Deciphering and then using financial information to make decisions often feels intimidating. Not only are the technical terms that banks and the government use on forms confusing, but making smart financial decisions also involves using numbers to calculate what the best option is. Financial literacy encompasses budgeting, understanding what different kinds of bank accounts are, and understanding what credit scores mean and how to get them. It is so important, but also so difficult, that the federal government set up the financial literacy website mymoney.gov and tasked the Financial Literacy and Education Commission with developing a national strategy on financial education.
In the middle of Reader to Reader’s Athena week this past June, an interactive literacy training for teen moms, participants learned valuable financial skills. Shelley Daughdrill, a Branch Manager and Vice President from Florence Bank, ran a financial literacy workshop for our teen moms that focused on budgeting and using credit cards effectively, as the teen moms begin to make their first budgets and apply for and use their first credit cards.
With the teen moms (and Reader to Reader’s summer interns) sitting in a circle on the couches at Reader to Reader’s office, Daughdrill began the workshop by passing out a stack of cards. On each card was a job – pharmacist, beautician, accountant, or banker, for example – with a monthly salary. Once everybody had chosen a job, they were given budgeting worksheets, in which each person designated a certain amount of money for food, clothing, housing, savings, or to donate to charity. At the end, each person added up the total expenses to see if it was under the total salary she earned each month. The mom with the pharmacist card came out with extra money; the beautician had gone over budget.
After that activity, Daughdrill gave some tips about how to improve credit scores and use credit cards, and then there was time for a question-and-answer session. As they traded questions, stories and experiences, it became clear that the teenage moms were far more knowledgeable about personal finance than the college-student interns. Some of them had already opened credit cards and dealt with credit scores. It was a learning experience for all.
What does any of this have to do with traditional literacy? Why do we, as a literacy non-profit, care about people being able to make smart financial decisions? Because to read is not merely a matter of learning the techniques of reading and writing, but also a matter of the environment in which that learning can take place. If a home has a parent doing well enough financially to take time to read books to her child, or if a home is filled with books bought by a parent, then learning to read, and establishing a routine of sharing books, becomes significantly easier.
In the Athena program, we seek to set up young parents to be the best first teachers for their children that they can be. By building on traditional reading and writing-based forms of literacy with nutritional and financial literacy as well, we can promote that environment that is conducive to reading and lifelong learning.
This article is the final installment in a three-part series on different kinds of literacy. Read the other articles here:
Dennis Quinn is a 2016 Mass Literacy Champion and is the Director of Mentoring Programs at Reader to Reader in Amherst, Massachusetts.