It’s Saturday morning and you suddenly remember that your child has a birthday party to go to in the afternoon as you start running to the toy store, scrambling to find a birthday gift, only to come to the party realizing that three other parents brought the exact same thing. Every parent can relate to this scenario, including Tanya Van Court, a Brooklyn mom of two young children and newborn baby, who calls it “the Saturday morning shuffle.” Van Court is also the CEO of Sow, a website that breaks the vicious cycle of this gift-giving dynamic and gives kids and parents tools to make healthy personal financial decisions and support meaningful goals.
A parent or a child (kids under 13 require parental supervision and can be added to parent account) can go online, easily set up a profile, and start working towards their goals. Sow then lets kids and parents “sow seeds” in three categories: Saving towards the future, sharing with those who are less fortunate, and wishing for meaningful items – these are the standing goals. You can establish one in each category or all three. Sow not only teaches kids about the value of money and gives them life skills, but also inspires them to make the future’s world a better and brighter place for the generations that will come after. See the video at the bottom of this post to learn more about how the program works.
Van Court inherited the importance of investing and saving from her grandmother’s lessons about money, but it was her own kids, being a mom, and talking to other parents which made her realize that the gift-giving system at birthday parties was broken, and “it was broken both ways, on the gift-giving end and on the gift-receiving end, because the mom whose kid is having a birthday party is standing there with mountains and mountains of gifts as the kid is literally just left sitting in the corner.”
“At that point I realized it’s one of those things we have not fixed in this country. And it’s a lot of pain for everyone involved. And it’s not good for kids either because there are things that they really want,” Van Court says. Sure, kids want everything, but for Sow it’s not about immediate gratification, but rather a pattern of goal setting behaviors and working towards that goal. “That’s what makes kids financially healthy for the rest of their lives because goal creation is really the first step to wealth creation,” Van Court adds.
The first seed for Sow was planted by Van Court’s daughter, Gabrielle, who told her that she wanted just two things for her 9th birthday: A bike and enough money to start an investment account. It was that moment followed by her son’s birthday party where another light bulb lit up in Van Court’s head. Her son had his 5th birthday Spider Man-themed party and got three identical Spider Man dolls as gifts. Van Court reminisces: “My reaction was that there are kids who are living in a favela in Brazil who would love to have one of these, but I can’t ship Spider Man dolls to a favela in Brazil, but when my son Sows he can Sow for a favela in Brazil. He can give part of his birthday, graduation, Christmas, or Bar Mitzvah money, and it would be a moment to teach a child not about what they want today, but about others and what others need today, and also what they need for the future. It really orients them around more than just today and consuming more and more.”
The idea of thinking about a better future is embedded in the very name of the company. “To ‘sow’ means to plant seeds, but it also means to disperse seeds and one of the things that was really important to me was that you’re learning how to plant seeds for your future and help others with their futures as well. So the great thing about sowing seeds is you’re planting things that will grow over time and that’s what Sow does, it enables young people to plant seeds to grow in their future, but it also enables them to plant seeds that will benefit others,” Van Court notes.
After a child creates a profile, they can share their goals with family and friends through Facebook, email, Twitter, or other social media platforms. Sow then provides the user with a customized link for you and your kids to find your profile page, so you can just copy and paste that customized link into a birthday invitation, an e-vite. Upon clicking the link, it will say “please don’t bring a gift and instead check out my kid’s sow profile.” So whether it’s your colleague who doesn’t know what to bring to a kid’s party or a family member at a loss for a graduation gift, they can easily use their Paypal account or credit card to give a truly meaningful gift the receiver wants.
Gift giving is one thing, but getting kids excited about financial education can be tricky. One of the website’s features is Sow Smart, an Urban Financial Dictionary, which uses rap songs lyrics from artists like Jay Z and Kanye West to define financial terms (like 401K, for example) in easily digestible way for everyone. Van Court thinks of it as the “Hamilton” of personal finance. “The truth is that we have rap songs, recording artists, and television personalities talking about money all the time. Why is it that we as normal folks don’t talk about money and don’t know about money? ‘Hamilton’ uses hip-hop to teach history and make it relatable and we use rap lyrics to make finance relatable,” she explains.
As a mom and a former corporate executive, Van Court understands the difficulty of getting children interested in finance. So she shares a tip she herself uses with her own youngsters: “What we do is we make a game out of almost everything that we learn. So one of the games that we play is if I had X amount of dollars, I would buy… And you can do it with kids at any age and it could be teaching a lesson about what you can actually buy versus what you want to buy. For instance, if we do “if I had $2,” my son would say: “I would buy breakfast for everyone.” I would tell him: “Sorry, honey, but if you were to buy breakfast for everyone it would cost more than $2.”
For Van Court, financial literacy is a life skill like driving or swimming and yet so many young people today have no knowledge of it. “Only five states in the country require a personal finance class from high schoolers. It really is sad because kids today say that in high school they learn about mitochondria, how to solve complex calculus problems, but they do not learn how to balance a check book and how to do taxes,” she says. “These basic fundamental concepts are left out of discussion and are making children ill-equipped, lacking financial independence. And it’s hard for parents to teach them because a lot of times parents don’t know these financial terms themselves and don’t have the tools to teach them to kids. That’s why Sow Smart has a context for terms because it shouldn’t be something you study; it should be something you do.”
So what is in the future for Sow? They’re currently working on a “give the gift of Sow” feature. It will enable adults to give a young person a sum of money towards a Sow account even if they don’t have their Sow profile set up. Apart from launching new features, Van Court is hoping for the company to become a movement and contribute to creating a completely different generation of young people who understand the importance of saving, no matter the income amount, and realize that there’s always someone out there who needs their sharing help. “If we can get every kid out there Sowing, we can ultimately create a different generation,” Van Court says. “And we also have a potential to create a generation that is not in debt, not enslaved to credit cards, not enslaved to housing and luxury cars they can’t afford. Teaching how to spend their money–that’s my goal with Sow.”
For more information on Sow, visit isow.com