Chris Preston, vice president of corporate relations for United Way Worldwide, has come a long way from his humble beginnings. He grew up an only child, in a single parent, working class poor home in Roanoke, Virginia, where his mom would frequently work two jobs to make ends meet.
Chris attended Patrick Henry High School. There he had two primary interests: sports and figuring out how to help his mom and grandparents pay for his college education. Fortunately, he was a scholar athlete. He leveraged the experience and garnered a full academic scholarship to George Mason University (GMU).
Preston attended GMU from 1992 to 1996 where he earned a degree in Business Management. He dreamed of becoming a sports agent. That changed after having a first-hand experience in the trenches interning for a sports agency. Instead of inspiring Chris to represent professional athletes as a career, it drove him to go to work in sales for Enterprise Rent a Car. Today, he credits Enterprise for teaching him to be a professional and showing him how to run an operation. While at Enterprise, Chris was recruited by a technology company for high speed internet access and network security sales. The owners sold the company a few years later and that led Chris to United Way where he has been ever since.
Over a 15-year span Preston has elevated himself through the non-profit performing a variety of roles with the organization including: National Sales Manager United Way Worldwide; Senior Vice President, Strategic and Regional Management for United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey; Vice President, Resource Development, United Way of the National Capital Area; and his current position, United Way Worldwide, Vice President, Corporate Relations.
Once a Patriot Always a Patriot
Since graduating from GMU, Chris has maintained close ties with his alma mater and fellow Patriots. He has been active in the GMU Alumni Association serving as President, Treasurer, at larger Director and Vice-President of Member Involvement.
Currently, Chris resides in Fairfax, Virginia and has one son, Christopher, Jr.
NOW, it is with great pleasure we share some of Chris Preston’s childhood memories and insights on kids and money.
Budget for Ice Cream
Sam X Renick: What is the most important money habit you learned as a child? Please share the story behind how you learned the habit and what impact it has had on you throughout your life.
Chris Preston: Budgeting was the most important lesson I learned. I would get a small allowance and also cut grass for extra funds. I learned to not outspend my earnings, save at least 10% for “the future”, and save a little bit more than that for a “rainy day”. My grandfather sat me down and did the math for me while we ate ice cream on his back porch.
Work More. Make More
Renick: At around what age did you realize “money was money” or that it had a value? Please share the circumstances or how the realization came about?
Preston: I think I was 6. I was allowed to pick out ice cream from the ice cream truck. I realized the quarter or so that I had wouldn’t cover the Super Bomb Pop. This also taught me that if you work more, you tend to make more, so you can get the Super Bomb Pop.
Interest is Interesting
Renick: If you could only teach a child one money habit, WHAT money habit would you teach them? Please explain why.
Preston: I would teach a child the power of interest with the desired outcome of getting children to save early and talk to their parents about their college savings fund accounts and/ or opening up their own accounts.
Related: How to Map Your Kids Money Mindset
Renick: What was your biggest money mistake as a child or teenager?
Preston: My biggest mistake was not learning about higher-interest bearing accounts beyond a savings account. I knew my mom had purchased bonds for my college education; however, I didn’t know what that meant. I would have paid attention to those letters and numbers that would come on halfway through the 6PM local news – the stock information.
Getting Started is Smart
Renick: What was one of the smartest money decisions you made as a child or a teenager and why?
Preston: To at least start a checking and savings account.
Making Money Lessons Stick
Renick: A variety of surveys indicate it is a challenge for parents to talk to kids about money. What would you say are one or two of the primary reasons parents find it difficult to talk personal finance with their children? And, if you have a suggestion on how they can overcome the obstacle, please share that as well.
Preston: Coming from a lower middle class, working class poor family, I think generational wealth is essential. It allows children to follow their dreams and take risks. I speak to my son about the importance of money and managing it quite frequently. One fun (or at least I think it is fun) activity I do with my son is I save coins and small bills for him throughout the year and place it in a gallon pitcher. Each Saturday before Thanksgiving, we sit down to wrap the coins (yes, actually place them in coin wrappers) and count the bills. We put 50% of the funds into his savings account and the other 50% he can use to go out to eat and buy a toy.
To the actual question, I think a barrier might be around whether or not the child will understand. My sense is the conversation has to at least start, then determine how to make it resonate. Furthermore, some parents are confident in their own money management. So, it is important that the parents are educated on money management.
Financial Literacy Equals Stability
Renick: Why do you believe there is not more personal finance being taught in schools? And, do you think personal finance should be taught in schools? Why or why not?
Preston: Personal finance and creating a personal budget should be a required course starting in middle school in my opinion. Financial literacy is the key to financial stability.
Education is the Answer
Renick: Cambridge University research indicates adult money habits are set by age 7? WHAT IF the research is wrong and adult money habits are formed earlier than age seven – perhaps around the age the “give mes” set in? What would this mean for families, schools, and/or the financial education industry?
Preston: I think that a child should know as soon as they can comprehend that money is used for different purposes (spending, saving, and investing) as early as possible. This lack of education continues to widen the wealth gap.
Renick: What is your favorite book on personal finance? And, is there one lesson that stands out in your mind from the book?
Preston: I don’t really have a personal finance book that is my favorite. I tend to think of Rich Dad, Poor Dad in which I learned to pay myself first.
Renick: Are there any additional thoughts you would like to share or questions you would like the audience and myself to consider?
Preston: The questions raised here bring up some of the issues that we are experiencing in communities in the U.S. and beyond. These questions/issues are partly why United Way is moving more and more to a financial coaching model. The coaching model isn’t just for those in need, people who are considered successful may need help being smarter about money.
You can discover more about Chris and his work at UnitedWay.org
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