Arriel Biggs always knew she wanted to be an entrepreneur. But the journey to becoming the founder of Young Biz Kidz, an organization that teaches kids to manage money and run their own business, was not an easy.
In 2010, Biggs and her husband found themselves living paycheck to paycheck even though they were both working full-time jobs. Eventually, they sat down and looked over their finances and found that they were not living in a financially responsible way. In order to get back on track, they decided to move their entire family back in with her parents for 18 months.
Although she admits it was embarrassing, they were able to pay off their debts and start fresh. Now, she’s helping young black entrepreneurs become successful in their passion. St. Louis Public Radio’s Marissanne Lewis-Thompson spoke with Biggs.
Marissanne Lewis-Thompson: What inspired you to teach kids about financial literacy, a skill set that even adults have a hard time getting their heads around?
Arriel Biggs: It was from my personal experience. I didn't grow up with financial literacy. I knew that I was an entrepreneur for a long time. So I would make money, but I didn't understand what to do with that money that I was making. So yeah. I blew a lot of money early, but when I saw my son wanting to start a business and having this entrepreneurial bug, I said, "You know what? I don't want him to make the same mistakes that I made." And I knew that they were not teaching it in school, so I took it onto myself and said, "You know what? I have to teach him this, because I want to set him up for success."
Lewis-Thompson: How do you even begin to teach young kids a concept like financial literacy?
Biggs: Well, for me it was easy, because it was everyday life. They have money around them every day. So they have to learn like how to buy things from the store. Even how to do a simple budget. And in doing that it's like, "OK, Mikey, you have $5. You want this. What do you need to do to get to where you need to go?" So he's always wanting a video game. And the video games are like $60. But he only gets $10 a week. So how do you save up and manage your money to make sure you have that $60 to buy that video game? So then we would do the math; math became involved, which is what he's learning at school, and then it starts making sense to him. And then he came to us and said: "Well I can mow some lawns. I can sell some lemonade. I can do this to get the money that I need to pay for what I want." So it's just really simple everyday breaking it down to where they can understand it.
Lewis-Thompson: Earlier this year you and several other “mommy managers” collaborated on the book "#MomBoss." For those who haven’t gotten a chance to read it, it’s filled with stories from moms whose kids are entrepreneurs and how they were able to help their kids build their business and manage money. And as you were writing this book, you were battling breast cancer. Why was putting this book out important to you?
Biggs: Legacy. Legacy for myself. You know, I do so much as mom for everybody in my family around me. My husband, my children and I was not doing anything for myself. And I figured since battling breast cancer, I needed to focus on myself and not everybody else. I was my time to be selfish, and in doing that I said, "You know, I need to tell this story, because there's nowhere to go for parents with entrepreneurial kids." So we're looking and trying to figure things out. Trying to support our kids. And we're telling them to dream big and live out their dreams, but they're not able to do that because we as parents don't know where to send them or how to work with them. So I figured telling my story will inspire other parents that if I can do it, you can do it, too. So that's what prompted me to write. I needed to do something for myself and feel like I was making an impact on the world with my story, with my experiences and things that I've been through.
Lewis-Thompson: And now you’re in remission.
Lewis-Thompson: And that is a pretty big deal.
Lewis-Thompson: Going through that experience knowing what you tried to instill in your kids as far as entrepreneurial skills and making that stick, how do you feel as a parent now?
Biggs: I wanted to make sure that my son was prepared to live life without me. And whether he goes on and goes to college and living on his own or whatever he was prepared to live life without me having to be there telling him what to do and how to do it. So teaching him about money allowed him to be able to show me that he can do certain things.
Lewis-Thompson: Being a black mother, a black businesswoman, why is it important to teach black kids this?
Biggs: Because we are taught to survive and not really taught to thrive, and to thrive you have to have a solid financial education. Because it doesn’t matter if you make $10 an hour or $50 an hour, you really have to understand what’s going in and coming out and how your money is working for you. Because the more money you make, the more people tell you what you should do with your money and what you should do with your money and what you can afford. But if you understand basic financial principles and how to make a basic budget, you’ll understand what you can do and people are not telling you. You’re telling them. So my best example I can give you is when you go to the car lot and they say, "Oh, you’re approved for a car, and you can get $20,000 and you can pick anything." Well, when you know your budget, you might be approved for $20,000, but you probably only can afford $10,000 because of the other things that’s prioritized when it comes to your lifestyle. They can’t tell you your lifestyle. So I like to get that into children early.
And I use a car, because all the kids want a car. They want Bugattis. So I just use the car to give them that example. And believe it or not they’ll say, "You know what, right. Because I can buy something cash and then I can save my money and get that Bugatti later." Yeah, if that’s what you want to do, but most of the time they’ll start planning something else and planning for something else. I know the Buggati is still in their mind, but I don’t think it’s as important when you realize that I have to work this hard to get this amount of money. Do I want to spend it on a car?
Lewis-Thompson: What advice do you have for parents who have kids who want to be their own boss? What tips do you have for them?
Biggs: I would say leave room for entrepreneurial experiences — whether they want to lead a project where they're cleaning the community; whether they want to collect canned goods; whether they want to get clean water — leave room for those type of projects, and then also find a group of kids like Young Biz Kidz that they can come and connect with, so that they can feel like they're a part of something. And that they can grow off of each other, because the kids teach each other. We have instructors, but I started calling them facilitators, because we facilitate the class and let the kids just really kind of bounce ideas off each other, because that peer-to-peer learning is very important.
And then the last tip that I would say is have the kids complete a business plan. Don't invest a lot of money into the business. I tell all the Young Biz Kidz parents to only invest $25 into the kid's business and let those kids budget that money and figure out how to make this work. And then if you can do it with $25, you can do it with $100, you can do it with $500, you can do it with $5,000, but you have to at least show me that this is what you want to do, and you're interested in it and you'll take the time out to really take the steps necessary to make this business work for you. And I'm talking to you parents as if you're talking to your kids. Because if your kids are anything like mine, he changes his mind about what he wants to do and how he wants to do it. So invest in very little up front, [and that] will help you see where their strengths and weaknesses are and then you can coach them through that process.