Kids make big bucks in investment clubs

? Like many Americans, Damon Williams joined a stock investment club to eventually put his children through college.

Unlike many of those Americans, Damon is just 11 years old.

After six years of investing, the ambitious Chicago seventh-grader has a portfolio of more than 30 companies worth more than $18,000 — $4,000 of that profit. He is one of the estimated thousands of children in investment clubs nationwide who sacrifice an occasional Saturday to sharpen their financial strategies.

“I want to pay my own way through college, buy real estate and see my children graduate from college also,” Damon said.

At the rate he’s going, he just might do it.

Investment clubs, where members share research and invest as a group or individually, have been popular among adults for years. Many parents say the junior clubs can teach the same money-management skills to their children and help to ensure their futures.

Starting sooner

“I think a lot of parents are starting to realize that investing is not something you start when you’re 30, 40 or 50,” said Amy Rauch Neilson, teen newsletter editor for the National Association of Investors Corp., a nonprofit organization that supports investment clubs and investors. “They’re particularly realizing what an advantage it would have been if someone had taught it to them when they were that age.”

April Williams, Damon’s mother and founder of the Ujamaa Junior Investment Club, wishes someone had taught her to manage her money earlier. At the age of 30, Williams was a single parent maxed out on all her credit cards and living paycheck to paycheck.

Damon Williams, center left, plays Monopoly with Amber Baker, left, Ashley Baker and Brianna Jordan during a meeting of the Chicago Ujamaa Junior Investment Club. After six years of investing, Damon, 11, has a portfolio of more than 30 companies worth more than 8,000 -- ,000 of that profit.

“I felt it was an insane way to live and a terrible legacy for my children,” she said.

So Williams taught herself how to invest and turned her life around. She started the adult Ujamaa investment club and later the children’s group to teach others how to do the same. The children’s club now has 20 members ages 11 to 18.

At meetings of Ujamaa — Swahili for cooperative economics — Williams and two other mentors lead the group in games of Monopoly, talks about smart investing and contests.

Williams encourages the children to pay attention to companies they and their families use in everyday life when choosing stocks. Damon used money he earned from modeling and gifts from his mother to buy stock in Marvel Comics and Nike.

“You get to be creative,” said Ujamaa member Ashley Baker, 17.

Ashley’s mother, Louise Baker, enrolled the teen and her sister Amber, 14, in the club four years ago to give them an early start on financial security. Ashley’s portfolio is now worth about $2,000, and Amber’s is just more than $1,000.

Practice makes perfect

The following Web sites offer advice, true stories, games and educational information for kids interested in investing:¢¢¢¢

Children exposed to stock market games, where they invest fake money, have higher rates of financial literacy, according to a study Mandell conducted for the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy, a nonprofit group that seeks to educate young people about finances. Mandell suspects investment clubs have the same effect.

But not everyone thinks children should be sinking real money into real stocks.

Laura Levine, executive director of Jump$tart, says children can learn the same skills through stock market games. “They can certainly learn to make mistakes without any real risk,” she said.

But Ashley Baker doesn’t worry too much about losing money when she invests in companies such as AT&T, Nokia and Krispy Kreme.

“I’m still young and it’s there for me, just to be, like, a little extra,” she said.