I want to be a millionaire

From cradle to gravy train: a financial course for kids. Jeremy Hart reports
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The Independent Online
He lives in Ascot and Fort Lauderdale. He is being expensively educated. He knows the seat and row number on his favourite transatlantic airline from London to Miami.

Striding through the imposing corridors of the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Florida's home for the old-moneyed and filthy rich, Cash Kern looks completely at home.

With a name straight out of an airport thriller, and wearing a Calvin Klein shirt, fawn empire-builder shorts and shiny Timberland deck shoes, Cash Kern could be any global investment big-hitter on holiday.

However, the minute you hear his voice, Cash's game is up. "I hate it when I can't get hold of my broker in Canada," he squeaks in a prepubescent pitch. Cash is 12 years old and he is at the world's first children's Money Management Camp to learn how to be wealthy (not rich, that is vulgar).

Wall Street has just free-fallen a few stomach-churning points and Cash (his real name) looks worried enough to grow a good crop of stomach ulcers. Lounging on the freshly plumped cushions of a chaise-longue, he sips a lemonade and ponders.

"Since I have been coming to the money camp, I have learnt to take a risk," he says. He is the owner of 7,500 Canadian oil shares, bought for 32p each and now worth pounds 2.60 each. "I have been fortunate, the price has gone up, but on a day like today they could easily have gone down."

Most 12-year-olds worry about whether they are wearing the latest Nike trainers. Not Cash. "Whenever anyone at school has money, they go and buy the latest trainers or clothes," he says. "I save. I don't tell the other guys at school that I have investments or that I come to the camp. They wouldn't understand."

Cash is the youngest, but possibly the most financially astute, of two dozen youthful investors at the Breakers annual summer money camp, founded, one cynic suggested, so that future generations can afford to stay in the five-star opulence to which they have become accustomed as children.

Apart from Cash and his Ascot school friend, Patrick Hill, this year's intake of future financial whizzes all live in the US, products of the world's most successful capitalist market.

In the hope of preparing their offspring for the minefields of money management, parents from California to Kansas dig deep to find the pounds 500 to pay for five mornings of investment and insider trading and five afternoons of ice-cream by the swimming-pool or croquet on the hotel's immaculate lawns. At pounds 300 a night, the Breakers' chintzy rooms, complete with Godiva chocolates on the pillow, cost extra (as does Cash's favourite seat, 16C on American Airlines).

Mary Jayne Barnett, who comes from a family of California financial experts, is convinced that the camp is a good investment. She has brought her 15- year-old son, Alex.

"As soon as kids are five or so and are going to McDonald's and buying Happy Meals, they understand how to divvy money up," she says. "And nowadays every child needs as much help as possible to make it in the job market."

The "instructor" at the camp for the past couple of years has been Susan Bradley, an investment guru in a town where many children are millionaires.

"There's more to life than money," she exclaims. It is a risky opening gambit to a generation of consumer-boom babies.

In class she rewards inspired answers with $100,000 (in the token form of a chocolate bar). Signs of genius earn a T-shirt - freebies sent to her by stockbrokers keen to tap this young market.

The talk is about being rich. "What's the definition of being rich? Is there a number that means you're rich?" Ms Bradley demands.

"Enough to buy a big yacht," screams one child. A chocolate bar wings its way past the crystal chandelier that hangs above the classroom. "A big-screen TV," shouts another. It is beginning to sound like the Generation Game.

Thirteen-year-old local boy John Wynne looks slightly out of place. His contemporaries are mostly from well-to-do families. A third of them own stocks and shares (America's national average for school-age children is 4 per cent), whereas he and his 16-year-old sister, Patty, are here on a scholarship provided by an educational charity.

"The most I have ever had is $50," he admits, relaxing by the pool after two hours of morning tutorial. "I have to work round the house and cleaning friends' cars to make some extra. I think some of the kids here get money whenever they need it. I would like to be rich, but I will have to earn it."

Not only does Sean McGowen, 14, have to do housework to earn his $60 a week allowance, but the other harsh reality of making money has also been thrust upon him at an early age.

"My father taxes my allowance, and that either goes to charity or into a fund that can be used for things like this camp," says Sean philosophically. He loses 25 per cent of his income to the parental taxman.

"It is fine by me. I want to learn to to manage money. This course has taught me a lot. I didn't know there were so many types of stock, and exactly how mutual funds work."

Teaching a group of children who have credit cards, multiple bank accounts, mutual funds and their own stockbrokers is daunting, even for Susan Bradley.

"They know so much already, but these kids are the exception. All children should have some kind of financial education, even a family finance course at school, teaching them what it costs to go to college, to buy a house, those sorts of things. Too many of us are financially illiterate. Regardless of their families' financial situation, all children have the greatest asset - time.

"If they start putting their money to work now, they will make far more from it than if they start at 40. I wish I had started my financial career knowing what they do at their age."

The Breakers Money Management Camp can be contacted on 00-1-561- 655 6611.