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First, they crafted origami wallets and purses. Then, they learned about the presidents on the money they’d be stashing away, ate some silver dollar pancakes and got financial advice from a personal finance expert.

Kids at the Rassieur Youth Center at Patuxent River Naval Air Station spent a week learning about money — mostly how to earn it, save it and spend it — during its Military Youth Saves program Feb. 25 through March 1.

It’s an annual event. And this year, with furloughs on the horizon, many federal employees and defense contractors are trimming their personal spending, putting off purchases like vacations and televisions. So, the youth center spent a lot of time helping children understand wants versus needs, said Keetje Straub, director at the center. “Some of the kids thought having the video game or Direct TV is a need,” she said.

Eugene Marble, who has a 7-year-old in the program, said he’s already been talking to his son about personal finances. The boy has a savings account — money to be used as an investment when he graduates from high school — and they go over statements together, Marble said. Any parent would want their child to go onto higher education and be “financially independent,” he said.

Marble has four children. Over the years, he grew as a parent and saw the need to teach finance to his children. His oldest struggled right out of college and he helped her financially, a balancing act he willingly endured as he supported the rest of his family. So, Marble said, he realized he needed to be more active in helping his younger children understand money, saving and investment. “When you learn about the value of a dollar and how to invest a dollar, you probably have a better future,” he said.

That’s why the youth program focused on smart spending.

“You need food to live. You need a roof over your head. You need a car to get to work and get the paycheck,” Straub said. “Having a TV is nice, but not a requirement.”

It’s OK to have wants, “you just have to plan for them,” Straub said. That’s why the center stressed saving.

Children learned to balance checking accounts, and played games that encouraged them to give correct change from a cash register, or collect coins to see who saved the most. A big hit was the ATM where one child put in a pretend card and a kid on the other side of the machine pushed money through. They got stamps for their activities.

At the end of the week, children who earned and saved enough cashed their earnings in for a T-shirt.

The center has 127 children, ages 5 to 12, in its before- and after-school youth center program. “I think it was really good for them to kind of work things through,” Straub said.

The children know things are happening with the economy, she said. She wanted to instill in them that when they do grow up, and they have money, “they think about saving,” Straub said.

nclark@somdnews.com