So it's come to this: asking 9-year-olds to plan for their retirement.

Strong Funds, the Milwaukee-based mutual fund company, has announced an essay contest in which children in grades 3 through 8 must answer the following question: "What am I going to do when I retire, and how will I pay for it?"

One marketing expert said he thinks Strong is jumping the gun in asking youngsters to set aside their Nintendo games to ponder their sunset years.

"It's important that children learn about money and how it works and what an economy is," said Arnold Wechsler, the chief executive of Wechsler Ross & Partners Inc. in New York. "But I think at the age of 9 having to create anxiety about one's retirement is maybe going just a little bit overboard."

Strong is offering no apologies.

"I don't think it's a bad idea at all," said Stephanie Truog, a spokeswoman. "They've got time on their side if they start thinking about saving and investing now, because they can figure out how to make money work for them as young adults."

The contest promises $1,000 scholarships for two winners.

The investment industry has been targeting young people with educational and marketing campaigns.

Almost 700,000 students in grades 4 through 12 participated in "The Stock Market Game" last year. The game, part of a program run by the Securities Industry Association, uses hypothetical investing to teach kids about economics, capital markets, and saving money.

Stein Roe's Young Investor Fund, which invests mainly in companies popular with kids, such as Gap and Coca-Cola, has $1 billion of assets under management. Details and rules for Strong's essay contest are on a new Web site, strongkids.com., which also includes interactive quizzes and calculators meant to teach children about saving, investing, and the like.

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