Promoting Financial Literacy for the Next Generation with Mac Gardner

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We talked with Mac about:

  • The journey behind his mission for improving financial literacy for kids 
  • How he utilized his network to help develop new tools to support his mission 
  • What he hopes a financial literacy app can bring to underserved communities

About Mac Gardner:

As a CFP®  professional and founder and CEO (Chief Education Officer) at FinLit Tech, with over 20 years in the industry, Mac Gardner has presented over 4,000 financial plans. It was during this time that he saw the need for more user-friendly financial literacy education. He started by looking for ways to educate adults, but has since pivoted to focusing on promoting financial literacy in children through books and technology.

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Full Audio Transcript

Lauren:
Well, thank you for joining us. I'm really excited to hear from you. I know we were just chatting before, but you've been in the industry for 20 plus years or something you had said. 

Mac:
Yeah, I say 20 plus because you start putting the other one on get so 

Lauren:
Well, what sparked this conversation is this Kickstarter campaign that you've been working on around, you know, financial literacy and this game for kids. I’m excited to get into that. But before we do, which I know is kind of the prerequisite to this Kickstarter campaign is you've been writing books for some time. And I’d love to hear a little bit about that kind of journey and how that got started, and then how that brought you to the campaign that's recently been running. So maybe we start there. 

Mac:
Sounds like a play. Well, first and foremost, thanks for having me. This is a great opportunity to share our story with your viewers. The first book Motivate Your Money, this book I wrote years ago, that's an old picture. I was younger and had more here. I wrote that book when I had my practice in Houston, and I wrote it to really help my clients. I just found it was pretty eye opening. I was working with folks who were multimillionaires, very wealthy, but they really didn't have any financial planning, guidance, you know, foundation. And so, one of the best compliments I've ever received as an advisor is, “Mac, you make this financial planning stuff easy to understand.” I like to share these Mac nuggets, little ways to break down a story or break down the complex things that are going on the financial service industry and make it easy for folks to digest.

Mac:
So that was my first book. And then one of my clients said, “Hey, Mac, love the Mac nuggets, love the first book. Would you be open to creating something for kids?” And so that is how the Full Money Bears book came to be. And so that book, the essence behind it is there's only four things you can do with money, right? Spend it, save it, invest it, and give it away. Kids like bears. So we created these full bear characters: spend a bear, saver bear, vested bear, and give a bear. And they show throughout the book, their pros and cons, each function of money and that when they work together, great things can happen when you form a budget. 

Lauren:
So what kind of, you're able to explain that. So simply, I mean, what was it just through your conversations or for your training or what, what kind of, how were you able to make the complex simple? 

Mac:
So in my first book, I talk about the five steps to financial success and that these are steps of things that people were doing that I had been engaging with. I've been very fortunate. I've provided and presented over 4,000 financial plans in my career. And so I've done a lot of financial plans in financial planning. And with folks that ended up having money to retire or to pass on, they were following these five steps. Step one, plan accordingly. Step two, spend cautiously. Step three, save diligently. step four, invest wisely. And step five, give generously. And so what that really ties into is that, you know, always have a plan. And then those four functions of money. Remember there's only four things you could do with money: spend it, save it,  invest it, give it away. And so the bigger picture behind this four money beers book is the sad fact that financial literacy is not taught in schools. 

Mac:
And so you have parents with young kids that unless they're a CFP or a CPA, or in finance or an advisor, they really don't have that guidance. And so if you never got it, how can you teach your kids about it? Right. And so that's really what we were looking to do with the full money bears is to create a story, which is actually a story of me and my wife, teaching our kids about money that a parent can sit down with their 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 year old kid and say, “Hey, wanna learn about money? They're these four bears.” Yeah, and so that's how it came to be. 

Lauren:
So how was it received? You got the book, put it together, shared it with the world. Sorry, you tested on your kids first. Like, you know what? 

Mac:
Here's the funny part, uh, I wrote the book as a request of a client. Yeah. And took the book. We were living in Houston at the time. Two of my kids' school said, “Hey, you know what, I'd love to be able to read this. The principal's looking at this book.” And she says, “Do you know what you have here? Like a book that helps some kids and parents talk about money.” This is five, six years ago. The state of Texas had released these peaks, these sort of cool curriculums for financial literacy starting in elementary school. And she was like, “Mac, no one has anything like this. This is awesome.” And I was like, “Oh, okay, thanks.” And so that was how the journey started. I sent the book off to 30, 35 state school boards. Wow. The process to get a book into a public school, Lauren, is mind numbingly difficult. 

Lauren:
Oh, I can only imagine. 

Mac:
Yeah. So we tried a lot of different things to get into schools to get different ways. But what we did see was that teachers were using digital solutions, apps, games and so forth to teach their kids. And so that's one of the drivers towards how Finlay Tech started digitizing the book and creating a gamified solution to allow parents, teachers, enterprises to promote financial literacy. 

Lauren:
So was that kind of the turning point where you said, “okay, we've got the printed version. We need to now take this to the next digital level of where kids are at and where education is at.” 

Mac:
It was. So we, everything, both of my books are self published. You know, you can jump on amazon.com. Like you can buy pretty much everything nowadays. 

Lauren:
I know. Yeah. Amazon is a little too easy, right. 

Mac:
It is, but you can buy the book on Amazon, and we are so blessed. And so fortunate Lauren, when I tell you that we have book sales around the world. We sell our book in England, France, Germany, Italy, Canada. Yeah. And what it shows is that financial literacy isn't just a US issue. Right. It's a global concern. There are parents with young kids around the world that want to teach their kids about how to manage money. And so the cool thing about books is that kids are still a demographic that rebook, but they're also early adopters to technology and are also learning through iPads, laptops. 

Lauren:
Yeah. 

Mac:
Phones. Yeah. So that's why we had a lot of responses and a lot of demand and requests to create some sort of digital version of our book. 

Lauren:
So you've got the financial knowledge that you're bringing to the table, a book alone, to be able to publish that, create the visuals. I can't even imagine what it's been like to try to create, you know, this interactive app. How have you built this team? I mean, unless maybe, maybe you've super power skills. I just can't imagine how. Tell us about that. What's been that process to be able to take this vision and then to be able to take that to life in print and digital?

Mac:
So I have been a huge fan and advocate of networking, the power of connecting with people and connecting people. And a few years ago, executives and leadership at EMO got a hold of my book. And they said, “Hey, this Matt Gardner guy is doing some really cool stuff. He's starting a financial literacy conversation, like at age five.” Yeah. That's super cool. And so we worked informally and then last year began working formally in partnership with Finlay Tech. And one of the great connections that I made years ago was a gentleman by the name of Ryan Gallini, who heads up DI games in Austin. And so last year I said, “Ryan, you know, we met four years ago, maybe even more. And we had these great ideas, but you know, the timing wasn't right.” Things were, you know, the COVID and all kinds of wild things happened. 

Mac:
So last year we reached out and I said, “Hey, Ryan, we're ready to do this.” And he said, “Mac, I have been waiting.” He has an extensive background in gaming and has been building some really cool tools. And so I said, “Okay, I've got this idea.” One of the other responses we got from folks with the book is, “Mac, love the fact that you're teaching kids about what to do with money once they get it. You gotta write a book about teaching kids about earning money.”

Lauren:
Yeah. Oh yeah. 

Mac:
And so what we're able to do through this, through the Four Money Bears Berryville, which is the name of the new app. The child or the user learns both sides of the personal finance fence. What we mean by that is you inherit your family's berry farm. So you're running a farm and the farm stand. So it's a farming simulator is really what it is. And then once you earn the money, we'll have quests and quotes and little quizzes in the game to help provide that guidance as to what to do with the money. 

Lauren:
Got it. 

Mac:
And we've developed a new way for teaching financial literacy. We call our TAT method where we teach, analyze, and then track the progress of the user over time to be able to say, “Hey, these are the habits that are forming. These habits become behaviors when these behaviors become traits.” 

Lauren:
Yeah. And the gardening piece is something that everyone can relate to. I think of various ages and it's something easy to talk about and I like this idea of it's relatable. 

Mac:
So then, and it's a game. It's a simplified game, and that's one of the other big issues, Lauren, when it comes to financial literacy that we've seen is so many financial literacy courses are way over the user's head. We want to meet these young people where they are, and kids when they're playing games, they love to play games. And if we're learning and we're teaching them that way and they’re having fun, why not? 

Lauren:
So tell us where you're at with the app process, and you kicked off this Kickstarter, which I think overnight you hit your goal. I mean, it was crazy by the time that I went to check it out, I'm like, oh my gosh, it's already surpassed. But that's a whole other conversation. I'd love to hear just more about the ramp up too for that Kickstarter, but where are you at with it now that you know you're going to get those funds and then is it going to be going into development of building this out and kind of what's the next. What's the red carpet if you were to roll it out for next steps. 

Mac:
Our initial idea behind this app was to put together a demo. So for those of you who are listening and watching, if you go to www.thefourmoneybears.com, you can actually download the demo. So there's a playable demo that's available now. See the bears, meet the bears, see what the users have to do in the game. And when we were looking at different ways to raise funds and raise awareness of our “teach kids money” mission, we like the Kickstarter platform because we can raise funds. But really what allows us to do is to raise awareness of what we're doing as a company and why it's important to get it done. And so we were fortunate in six days, we raised the minimum threshold. We were like, “wow.”

Lauren:
Great. That's something there. 

Mac:
There's definitely something there. But you know the more we raise, the bigger and better we can make the game. Right. And so the next step is to continually develop the game, get that aspect of it built, but what we're finding as we continue to walk down this road and we start engaging with different folks is the use cases of our game are really interesting. So I'll share with you the three that we thought of. And then things got really, really, really, really deep with it. So, the first one was just parents with young kids, right. Hey, you know what? You've got a child, they're wasting too much time on their electronic device. Yep. Play this game and then learn a little bit about money. So that's on. The second channel are teachers. Teachers have come to us and say,” Hey, you know what? We want to teach this stuff to the kids. We know it's important, but there's no like consistent utilization tool that a teacher in Florida versus a teacher in DC versus a teacher in California.” And so we're building a tool that will allow teachers across the country to be able to use that platform, our platform teach, analyze, and track. The third one, which is getting a lot of attention, is from financial institutions. 

Lauren:
Interesting. 

Mac:
Happy to give back. So, let's just say you're a bank. Banks have something called CRA, community reinvestment act groups, wherein they're giving back to the community and they're giving a lot of things back. And so we're talking to a regional bank here in Tampa right now, and they want to utilize our Berryville app to give to children in underserved overlook communities in the Tampa, St. Pete area. To be able to not just teach them financial literacy, but you know, there's a crazy stat that said a child's financial success is almost exclusively determined by the zip code they grow up in. 

Lauren:
Wow. 

Mac:
So imagine being able to drop a game into a community, into a zip code, and then all of a sudden to change the conversations that are being had in that household. Yeah. The ramifications that can happen for that child, for that family, that community, just to talk about investing, talk about giving and all these different things. So, it's phenomenal some of the things that we're seeing ahead of us right now, and different applications. 

Lauren:
That's amazing. It gives me goosebumps here and you talk about it cause it's the power of mass, right. Being able to reach other people and to be able to make an impact across generations. 

Mac:
And that's the thing that we can do with technology, with an app, that we can't necessarily do with a book. Yeah. It's hard to scale a book, but with an app we can create this platform. We can literally disperse it into a community. Give it away. And just have young people absorbing this fun, new way to learn about money. 

Lauren:
That's so fun. My goodness. So to backtrack a little bit, I really resonated with what you're talking about with the why Kickstarter platform. Right. It's not just about raising money, but it's about the bigger picture strategy to reach more people. So can you share a little bit more about how you went about doing that because the marketer hat is on, right? So, I mean, what was your game plan to be able to reach people, to get this word out, and to use this as an excuse, if you will, to do so.

Mac:
I have been very fortunate. I have been utilizing platforms like LinkedIn for years. In fact, I owned stock in LinkedIn before Microsoft bought it years ago. So, I have probably 24,000 connections on LinkedIn and just the folks that have been following our journey since we wrote this Four Money Bears book. Financial advisors across the country use our book. So if you're a financial advisor and you've got a client with young kids and you want be able to give something back and make that connection with the next generation, we have book sales across the country from that cohort. And so I had a nice natural, pond of folks who were willing to support this mission, and this new digital solution that's coming on board. 

Mac:
So that definitely helped. EMO is a huge supporter of our mission, and they were contributors to the campaign. Just what Kickstart allows you to do is to have this platform that sort of magnifies the message. Because you'll have people that come in that, you know, you do your outreach to say, Hey, you know what, we love your supporters report, but what we found is that the faster that you get to your goal, and reaching it there are certain metrics, I guess, within Kickstarter that pushes you higher up the list then, you know, other folks do. So it becomes this sort of domino effect that allows us to reach more people. 

Lauren:
So powerful and a smart approach because it fits in well with the mission of, you know, what you're trying to do, too. and hearing you talk about it, so excited, where do you even find the time? My goodness, you know, you were talking earlier, you've got kids of your own, a business you're running. I mean, it sounds like it's just been little pieces over the years and just making it better and better.

Mac:
I joke around, I tell people, “yeah 'm doing this 25/8, not even 24/7, so 25/8.”I heard a great saying, you know, if you do something you love, you won't work a day in your life. So I just, I enjoy spreading the news. I enjoy making a change in the life of the financial lives of people that I interact with. And so, you know, being able to put my energy and, and have this great team that's, you know, Ryan and I sent to sit down like, oh, Mac, this is going to be perfect. This would be great. And to have someone that sees a vision and realizes, look, we can do something, we're at a really cool time. We're at a really cool place in time where a child can get a hundred dollars bill for a birthday gift. 

Mac:
And remember the four options, right. Spend, save, invest, and give. That child before maybe reading the Four Money Bears book, we'd be like, “okay, I want to blow the whole hundred dollars on a pair of Nike shoes.”

Lauren:
Yeah. 

Mac:
Now, because they may have read our book, mom and dad share with them, “Hey, you know, you got a couple options. You can spend some, you can save some, you can invest some of it.” And all of a sudden, now this child is saying, “Hmm, this investing thing, what do you mean?” Well, those Nike shoes that you said you want, did you know that you can actually buy shares of Nike and you can own that company? I can own the company that makes the shoes. And what's so cool about it is that the technology is here now, Lauren, that allows for things like fractional ownership of shares, where you can use your phone and you can literally buy five shares of Coca-Cola, buy five shares of Starbucks, buy 5, 10, 15, 20 shares of Nike, right. 10-15 years ago that wasn't even an option. And so when I tell people about our mission between building the bridge between financial literacy and financial technology that's what gets us to financial wellness. That's what I mean by being able to have the stories, have the education and then have the tools to be able to enact that education, and then change lives. 

Lauren:
Yeah. And not to mention the powerful piece about technology is you can track so much data and be able to see those patterns and which provides more insights and not only to be able to better the game, but then to be able to know what's working, what's not working all kinds of things. 

Mac:
Yeah. So AB testing, all that fun stuff. It's that whole world, you know. Ryan likes to flex the muscle, and I'm just like a kid in the candy still like, “okay, tell me more. That's so cool.” 

Lauren:
Technology. So the number side, right? Yeah. 

Mac:
Yeah. So fun. The tech side is pretty awesome. So, we're really happy. We're on a really cool path. We're getting attention from some really, really big names in the FinTech space, and if we can build a solution that can help more people when it comes to understanding and educating them about money, that's what we're all about. 

Lauren:
Oh my goodness. Well, thank you so much for sharing the behind the scenes of the story and you know, where it is today. Can't wait to follow along with the journey. We'll make sure to include the links below, and I'm excited for updates. So thank you again for sharing a bit of background.

Mac:
You are so welcome. The financial life journey is a long one and, you know, we envision the full money bears as a child's on ramp to their digital financial journey. And as I like to say, the journey continues. 

Lauren:
Absolutely. Well, thank you again, Mac. 

Mac:
Thanks for having me.