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How 'American Ninja Warrior' and educator Morgan Wright teaches his kids about money

Morgan Wright
Morgan Wright, center, with wife Lisa and children, Jaxon and Josalyn.
Courtesy Morgan Wright

As an award-winning teacher, decorated U.S. Army officer, and an active competitor on the last four seasons of NBC's "American Ninja Warrior," the through line of my career has been tackling and overcoming big challenges.

Before my kids were born, tough conversations about bills didn't phase my wife and me, even when we were dealing with long distances when I was stationed in Afghanistan.

We had both felt the stress of money early on during our college years. Student loans, car payments, rent, unpaid internships while still balancing a budget for two, brought us dangerously close to burning out at times. When we became parents, looking back at our own struggles, we wanted our kids to be better prepared.

Here's what worked for us and what I recommend.

Meet your kids where they are

My wife and I have teaching backgrounds: She is a nursing educator, I teach P.E. Still, we weren't entirely sure at first how to talk to our kids about money.

We understood that kids naturally develop an interest in money because you're exchanging nothing tangible, in their minds, for stuff. So as our oldest entered kindergarten, we decided that the best moment to begin was as soon as they started asking money questions.

We had one of our earliest exchanges with my daughter Josalyn about money after a grocery run. She asked, "How much did you pay for all that food?" I replied that it was around $140 every week, and she asked if that was a lot of money.

ME: "Well, I get paid $35/hour at work, so for us to buy this food here, I had to go to work for four hours."
HER: "Is that a long time?"
ME: "Imagine you had to watch the same cartoon show eight times in a row."
HER: "Oh, that would take forever!"
ME: "Now you see why we try to not waste food."

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She seemed to get it, which led us to realize something simple but important. When talking about money with kids, answering those "why" questions makes more of a difference than you might think. So we decided to really lean into the question everything phase.

Educationally speaking, children are sponges of learning when it comes to what they find interesting. And using age-friendly language can bring your points home in ways that can be retained by their eager and growing minds. These moments created amazing opportunities for us to answer their curiosity with age-appropriate words, and ask follow-up questions of our own.

"Why do you have to buy gas?" turned into a discussion about how important the car is for the family, and what it does for us. Being willing to go down the question rabbit hole helped our children become comfortable with asking more questions about finances, even if they didn't realize that's what we were discussing.

Keeping this kind of communication open now will pay off later in life when they're calling for advice on student loans.

Don't fear the big questions

Blunt questions don't have to scare you, even ones like, "How much money did you pay for the car?"

I remember being brushed off as a child when I asked about big-ticket items. So when I went shopping for my first car at 19, I found myself woefully unprepared. A small monthly payment was all that mattered, right?

While my monthly was low, I signed on the dotted line line for 24.99% interest, which was a painful lesson to be learned over the next six years. Was I ready to talk about interest at eight? No. That said, having an idea of what a car payment is and explaining the basic idea would have gone miles.

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When those questions come up, it's a great moment to explain why things like cars generally cost more money than we have on hand, and the agreements we enter into that allow us to pay for them "in pieces." How much you pay depends on what kind of choices you've made with your money so far in life.

My daughter started asking these types of questions when she was around 10 and has been dutifully saving since. As an incentive, we informed her we'd match her savings when she turned 16.

With just over a year to go, she's lately been obsessing over what to get within her budget because she decided she did not want the burden of a car payment, as well as insurance.

Remember the adage 'time equals money'

Finding ways to tie money into time helped my kids with fiscal responsibility, even if they didn't realize it at first. This lesson went especially far with our son, Jaxon.

Once when he was 9, he asked about getting a "Starbucks frosty" after seeing a friend sipping one. We entered a bargain where if he played with our dog for 30 minutes, I'd buy him a $5 "frosty" (caffeine free of course, I'm not crazy).

Jaxon made it about 14 minutes before asking if his time was up. While I'd never want to embarrass my kid, the look on his face after informing him he was almost halfway done was priceless! To his credit, he did march back outside and finished the job, although with noticeably less enthusiasm.

When talking about money with kids, answering those 'why' questions makes more of a difference than you might think.
Morgan 'Moose' Wright
Educator, 'American Ninja Warrior' competitor

We ended up getting him his drink. He got the small, which was maybe three dollars and change, and I asked him if he felt it was a worthwhile purchase. His response? "I worked too hard for this money, Dad; I can't give them all of it!" Mission successful, I'd say.

As a Ninja, I've had to plan my own budget to accommodate lost wages and travel expenses. As an Army officer, I've witnessed firsthand the stress of poor budgeting on soldier's lives. As an educator, I've corrected the gaps in my student's fiscal education by teaching simple budget balancing.

Ultimately, I've seen enough professionally, as well as personally, to know the importance of broaching sharing finances with children — the earlier the better. The more they know, the better they will be able to plan for a productive, debt-free future.

Morgan "Moose" Wright has been a fan favorite Ninja and Las Vegas Nationals finalist for over four years now on the hit TV show "American Ninja Warrior." Moose is a former U.S. Army first lieutenant and veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom. He is now one of the most decorated P.E. teachers in the country, receiving the coveted Golden Apple Award as well as Physical Education Teacher of the Year award, his fourth time receiving that distinction. Morgan is happily married to his wife Lisa who is a nursing educator, and has two children, Jaxon and Josalyn.

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