Searching for the next Money Smart kid

Jackson Beard is only 14, but she can explain what “human capital” is. And she understands money and personal finance. It’s why she has spent the last year sharing her knowledge with other middle school and high school students, as well as a few adults.

Jackson, now a freshman at Walter Payton Prep in Chicago, is the winner of the 2009 Money Smart Kid Essay Contest. The contest is part of the annual Money Smart Week education program run by the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank.

Her best financial advice? “Be really conscious of the way you spend. Really think about what you’re buying or what you’re saving for. When you start thinking about it, you start making better choices.”

This year, the contest deadline is March 22. The winner gets a $5,000 college scholarship, a laptop and the right to spend the next year talking to groups and media about money.

Kay Kamin, a financial planner, helped start the essay contest seven years ago.

“My dream was that, just as kids come home and tell their parents, ‘Smoking isn’t good for you and it isn’t good for me,’ they would come home and say, ‘Credit isn’t good for our family and it isn’t good for our future.'”

Jackson’s winning essay spelled out the ways families can C.H.A.N.G.E.: Cutting costs, Helping small businesses, Analyzing daily expenses, Negotiating purchase prices, Going green and Educating themselves about money.

The 300-word essay is only one part of the contest. The six finalists are grilled by a panel of financial experts to see who really knows their financial stuff and who can stand up to the glare of the media spotlight. Jackson, who was an eighth-grader at Whitney Young at the time, wowed the judges with her explanation of “human capital.” She explained that it’s “how much you’re worth” in terms of your knowledge, experience and personality.

This year, the essay question is: “What is a career you think you may be interested in pursuing? What are the costs and benefits of this choice? How would you prepare financially and educationally now, in order to achieve your career goal(s) later?” Additional contest details and application are available at

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