Financial literacy is more than just understanding what a budget is or how to balance a checkbook. It is having the tools and skills to understand and then apply personal financial knowledge so you can make the best choices possible. Here are five tips to help your students learn important personal finance lessons from MassSaves, a resource for financial education and money management tools in Massachusetts.
- Empower yourself — Sometimes educators feel less confident teaching financial skills because they don’t feel like they have their own personal finances under control. Keep in mind that no matter what your personal financial picture looks like, you still have very valuable life experiences to offer. No one expects every elementary basketball coach to be a former NBA player. Learn along with your students.
- Help your students identify reliable sources of information online — Teaching students how to cross check their findings and identify reliable information is critical. Personal finance is one of those areas of the Internet where predators often lurk. Take this opportunity to talk about online security and caution students to be wary of anything that sounds too good to be true. You can get them started on trustworthy sites like Consumer.gov or our own MassSaves.org.
- Make learning relevant and fun — Your students are going to remember things that are important to them. No matter what age group you work with, you’ll be able to find many online resources and personal finance curricula that usually are free of charge. The field of behavioral economics shows that the best time to learn about finances is when you can actually apply the skills to your life. Want to talk about savings in high school? Try teaching your students how they can save for a down payment on a car. Want to talk about credit to adults? Try showing them the amount of money they can save on a loan when they have a good versus poor credit score.
- Keep in mind invisible barriers — Family cultures and personal history may play a big factor in how students respond to and engage in financial topics. For example, some people don’t trust financial institutions and thus end up paying more in fees and transaction costs.
- Begin at the beginning — Technology has had a big impact on our financial lives. Many of the opportunities our parents may have had to teach us about personal finances, like trips to the bank or writing a check to pay a bill, are now done electronically and for many do not exist in our lives of 2 am online banking. Students may not have the firsthand experience for you as educators to build on, which can make the work even more important but potentially harder. Make sure you start with the very basic concepts and build up from there. Don’t take for granted that your students know the difference between checking and savings accounts or that debit cards are not the same as credit cards.
Kerri McLaughlin, CCUFC, is the Education and Financial Literacy Coordinator at RTN Federal Credit Union. She sits on the Steering Committee of the MassSaves Financial Education Collaborative and is on the Board of Directors of the Waltham Partnership for Youth.