Regular readers of EmergingEdTech know that I like to post once or twice a year on Financial Literacy, usually in April (Financial Literacy Awareness Month), but this is a time of year that finances can get a bit challenging, so why wait? – KW
Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime. That’s what education is all about, right? Giving people the knowledge base and skills necessary to function and succeed on their own.
We fail as educators, parents, and community leaders if we neglect to address financial literacy: an increasingly important building block for the modern consumer in the era of “Great” recessions, long life expectancy, and fingertip access to complex financial products. While technology may, in a sense, make responsible financial management harder to come by, it also provides a wealth of new learning opportunities at each stage of the financial literacy process – a process which should begin as early as possible.
“Waiting until college is too late,” Dr. Bonnie Meszaros, associate director of the Center for Economic Education & Entrepreneurship at the University of Delaware, told CardHub in a recent interview. “As part of a freshman seminar here at the University of Delaware, we teach one session on credit and one on money management. It is clear that most of the students are unaware of fundamental financial concepts. … I actually think that personal finance needs to be introduced in the elementary grades.”
Begin With the Basics
It’s only natural to start the financial literacy process with the most basic of the basics: the value of a dollar, budgeting, and saving. But, if you’re going to do so in elementary school, you’ll also need to make things fun. That is a task made exceedingly simple by the ubiquity of computers, tablets, and smartphones as well as the aptitude with which young people wield them. By encouraging kids to try new financial literacy apps and games – such as Mindblown Life, Unleash the Loot!, and Savings Spree – you can introduce the pillars of responsible money management without the students even knowing they are learning.
Technology also plays an integral role in the practical application of these basic tenets. I typically recommend that parents begin by: 1) opening a prepaid card account in their child’s name; 2) linking the account to a mobile budgeting application like Mint; and 3) providing a biweekly allowance, while abdicating payment responsibility for certain extracurricular activities.
While young people admittedly do not have the most complex spending and payment habits, familiarizing them with the tools of the trade will increase their odds of keeping a budget later in life and illustrate how quickly minor expenses like iTunes downloads and Facebook games can add up over time. This is an area that clearly needs attention, as only two in five U.S. adults maintain a budget and keep close track of their spending, according to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.
Prepaid cards are particularly well-suited to the task because they foster a low-pressure learning environment (since use does not impact one’s credit standing) and provide online account management tools that parents can use to review their kids’ spending habits. As long as you avoid supplementing your child’s prescribed allowance, they will be forced to budget and prioritize expenses.
Older Students, More Complex Concepts
These lessons should continue, with growing sophistication and difficulty, as students graduate from grade to grade. In other words, parents should reinforce what their children have already learned about budgeting and saving by gradually removing the training wheels, adding to their kids’ payment responsibilities, and introducing more complex topics like credit management. Progressing to a bimonthly allowance deposited into a checking account and then a student credit card and a part-time job would be a great start, for example.
Teachers can supplement this practical experience by incorporating economics, investing, and consumer decision-making into the math curriculum. One great way to do so is with a game like Kapitall. Kapitall is a free, interactive investing platform that enables users to make imaginary investments with an imaginary budget, track their progress over time, and even compete with other users for prizes.
Money is simply a far less abstract topic than much of what is traditionally covered in a classroom setting, and that alone will help personify what you’re preaching and lead to more engaged students.
“Kids are interested in money, and we should use their interest to teach them something about earning, saving, spending, setting goals and so forth,” says Mary Suiter, assistant vice president and economic education officer at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. “We would never wait until their senior year of high school to teach students everything they should know about mathematics, science, or any other discipline.”
The hope is, that by starting the financial literacy process early and continuing it through young adulthood, we might ultimately help future generations stand on their own two financial feet. If we want them to avoid repeating the many mistakes that we, as a society, have made in recent years, we had better leverage every tool and technology at our disposal.