Our fourth America Saves Weeks spotlight is Genna Rosenberg, a toy and consumer products veteran with over 20 years of experience in marketing and communications. Genna’s money journey starts off with immigrant grandparents who didn’t have much, yet worked very hard to to support their family. With a father who was more care-free with money. and a mother who actively encouraged her to save, she is the perfect balance. She saved enough earlier on in her life, that now, she can take risks in investing in new projects that have great potential for the future.
The American Dream
Genna Rosenberg grew up hearing stories about how hard her grandparents worked to make money. “My parents both grew up in homes where their parents counted their pennies,” she shared. “Three out of four of my grandparents immigrated to America from Eastern Europe, and they all worked hard. They didn’t have much and needed to stretch every last dollar.”
“My maternal grandparents commuted into Manhattan from the Bronx and were leather wallet-makers. We kept our pennies in little luggage-colored change purses they made by hand,” she recalled. “My paternal grandfather had odd jobs and five kids. There wasn’t a lot of money there and they lived very modestly on welfare.”
The Yin and the Yang
Genna’s father was the baby of the family and went to trade school to learn the meat business. So, he became a successful entrepreneur in the meat industry, bringing home high earnings and top-quality meat.
He was more care-free with money, always loving the best in life. Her mom, on the other hand, was conservative and cautious. “We weren’t rich, but my parents were the first generation to have more money. They proudly bought a nice home with a swimming pool in the suburbs that we grew up in,” Genna shared. “My Dad especially loved enjoying extravagances, having pool parties, playing games, going on vacations, driving nice cars and eating good food. They generously shared this more comfortable lifestyle with their children, siblings and friends. All of that seemed to be connected to having enough money to do so.”
My mother also worked to contribute income to our family,” she shared. “Before becoming a mother, she was a second-grade teacher. Once my brother and I were past the toddler years, she went into real estate.”
“She was the yin to my Dad’s yang. She taught me about many things, like saving, using coupons, and not being extravagant. I also learned to not order the most expensive thing on the menu, and to be patient for things I want because eventually they usually go on sale. And, that being together is the most important thing,” she shared.
Childhood money games and jobs
Genna was exposed to money at a young age. She played money-related games with her family like Pay Day and The Game of Life. In first grade, she also had her own savings account. Her mother would take her to deposit her birthday checks and the rolled coins she saved from her allowance. “I remember my Grandma had a fun bank where a street monkey flipped pennies into the receptacle. We had so much fun playing with that as a kid,” she recalled.
In high school, she got a job working as a teller at Independence Bank. “I loved counting the huge stacks of bills that local merchants would deposit, making sure they were all facing the same way and that they counted out perfectly. I found it very exciting to be around so much money and learning the intricacies of different types of accounts .”
Genna loved to work, from selling Girl Scout cookies, to baby-sitting and waitressing. “One summer, I waitressed at a wedding hall. Every two tables had two servers tag-teaming. After we delivered the entrees, all the other servers went outside to hang out and wait for the next course. But, I went around to my tables and asked if anyone needed a cocktail. On my first day, I ended up making $24 dollars in tips,” she recalled. “I asked my table partner if she would like to share the tips, and she told me ‘Honey, I’ve been working here for six years and have made $12 in tips – if you earn any, you keep them.’ From that night on, I worked when everyone else took a break, earning a couple of hundred dollars that summer in tips. I learned that hard work and attention to detail pay off.”
Student loan-free… but credit card debt-full
“I always loved money but was also told I wasn’t good in math. So, in college, I shied away from finance classes that would have helped me hone my financial savvy at a younger age,” Genna shared.
Genna’s father passed away suddenly when she was nine years old; luckily her parents had a life insurance policy. “Because my father had paid into social security throughout his career, my mom received a monthly bereavement benefit for each of us kids until we were 18. She used that money for us to live on and to pay for my college education, so I did not have to take out student loans,” she explained. “I did use money that I had saved for some of my spending money while in school, but I was lucky not to have had to rack-up student loans over those years.”
In college, Genna waitressed at TGI Friday’s, and was a Barista and Manager at the town’s first artsy coffee house. “Although I had income, I ended up racking some credit card debt. I wasn’t really understanding interest charges and that they really add up if you don’t pay off the entire bill each month.”
“I also got a joint credit card with a college boyfriend, which I don’t recommend,” she warned. “We broke up eventually, and I ended up having to pay off the card myself since it was tied to my credit. It was extremely stressful and a big learning lesson for me.”
Genna graduated with a B.A. in Journalism with an emphasis in Public Relations, and a Double Major in Women’s Studies. She then moved to California, excited to be an aunt to her brother’s first child..
Credit cards: A change of perspectives
In her first professional job, she enjoyed the experience working in a small business; but, she was broke. “Again, I found myself leaning too much on credit cards and was racking up interest charges,” she explained. “As much as I loved the job itself, I was essentially on an entry-level salary and needed to move on to move up and improve my financial situation.”
Genna ended up getting a job as the Head of PR, Investor Relations, and Philanthropy at a big publicly traded toy company. The job came with a significant earnings increase; she was able to pay off her credit cards and focus on savings. “It was then, in my mid-twenties, that I learned more about finances and running a business.”
Her mom encouraged her to take full advantage of the company’s generous 401k program. “If I put 10% of my income into my 401K, my company would match that amount. It would compound remarkably andI would have much more when it came time to retire than if I waited, say 10 years to start,” she explained.
“I also realized that I never wanted to rack up credit card debt again. But, if I was smart, I could use credit cards in a different way to leverage them for valuable benefits like airline miles,” she shared. She got approval to use her personal credit cards for large approved company purchases. She would pay them off in full each month, and keep all the airline points she accrued.
“I diligently stayed on top of getting reimbursed for the expenses. As a result, I earned airline miles that contributed to the ‘Gold for Life’ status on American Airlines I have today. This benefit still helps me today, now working for myself on a tighter budget.”
Games, toys, and casinos…
Genna currently works in the toy industry. She realizes how toys and games have had a profound impact on her earliest memories of making money. “I played games that revolved around amassing money to get things and status. I remember the excitement of acquiring money, and I suppose the idea of gamifying earning it,” she recalled.
Her older brother Perry, who also played those games with her, turned out to be a finance wiz and an incredible mentor to her throughout her career.
“He has a mind for negotiating unique business models that crush antiquated norms and present new ways to optimize win-win situations for players on both sides. I have applied his unorthodox approach in navigating innovative business deals. He had a profound impact on the business development practice we have cultivated at GennComm ImaGENNation.”
Casinos and the gamification within the industry also had an impact on what she does today. “I realized that casino games are somewhat of metaphors for the entrepreneurial approach I take in some aspects of business.”
Taking risks: Betting for the future
“I have a stable and dependable core business, my PR and Marketing agency GennComm. But, I also have a business development division, GennComm ImaGENNation. That’s where I am willing to take a series of bets that present the opportunity for great financial upside,” she shared. “The uncertainty is enough to make your stomach drop. But when we hit that number we were waiting for, the excitement and financial gains are worth it! I find myself supercharged by the game of it.”
Today, she is in a unique spot in her career having left a stable job and taking more of an entrepreneurial path. “Our family is investing in our future. And, at the moment, we have our pennies spread out on the board of our own game of life,” she shared. “We’re working for ourselves and took a break from putting savings into a 401K. I’m so glad I did for many years in my 20s and 30s, and that pot continues to grow.”
“While we do anticipate getting back to that in the near future, we’re now investing our savings in other ways. We’re putting our investments into projects and prospects that have great potential for our future. I guess you can say, I’m betting on us.“
She and her husband have some savings in investments like mutual funds and a few stocks, in addition to their 401ks. But, mostly, they are investing into their passion projects. “We should be more active in watching the allocations, but we are so busy that we don’t have time to be as active as we’d like. One of our goals for this year is to be more active in this area.”
Like parents, like kids
Genna’s two kids see their parents running their businesses and understand that they need to work hard so they can enjoy nice things as a family. “Because of that, our kids emulate our business mindset by building micro-economies as part of their playtime,” she shares. “Funnily enough, they started making paper money, and use it to bargain for things with each other. They create storefronts with their toys and pretend they run mini cities.”
It is important to Genna to teach kids to know the value of money, and how to figure out what to spend it on. Also, that when they do have their own money, to not spend it all. “We take basic steps explaining [this] to them, and literally play the same games from my childhood with them,” she shared. “We also play some new digital games that teach them about money like Subway Surfers.” Her husband even gamified learning about the bitcoin economy for the kids and his own dad by building a server that mines for the cryptocurrency Ethereum “as a novel plaything.”
She believes it’s specifically important to teach her daughter to be self-reliant and to know her value. “If she can learn about the value of money and how to budget, live within her means, and maximize her earning potential, she will be stronger and more independent than those who don’t. She will make better life choices and have more freedom.”
Count your pennies!
In terms of saving, she advises, “Live beneath your means, so you have money for a rainy day. We all want new and shiny things, but if we can wait, we can actually have more of them in the long term and be prepared for when things happen.”
“And literally – Count your pennies! Each day, we take loose coins out of our pockets or purse and put them in a jar. We could pour the whole thing into a machine that would count the lot in a blink, but instead, we sit on the floor together, and take the time to count each shiny coin, dividing them into precise groups before neatly stacking them into paper rolls. Today, it’s still a thrill to see just how quickly those found pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters add up in our own personal game of life! “