It’s never too early to teach children how to become financially literate. Through colorful and relatable stories on essential life skills, Saffi Squirrel is helping parents and educators raise a money smart generation.
In an increasingly fast-paced world where almost anything can be accessed with a single tap, more and more children are potentially missing out on important principles and skills that can prepare them for
life’s challenges. Handling finances, for instances, is a reality all adults need to face, and their money habits can be deeply ingrained from childhood.
Growing up, financial literacy advocate and book author Clarissa Seriña de la Paz felt fortunate to have been raised in a way that she felt she had control over her choices involving money. As early as her elementary days, her parents taught her and her siblings the value of budgeting by giving her allowance on a weekly basis, and in college, on a monthly basis. She was 12 years old when she first invested in the stock market, thanks to her dad.
In 2013, Clarissa published her first co-authored book, I Wish They Taught Money In School, and in 2017, Money Grows On Trees. After becoming a mom, she knew she wanted to write about money for children, but lacked the expertise to bring money concepts down to their vocabulary. She is currently based in Singapore with her husband, Miko, and their two children, Alessi and Basti.
Monique Leonardo Carlos, who lives in British Columbia, Canada, with her husband, Rus, and their three kids, Mattina, Renée, and Rafael, got to read Clarissa’s first book during her first pregnancy. A certified
Early Child and Infant-Toddler Educator as well as the Director of a Family Resource Program, she realized that she wanted to be more proactive in raising her own children to be financially literate.
It was that moment that started a collaboration between the two women’s advocacies: one on encouraging financial literacy and a more positive relationship with money, and another on encouraging better relationships in families through positive child guidance and shared language. This gave birth to the five-book series, Saffi Squirrel, which aims to help families cultivate better values and habits through meaningful stories and thought-provoking activities.
“Before we can teach our kids investing in the different vehicles to grow their money, we need to raise them with money values and money habits,” Clarissa notes. “Even if they understand investing, know the math behind it, if their values are not in place and anchored in their consciousness, if the habits are not there, then it will be challenging for them to put these principles in practice and apply them in real life.”
“As for myself, my educational background is really in early childhood education and so I’ve long really seen the effectiveness of books in allowing children to explore situations, concepts, topics, and feelings that they don’t normally get to experience or we don’t normally get to talk about,” Monique shares.
Taking inspiration from gray squirrels, which collect and bury acorns in the ground for future feedings, Monique and Clarissa came up with Saffi Squirrel, a character that helps make it easier for children to understand certain situations and feelings.
The Saffi Squirrel series is divided into five books, each tackling different values and life skills. As moms, Monique and Clarissa also used real conversations they had with their own children as situations in the books. In fact, the characters in each book are named after their kids. Every edition also features quotable quotes called “Saffi Says”, which provides a snapshot of the lessons presented, as well as conversation prompts called “Big People Prompt” for adults and educators to help readers process the stories, and activities to extend the learning beyond the story.
Saffi Squirrel brings down money concepts to the vocabulary of children. Needs are have to have. Wants are nice to have.
Big People Prompt (BPP) is there to guide adults as they read with the little ones. BPP helps you think about related experiences through simple questions that promote cognitive (thinking) and socio- emotional (feelings and relationships) development.
Renée’s Ginormous Bag, for instance, tackles the importance of money mindfulness to build the habit of discernment.
“It’s about identifying needs and wants,” Clarissa explains. “Eventually, when our kids become adults, they will be able to differentiate and discern between an asset and a liability, or ‘Is this a good debt or is this a bad debt?’”
“This book really encourages us children and even us adults to really stop and think about our choices just like when Renée wants something her friends have,” Monique adds. “These early years, early childhood years, that is really the time when self-control develops in children.”
In Rafael Stretches His Patience, Saffi Squirrel teaches the concept of delayed gratification and that good things in life take time, the idea of which Clarissa links to her childhood memories of saving money in bamboo banks. Every year, Clarissa and her siblings would smash the bamboo banks and their parents would double whatever amount they had accumulated, depositing the money in the bank.
Saffi Squirrel defines instant gratification as “Good Now”, and delayed gratification as “Better Later”.
“Delayed gratification is very important in investing,” Clarissa says. “All of us need to learn how to plan for the long-term and not just live from paycheck to paycheck.”
“There are many situations that we find ourselves in that we need to wait, like waiting for food in the restaurant,” Monique adds. “In this particular book, there are so many strategies that we present that you can actually do with your kids to make waiting a little bit more fun for them.”
Alessi’s Pot of Gold, on the other hand, talks about creativity and abundance, and how developing one’s capabilities is one’s true wealth.
“Hopefully, when [kids] grow up, they will realize that these different skills and talents actually translate to multiple streams of income,” Clarissa shares. “Again, one of the things I advocate for is to amass wealth. Build different sources of income because really, whoever said we can only earn from one job or one source of income anyway?”
“An abundance mindset is not just for situations surrounding money,” Monique notes. “In situations when kids feel that the going gets tough or something is really challenging for them, what we really want them to feel is that they have it in them, whether it be resources in them or being able to ask for help from other people, that they’re able to find ways to solve the problem or to get through that difficult situation.”
In Mattina Dreams Big, readers learn about not just dreaming big dreams, but planning how to achieve these as well.
“For kids, ‘I want to be better at playing piano or playing basketball. How do I do that?’ And they get stuck,” Monique illustrates. “For us, as big people, it’s not just about encouraging our children but equipping them with ways to achieve the goals that they set for themselves.”
“As our children grow up, we want them to learn to ask the question, ‘How can I afford this?’ versus
mindlessly just uttering the phrase, ‘I can’t afford it,’” Clarissa explains. “And we will be able to do that if and when we have a plan.”
The final book in the series, Basti Builds A Home, is all about the value of giving and sharing, which Clarissa and Monique believe is the ultimate purpose why people have money. It also delves into the importance of allocating money for saving, spending, and sharing.
“I think we’re all born to have these generous spirits, to be giving, to give ourselves to others, to share part of ourselves to others,” Monique shares. “But as we get older, we get so busy and there are so many other things that we tend to think about and things just get muddled along the way. I think we forget the basic things, which is really to share our blessings, to share a part of who we are with others.”
With the Saffi Squirrel books imparting such lessons, Clarissa and Monique hope to instill these money values and habits in every child, empowering families with the foundational principles of financial literacy and helping raise a money smart generation.