March 8, 2021

Nanoparticles in Food Raise Concern by Advocacy Group

Nanomaterials, substances broken down by technology into molecule-size particles, are starting to enter the food chain through well-known food products and their packaging, but there is little acknowledgment by the companies using them, according to a new report from a nonprofit group that works to enhance corporate accountability.

Some companies may not even know whether nanomaterials are present in their products, the corporate accountability group As You Sow said.

Only 26 out of 2,500 companies, including PepsiCo, Whole Foods and the corporate parent of Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, responded to a survey from As You Sow about their use of nanomaterials.

“Only 14 said they don’t use nanomaterials, and of those only two had any policies on the use of nanomaterials,” said Andy Behar, chief executive of As You Sow. Various food companies have said they are interested in nanotechnology, which can help make products creamier without additional fat, intensify and improve flavors and brighten colors.

Their small size allows nanoparticles to go places in the body where larger particles cannot and enter cells. They have been found in the blood stream after ingestion and inhalation, and while research on their health effects is limited, studies have shown them to have deleterious effects on mice and cells.

“We’re not taking a no nano position,” Mr. Behar said. “We’re saying just show it’s safe before you put these things into food or food packaging.”

He noted that the European Union requires labeling of foods containing nanomaterials and that the European Food Safety Authority has published guidance for assessing nanomaterials in food and animal feed.

Last April, the Food and Drug Administration issued an unusually emphatic statement on nanomaterials, saying it did not have enough data to determine the safety of nanomaterials in food.

The Environmental Protection Agency is evaluating various nanoparticles used in consumer products, like sunscreens.

As You Sow tested 10 varieties of powdered doughnuts for the presence of nanoparticles. With the help of an independent lab, it found that Hostess Donettes and Dunkin’ Donuts Powdered Cake Donuts tested positive for the presence of titanium dioxide materials of less than 10 nanometers. Titanium dioxide is used to brighten white substances. The nano variety is under investigation by the E.P.A.

Michelle King, a spokeswoman for Dunkin’ Donuts, said the company was working with its supplier to validate As You Sow’s findings. Hostess Brands went out of business during the test and closed its factories.

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Advertising: Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation Begins New Campaign

“If you have inflammatory bowel disease (I.B.D.), life can feel like a three-ring circus,” continues a block of text. “Chances are, you know one of the nearly 1 in 200 Americans who suffers from the debilitating pain and constant disruptions that come with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.”

Other stall-door ads show a shin-to-floor view of a woman in a wedding dress (“I.B.D. gave her a day she’ll never forget”), Santa Claus (“I.B.D. doesn’t care if you’ve been naughty or nice”) and a young girl whose feet don’t reach the floor (I.B.D. can make growing up a real pain”).

While the photos and headlines sound a note of whimsy, the text below the ads is decidedly serious, all of them noting, “The physical and emotional toll can be devastating.”

The public service ads encourage readers to learn more about Crohn’s disease by visiting a microsite,, which has been created for the campaign. The pro bono effort is by the New York office of DraftFCB, part of the Interpublic Group of Companies.

In a commercial for the campaign, the viewer hears, “Chances are you know someone with I.B.D.” The voice turns out to be that of the actress Amy Brenneman (“Judging Amy” and “Private Practice”), who says near the end of the spot, “Someone like me.”

The organization hopes that the public service announcement will run widely on television and in movie theaters. Other elements for the campaign include billboards and ads online and in airports. Ads printed on transparent adhesive film will even appear on mirrors in public restrooms.

The nonprofit group projects that it will secure from $20 million to $23 million in donations of broadcast and print advertising over the next year. But it did not initially want to show bathrooms in its campaign.

“We really started this campaign by saying we wanted to stay away from the bathroom, because we thought the bathroom would underrepresent our disease,” said Richard Geswell, the president of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation.

Along with needing to evacuate frequently, symptoms of Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract, include abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, fevers, weight loss and extreme fatigue.

“I was worried that our patients might think it was too lighthearted, and some aren’t in public restrooms because they can’t even leave the house,” said Mr. Geswell, who added he was won over by the new campaign, which he said struck the right tone and would spur awareness.

Rich Levy, chief creative officer of DraftFCB Healthcare, said, “When we first started this project, the last thing we wanted to do is what I’d call bathroom humor.” But he said that although the campaign was set in restrooms and had whimsical notes, its impact aimed to be more profound.

“What was the universal truth was that behind those doors are thousands and thousands of people who are suffering, and you don’t know who they are, but they know who they are,” said Mr. Levy.

Although the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation was founded in 1967, only 18.7 percent of Americans have heard of the group, according to a survey commissioned by the group.

As for Crohn’s disease itself, the survey found that 44 percent of respondents knew at least a little about the disease, below the number familiar with diabetes (86 percent), multiple sclerosis (58 percent) and lupus (46 percent).

Mr. Geswell, the foundation president, said that by raising awareness about Crohn’s, his group hoped that along with helping those who don’t know they have the disease, it would help others understand that friends and relatives might be too embarrassed to disclose their condition.

“Aunt Sally who never left the house or came to social occasions” may, far from meaning to snub her family, “turn out to have had Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis,” Mr. Geswell said. Some with Crohn’s disease must visit the bathroom as much as 40 times a day, the foundation says.

Carol Cone, co-author of “Breakthrough Nonprofit Branding” and managing director for brand and corporate citizenship at Edelman, the public relations firm, acknowledged the challenge any agency would face with such an awareness campaign.

“How do you talk about bowels and bowel movements, and do it in a way that’s not so slight and flip that it’s not taken seriously?” said Ms. Cone.

After reviewing the new campaign, Ms. Cone was impressed.

“The way they showed the feet and footwear was a wonderful analogy that Crohn’s and colitis affects anybody in any walk of life,” Ms. Cone said. “This is a sophisticated, hip and modern branding campaign.”

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Bucks Blog: Giving With an Eye on the Impact

Paul Sullivan’s Wealth Matters column this week discusses philanthropists who not only want their donations to do good, they are looking for a way to measure the impact of their giving.

It’s called impact investing, and has become increasingly popular over the last decade or so.

While Paul is writing mainly about people have millions to give to charitable causes, people with far less in their bank accounts have also done impact investing. He mentions GiveWell, a nonprofit group that says most of its money comes from smaller donors.

Have you ever donated money with the idea of making a measurable impact? Tell us about your experience.

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Bucks Blog: Foreclosure Crisis Isn’t Even Halfway Over, Analysis Finds

Click to enlarge.Click to enlarge.

A new analysis suggests that the tide of home foreclosures isn’t going to recede soon.

The report from the Center for Responsible Lending, “Lost Ground, 2011,” finds that at least 2.7 million mortgages loaned from 2004 through 2008, or about 6 percent, have ended in foreclosure and that nearly 4 million more home loans (roughly 8 percent) from the same period remain at serious risk.

Put another way, “The nation is not even halfway through the foreclosure crisis,” says the report, which analyzed 27 million mortgages made over the five years.

While most of those who have lost their homes are white, the report found, African-American and Latino borrowers have been disproportionately affected. Roughly a fourth of all those borrowers have lost their home to foreclosure or are seriously delinquent, compared with just under 12 percent for white borrowers.

And across the country, low- and moderate-income neighborhoods and neighborhoods with high concentrations of minorities have been hit especially hard, the report found.

The Center for Responsible Lending is a nonprofit group that works to eliminate abusive financial practices.

Its report also noted that certain types of loans have much higher rates of completed foreclosures and serious delinquencies. They include loans originated by brokers; hybrid adjustable-rate mortgages, option ARMs, loans with prepayment penalties and loans with high interest rates (subprime). African Americans and Latinos were more likely to receive a high-cost mortgage with risky features, regardless of their credit. For example, among borrowers with good credit (a FICO score of over 660), African-Americans and Latinos received a high-interest-rate loan more than three times as often as white borrowers.

Accompanying the report is an online map showing foreclosures and delinquencies by state.

Are you at risk for foreclosure? How has your neighborhood been affected by the crisis?

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Unreasonable Institute Teaches New Paths to Social Missions

And so, to foster some practical zaniness, Mr. Epstein is a co-founder of something called the Unreasonable Institute, in Boulder, Colo. For the last two summers, he has helped preside over this academy for entrepreneurs who want to solve social problems and make some money, too.

Part schmooze-fest, part group hug, this six-week program connects entrepreneurs with one another, as well as with executives, investors and thinkers who might help them. Its name derives from a quotation by George Bernard Shaw: “All progress depends on the unreasonable man.” For good measure, Mr. Epstein recently had the world “Unreasonable” tattooed on his derrière.

Welcome to the age of the spreadsheet humanitarian. The central idea of the Unreasonable Institute is that profit-making businesses can sometimes succeed where their nonprofit counterparts might falter. Mr. Epstein, 25, and a serial entrepreneur, says the Unreasonable Institute wants people who are willing to think big, even when skeptics scoff.

Competition is stiff. This year, about 300 people vied for 26 spots. Many who have attended praise the program for its networking opportunities. Some  have even gotten businesses off the ground.  

 One of them is Ben Lyon. Two years ago, Mr. Lyon, a recent college graduate in international relations and economics, was in Sierra Leone and feeling highly discouraged. Through a nonprofit group, he had tried to start a pilot program meant to allow microfinancing organizations to receive loan payments via their cellphones. But he just couldn’t get it off the ground.

Today, he is running Kopo Kopo Inc., which is based on that earlier effort. With four full-time employees in Kenya, it offers a mobile payment app that helps people make purchases in areas where banks don’t exist or where fees are too high for the poor to open accounts.

How did it happen? Mr. Lyon, 24, originally from Hanover, N.H., attributes his success to a commercial structure he created with the help of the institute. So far he has raised nearly $1 million from institutional investors.

 “We select for-profit ideas that we think have the ability to meet the needs of at least one million people,” says Mr. Epstein, who founded the institute along with Teju Ravilochan, 24, and Tyler Hartung, 26.

The selected entrepreneurs include people like Myshkin Ingawale, 28, of Biosense Technologies, which makes a device that tests women and children for anemia; Luis Duarte, 30, who started YoRecicolo (I Recycle) in Monterey, Mexico; and Jamie Yang, 31, founder of a EGG-energy, a company based in Tanzania that sells rechargeable batteries through a portable power grid.

The institute conducts its program at a fraternity house it rents at the University of Colorado. The six weeks are intense and communal. Fellows sleep three or so to a room. A chef prepares three in-house meals a day. The fellows dine at a table seating 60, alongside mentors who might include the chief technology officer of Hewlett-Packard or the former director of

On any given day, the fellows might go on a hike or a bike ride with a potential investor, attend a workshop about building corporate partnerships, or take part in “family pitch night,” when two entrepreneurs present their companies to the rest of the group for feedback. At the end of the program, the fellows travel to San Francisco and pitch their ideas to a group of investors.

Mr. Epstein says market-based solutions are important in spurring economic growth throughout the developing world.

“This is really in contrast to the prevalent model of international aid,” says Cynthia Koening, 33, who attended the program this year. Her company, Wello, based in Rajasthan, India, is aimed at people — most of them women — who must walk long distances to bring drinking water to the home. Her cylinder-shaped product allows women to roll water home from the source rather than carry it on their heads, which can be dangerous and time-consuming.

Ms. Koening says the decision to run Wello as a commercial business — it will sell its product, the WaterWheel, to consumers — was an easy one. “When people make choices in a market economy, they are deliberately choosing the solution that best meets their needs, she says. “Also, we don’t want to have to depend on donor grants and donations. That’s not sustainable.”

MR. LYON, of Kopo Kopo, agrees that it’s time to use more commercial muscle to help solve global woes. His company plans to generate revenue through small subscription fees. “The nonprofit space has been so massive but has had disproportionally little impact in solving some of the world’s biggest problems,” he contends.

But investors can be leery of commercial social ventures. One obstacle is due diligence. Investors generally “can’t go to Liberia or New Delhi to kick the tires before they write a $50,000 check,” says Nick Flores, investment director at Investors’ Circle, a network of more than 150 people who finance businesses with a social or environmental impact.

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Drug App Comes Free, Ads Included

But like so much else on the Web, “free” comes with a price: doctors must wade through marketing messages on Epocrates that try to sway their choices of which drugs to prescribe.

The apps can select messages based on each doctor’s search and prescription histories, and the company has ambitious plans for expanded smartphone offerings. One possibility is a virtual sales rep that would help drug makers get their wares in front of physicians who decline to see human sales representatives.

The marketing messages are difficult to ignore. For example, a psychiatrist in Massachusetts who recently opened Epocrates (pronounced ee-POC-ra-teez) on his iPhone said that before he could look up any drugs, he had to click past “DocAlert” messages on hypertension, bipolar disorder and migraines. Two of the three showed they had been paid for by pharmaceutical companies promoting their products.

“Some doctors will not have time for that nonsense,” said the psychiatrist, Dr. Daniel J. Carlat, who also writes a blog and newsletter on medical issues.

Of course, any casual user of the Web is bombarded with ads derived from their browsing history.

However, the marketing through Epocrates is more insidious, according to Dr. Adriane Fugh-Berman, an associate professor of medicine at Georgetown University and founder of PharmedOut, a nonprofit group critical of drug companies’ marketing practices.

“With targeted ads in Google, you may buy something that’s an unwise purchase,” she said. “But when a physician is influenced in Epocrates, it’s the patient who’s bearing the financial and health risk.”

Dr. Fugh-Berman and other critics of drug marketing say the apps promote more expensive and sometimes less effective drugs. The companies say they are helping doctors find the best medicines.

Dr. Rachel E. Sherman, associate director of medical policy at the Food and Drug Administration, said the agency was trying to get a handle on all the emerging electronic channels of communication used by drug makers.“It’s a mess,” she said.

Epocrates is betting that the 320,000 physicians who use its apps, much like those who use Google and other advertising-supported data services, will tolerate some marketing to get the information they want at no charge. Epocrates is also used by a million nurses, pharmacists and medical students.

One in five doctors will not see drug sales representatives at work, according to the market research firm SKA, and Epocrates says that getting a smartphone sales pitch in front of doctors just as they are writing prescriptions is immensely valuable to pharmaceutical companies.

Epocrates says drug makers get $3 in increased sales from every dollar spent on DocAlerts. The claim comes from comparing prescription records of doctors who see DocAlerts with those who do not, company officials said. But they declined to share the research, saying it was paid for by drug companies and was confidential.

Pfizer, the world’s largest drug maker, has certainly found the marketing channel to be an effective way to reach doctors. “The beauty of the work we do with Epocrates is that we literally put ourselves in the palm of their hand,” said Dr. Freda Lewis Hall, chief medical officer at Pfizer.

Epocrates says drug makers can present alerts to doctors based on specific drugs or classes of drugs they have looked up and by specialty, geography and insurance plan. The company will also send alerts to “customer target lists” — specific physicians, like those identified by pharmaceutical manufacturers as being the most frequent prescribers.

Epocrates acknowledges the challenges of balancing the needs of its two groups of customers: medical professionals and drug companies.

“The credibility of our brand is dependent in large part on the medical community’s continued perception of us as independent from our health care industry clients, particularly pharmaceutical companies,” the company said in a securities filing this year.

Pharmaceutical companies provide at least 70 percent of Epocrates’s revenue, which totaled $104 million last year and is projected to be $125 million this year, according to analysts at William Blair Company, the investment house that helped underwrite the company’s initial public offering in February. (Shares sold for $16 then and closed at $16.83 on Monday.)

“Our first commitment is the value to the physician,” Rosemary A. Crane, president and chief executive of Epocrates, said in an interview.

Ms. Crane said the company’s drug descriptions were unbiased and opened “a trusted channel” for drug makers to communicate with physicians through doctor alerts, which are downloaded each time the doctor updates the frequently changing drug information on the app. Ms. Crane said that having alerts based on tracking what doctors look up made the alerts more relevant to the physicians receiving the messages.

But such data tracking is opposed by some doctors and lawmakers. The Supreme Court last month overturned a Vermont law that would have restricted IMS Health, an industry data firm, from providing to drug marketers the prescription histories of individual physicians.

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Dodd-Frank Backers Clash With Regulator

“I might have titled these remarks, ‘Beware of the Pendulum,’ ” he said. “To put it plainly, my view is that we are in danger of trying to squeeze too much risk and complexity out of banking.”

What made the speech unusual was that Mr. Walsh is a federal regulator. In fact, he is responsible for overseeing most of the nation’s large banks. And as the text of his remarks ricocheted across the electronic landscape of official Washington, it drew a furious reaction from advocates of increased regulation, who called on the White House to replace him.

The uproar brought into public view the increasingly contentious relationship between the authors and supporters of the Dodd-Frank Act, the law passed last year to overhaul financial regulation, and Mr. Walsh, the acting comptroller of the currency, a crucial player in the work of translating the law into practice.

His agency is seeking to soften a wide range of provisions, in areas ranging from the bread-and-butter of consumer protection to the esoteric details of how much money banks can borrow. Democrats and consumer advocates are particularly infuriated because Mr. Walsh, who stepped in as acting director in August, could be replaced by the White House at any time.

“The O.C.C. is acting as if there was never a financial crisis,” said Dennis Kelleher, president of Better Markets, a nonprofit group that advocates for increased regulation of the financial industry. “It’s just an utterly indefensible abdication of its responsibility to the American people.”

Mr. Walsh said in a recent interview that he was bewildered by the anger of his critics. He said that the financial crisis revealed clear problems that his agency was working to fix, but that it wanted to protect at the same time the viability and vigor of the banking industry. The disputes with other parts of the government are not questions of which way to go, but how far.

“I think we’re in a moment in time where if you say anything that suggests you see merit in an argument that is supported by bankers, that you’re somehow selling out your public office or something,” Mr. Walsh said. “And I just don’t agree with that.”

Mr. Walsh, who joined the agency in 2005 and served as chief of staff, took over in August when John Dugan, a Bush appointee, completed his five-year term. Almost a year later, his office in Southwest Washington remains lightly decorated; the distinctive feature is a looking glass pointed toward the Capitol.

Last month, the president nominated Thomas J. Curry, a member of the board of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, to head the agency. He will appear Tuesday before the Senate Banking Committee, but there is no assurance that Republicans will permit a vote.

The most visible battle concerns the agency’s power to exempt banks chartered by the federal government — a category that includes most large banks — from compliance with a hodge-podge of state banking laws.

The Dodd-Frank Act includes language meant to limit this power and to require a review of past exemptions. Earlier this year, however, the agency said the law did not compel any change in its policies. The Treasury Department protested that that ignored the law’s plain meaning. But on Wednesday, the comptroller’s office said that it stood by all of its previous decisions.

The stand is strongly supported by the banking industry, and by many members of Congress, who argue that the efficiency of a single rulebook is fair and results in lower prices for customers.

Advocates of state regulation, however, are girding for a court battle.

“It’s really hard for me to think how much clearer Congress could have been,” said Arthur E. Wilmarth Jr., a professor of financial law at George Washington University. He said the agency was behaving like Lewis Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty, who memorably declared, “When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

The agency also faces criticism over continuing revelations that banks under its supervision have routinely failed to follow the legalities of the foreclosure process. When it announced that it would require banks to conduct comprehensive reviews, and to pay compensation for any problems that were found, critics questioned its competence and sincerity.

“Banks will face penalties,” Mr. Walsh said. ”To do this right will take some time. But if the process is going to be credible and people are going to be able to believe that we can deal with it fairly, we’re going to have to take the time to do the work right.”

In the meantime, the agency is juggling 85 projects dictated by Dodd-Frank. And its greatest impact is likely to unfold far from public view, in the closed-door meetings and long, dense legal opinions where regulations are built and tuned.

In one typical example, the agency is pressing other regulators to accept an inclusive definition of the word “customer.” The Volcker Rule, written into the Dodd-Frank law to limit banks from pursuing their own investments, allows banks to create hedge funds and private equity funds so long as they are quickly marketed and sold to customers. The authors and proponents of the rule want regulators to define the term as narrowly as possible, limiting the opportunity for banks to create products and then identify a willing buyer after the fact. The comptroller’s office, however, has suggested using the expansive definition of a customer found in the Patriot Act.

The agency’s positions reflect its view that banks should be permitted to engage in a broad range of activities, for their own health and for the benefit of the broader economy. Over the years, the agency gradually eased restrictions to allow the rise of behemoths like JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America, and now it is defending those expansive boundaries.

Mr. Walsh said his greatest concern was for the unintended consequences of imposing so many new rules so quickly, which he compared to the danger of mixing medications.

“I’m arguing that erring on the side of caution is to be cautious about how far we go,” he said. “And for a lot of other people erring on the side of caution is, ‘The more armor plate we put on these ships the better, because we never want them to sink again.’ ”

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Your Money: Too Young for Finance? Think Again

Until recently, however, few people made much effort to get children this age to think hard about money. Why go all pecuniary on a child who has barely mastered counting?

In the wake of the financial crisis, however, and the realization that individuals share at least some blame for the bubbles, a number of people and organizations have taken up the cause of helping the next generation of grown-ups form better habits at an earlier age.

The JumpStart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy recently expanded its target age group to include the pre-kindergarten set. A new book called “Pretty Penny Sets Up Shop” tells the story of a young girl who sets up a “small mall” in her grandmother’s attic to pay for her grandmother’s surprise party.

And then there’s Sesame Street, which has a broader reach than any nonprofit group, publisher or even the Head Start program. This week, Sesame entered the fray, too, with a series of videos and other material aimed at teaching its audience about spending, saving and sharing.

There is no definitive proof that any of this will make a lasting impact. “It would be 20 years before we would know the results,” said Laura Levine, JumpStart’s executive director, who served on Sesame Street’s advisory panel.

But the beauty of watching young children absorb these lessons and answering their questions is that it can make you more aware of the financial examples you set. Every shopping trip and holiday gift can become a teaching moment about hard choices, patience and generosity.

So here are how the lessons break down:

SAVE The title of Sesame Street’s package of videos also serves to sum up its component parts: “For Me, For You, For Later.” The literal representation of it are the three labels that come with the DVD in a kit that you can pick up free at any PNC Bank, which is Sesame Street’s partner in the project. You can also download the labels and other print materials on the Web; I’ve linked to the Sesame and PNC sites from the online version of this column.

The three labels read “Spending,” “Saving” and “Sharing.” Children are supposed to affix them to three clear plastic jars where they can drop their coins and bills.

None of this is particularly new. In fact, a company called Snigglezoo Entertainment has been using puppets called the Money Mammals for years. They sing about the virtues of saving, sharing and spending, the very same terms that Sesame Street uses.

John Lanza, Snigglezoo’s self-described chief mammal, said he was still processing the similarities and declined to comment further. Jeanette Betancourt, Sesame Workshop’s senior vice president for outreach and educational practices, said it had been aware of Snigglezoo’s (and many other) trademarks around the terms and noted that the words were in wide use. Nevertheless, she added that Sesame used the words in a unique way for its own specific purposes.

But only Sesame has Elmo, and millions of children are very likely to try to mimic his behavior. In the video, he’s trying to save $5 to buy a “stupendous” ball from a street vendor. At one point, he turns down ice cream so he doesn’t lose ground on reaching his ultimate goal.

This moment goes by in a flash, but it is a crucial one. It isn’t easy for a child (Elmo is perpetually 3 1/2 years old) to give up something pleasurable in the moment in exchange for something bigger and better later on.

If you need evidence of this, pop some corn, grab the family, flip on YouTube and search for the (absolutely hysterical) marshmallow tests. Researchers put the confection in front of small children and tell them they can have one now if they’d like, though if they leave it on the table they can have two later on. Then, they leave the room and flip the switch on the camera to see what the children do.

Many devour the marshmallow before the tester even leaves the room, but that doesn’t have to be a permanent condition.

“I think there is a lot about this process that is a learned skill,” said Russell N. James III, who teaches in the financial planning division at Texas Tech University. “It’s like soccer or other physical skills, where you can coach them. And you want to give them opportunities where they can exercise those skills.”

That’s where the piggy banks and the jars come in. And when Mr. James’s 6-year-old daughter coveted the Nook e-reader that her older sister got for Christmas, he told her that if she did not touch the holiday money she had received from her grandparents for 30 days he would give her the rest of the money she needed for the Nook.

“A year would be too long,” he said. “Because you want them to practice a lot and do it several times under different circumstances.”

SPEND This is the easy part for children, at least at first glance. What’s much harder, however, is determining what different things are worth.

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