. You can see in the store. I wouldn’t go to some creepy gas station at night. I mean, use a little sense.

But you see, as I talk about this, I see it. I see it. None of this stuff is abstract for me. We’ve got to make the money real. Okay. Now, okay, we got $5 at the dollar store that doesn’t buy a car. So when I saw the hockey table in the window, that was really important cause that was almost a year’s worth of allowance to buy a hockey table.

I’ll never forget it. A $20 bill equals a hockey table, and this toy store window. That’s a bigger amount of money. And I was still very young at that time. I go, wow. Almost a year’s worth of allowance to buy that hockey table. That’s not candy bars and comics. Or little toy airplanes. That’s part of a whole other class of more expensive things.

I never forgot that. And what I learned from that, wow, that hockey table is worth almost a whole year’s worth of allowance. And it was just something, all the kids in our neighborhood, all the kids in our neighborhood this was how they were taught about money. You know, my mother was really good about doing things. But basically this was pretty standard 50s upbringing to teach children about money.

Brynne: Another important aspect of financial literacy as our kids get older is investing. In America, it’s really hard to build up enough money for retirement or any long-term future goals without being at least nominally versed in this subject. I asked Temple when she received these financial lessons.

Temple: Well, not as a child.

Brynne: Right, right.

Temple: Yeah, that was later on. That was a, I was a older teenager. And I think these things where they’re doing this investing on a phone is like gambling. I can tell you I wouldn’t be caught dead doing that. I wouldn’t have that crap on my phone.

Brynne: Okay! Rant! I am so glad Temple brought this up, because let’s be real: Most people our age also got no education on investing or the stock market. We need to learn before we can teach it to our kids.

The first thing you need to know is that there are different classes of investors. There are people who’ve got fun money to play around with – think Venture Capitalists like Kevin O’Leary. These people can afford to make big moves and take big risks, because if their investment fails, they’ve got forty others that can pick up the slack. They’re also not going to lose everything if they make a bad call on an individual stock or business investment. Because they’re sitting on piles of money like Scrouge McDuck.

Then, there are everyday people saving for retirement. We’re called retail investors. Retail investors generally don’t have the same luxuries as your Kevin O’Learys. If our investments fail, that’s actually going to hurt us. This isn’t fun money we’re investing. This is the money that’s going to feed us and shelter us when we’re no longer able to work and bring in an income.

Now, up until the past decade or so, it was a little tricky to enter the stock market as a retail investor. There were minimum investment requirements that you usually had to save up for, so you couldn’t get started with five or even 100 bucks.

But with the emergence of FinTech over the past 15 years or so, that’s all changed very quickly. There are some apps that are robo advisors, like Betterment. These apps allow you to invest with very small amounts of money in tax-advantaged retirement accounts. That’s generally a good thing.

While you will pay more in fees to use these services than if you made the investments directly yourself, the fact that there is such a low barrier to entry is a good thing for working class people just getting started on their investing journey. Robo advisors like Betterment generally have you invest in a well-diversified mutual or index fund, often with some bonds mixed in depending on the portfolio profile you select. Diversification is important because again, if one of those investments fails, you want to have other investments to fall back on.

Then, there are other investing apps. They’re not so much robo advisors as a way to give retail investors the opportunity to engage in speculative investing. This is what Temple is talking about. Think apps like Robinhood – which does have some tax-advantaged account options available now, but that wasn’t always the case.

Speculative investing trends more towards picking individual stocks and timing the market – which is way more akin to gambling and has a very low to nonexistent track record of success for almost anybody. Doesn’t matter how well you educate yourself.

 Apps like Robinhood essentially gamified speculative investing for retail investors. This is not a set up you want. It’s dangerous for a lot of reasons, including the ones Temple mentioned, but many people who don’t have an education in investing and retirement strategies don’t know any better, so they engage. It’s really easy to lose your life savings this way, and if you’re not 100% sure that you’re maxing out your investments in a tax-advantaged retirement account like an IRA or 401k, you’re also going to lose out on tax advantages either now or when you start making withdrawals in retirement.

If you’re interested in learning more about investing, I want to hard agree with Hasan Minhaj in his Kevin O’Leary interview he did for the Daily Show. Read The Simple Path to Wealth by JL Collins. It is hands down my favorite book for retail investors. And you can’t teach your child something you don’t know, so take the time now to read the short book and educate yourself. That way you’ll be able to tell which fintech apps are actually democratizing the stock market for you, and which apps just want to prey on you for their own personal profit.

Temple: Okay. Well, great to talk to you.

Brynne: You too. Thank you, Temple!

Temple: Okay. Well, alright. Bye.

Brynne: Bye!

Brynne: That was it! That was Temple Grandin on teaching financial literacy to autistic kids. We just wanna take a second here and thank her from the bottom of our hearts for the time she took to talk with us on this important topic, and thank you for listening and leaving a five star review.

Be sure to join us next week as we sit down with a financial advisor from Planning Across the Spectrum – a financial planning firm that’s Autistic-owned and centers Autistic clientele.

We’ll see you then!

Joyce: Bye!

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