Jim Rogers is a legend in the world of finance. As the co-founder, with George Soros, of the Quantum Fund, he was so successful that he was able to retire at the age of 37 knowing he'd never have to work again. He pursued his passion for travel, touring the world on a motorbike, and more recently with his wife Paige in a souped-up Mercedes. He and Paige now live in Singapore with their two daughters-Happy, born in 2003, and Baby Bee, born in 2008.
Jim Rogers's book, A Gift to My Children: A Father's Lessons for Life and Investing, is a sort of life manual for his girls. A latecomer to fatherhood, he describes how, as a young man, he believed that children would be "an endless drain on the time, energy, and money with which I was pursuing my passions." Now, he says, Happy and Baby Bee are his passions and his central focus.
There's a great deal in the book about Rogers' personal dreams and passions, and he urges his girls to discover and pursue theirs. His other important messages are not to trust the advice of others (paradoxical, perhaps, in an advice book), to work hard, save money, avoid overspending (he prefers old clothes to new), treat others ethically, and even "[Boys] need you more than you need them!" and "Always use the toilet before you set out on a long drive."
But it's the financial tips that most parents will find useful. After all, here is a person who has made a great deal more money than most of us could ever dream of making, so it's worth paying attention!
What does Rogers consider the single most important thing a parent can do to teach their children wise financial habits?
"Teach that one has to work for money and one must save it."
Happy and Baby Bee do not yet have allowances, Rogers explains, but they do get paid for chores, such as cleaning their rooms, and they are rewarded for good schoolwork. Asked about the challenge of raising children with a balanced attitude about material wealth, Rogers says that it's important to make children earn their own money so that if they want something, they realize there is a cost.
"We don't have a TV so they are not exposed to [consumer pressure] although they do get some exposure in school. Most of their other activities are things like reading, swimming, lessons, and biking because they haven't yet been exposed much to iPods, Game Boy, etc."
I was intrigued to read that Rogers' girls each have five piggy banks so I asked him what they are used for.
"It started out as just an excessive number," he answers, "because I was an over exuberant first-time father. It is actually useful now since Happy uses one each for her US, Singapore, Euro, Chinese, and UK money. She may wind up as a currency investor!"
I asked Rogers if he will encourage his children to buy stocks, and if so, at what age?
"I will certainly expose them to stocks and other investments," he said. "They must understand money and investing or they will regret it all their lives. I have no idea when or even how. Somewhere along the line, if and when I feel it's right, I will ask, 'Did you know Sanrio makes Hello Kitty and it has a stock?' I suspect my early efforts will fall on deaf ears, but I will persist."
Would Rogers advise parents, who might be first time investors, to buy stocks for their children?
"I would not unless they know a great deal about the specific stocks or the market. For most investors, the best way to invest is to buy an index fund such as the S&P 500 Fund, as index investing has been proven repeatedly to outperform nearly all investors. They could invest a regular amount at set intervals, for instance, into an index of stocks or commodities. That is called dollar cost averaging."
More than anything, Rogers's advice is to stick to your own area of expertise.
"The first rule," Rogers declares, "is to save as much as possible in a safe place, such as the bank or in Treasury bills. Do not invest in anything until you yourself know lots about it. Everyone knows a lot about something - be it cars, fashion, education, or journalism. Stay with what you know. Be alert to major changes happening in your world and then find appropriate investments that you yourself understand...And/or use index products if and when you think you understand stocks or commodities, or other countries or currencies. Do nothing until you see money lying in the corner waiting for you to pick it up."
A Gift To My Children: A Father's Lessons for Life and Investing is published by Random House, $16.
Kirsten Denker is a freelance writer and mother of two.