I Want to Make Personal Finance Cool in School

Isn’t that the lamest blog post title I’ve ever written!? Well, I don’t care. It’s true.

I mentioned it briefly in one of last week’s posts but financial literacy for youth has been at the forefront of my mind lately. When I look back at the things I learned about making money, building savings, using credit properly, etc. when I was growing up, the only people I remember talking to me about it were my parents. Now, maybe that’s because my parents are the people I look up to, so I’ve always cared about whatever they told me to do. (That’s not to say I always listened, but think of who I was most scared to admit my debt to.) I don’t remember learning anything about personal finance in school, other than some of the basics around business budgets, which I learned in Accounting 11.

I’ve been digging around, trying to find information that either says YES! We need to teach personal finance in school! or justifies why there still isn’t an entire course dedicated to this subject and I’m coming up short. (But seriously, if you can justify making Accounting an elective, why isn’t Personal Finance one too?) Before I made the move to RateHub.ca, I spent the first 5 years of my career working at Open School BC. My job was to literally make the courses that BC’s K-12 students take come to life. And the last one I worked on was Planning 10, so I know personal finance is weaved in and out of our Education IRPs. But teaching students a little bit about personal finance in Business Education 9, Math 8-10 and Planning 10 isn’t going to cover it.

In my opinion, money management is the #1 skill all teenagers should be graduating high school with.¬†Even though BC students have to complete Planning 10, in order to graduate, that doesn’t mean they finish the course with a full grasp of what money is and how they can make it work for them. In fact, do you want to know what the goal of the personal finance section of that course is, as outlined by the Ministry of Education? “It is expected that students will be able to understand the importance of making informed decisions about¬†financing their education and career goals.” Did you finish high school knowing how to do that? When I graduated from high school, the only thing I knew was that I didn’t qualify for student loans so I needed to work – and an application form and rejection letter taught me that.

But when are we going to teach students about bank accounts? When are we going to explain banking fees, transaction types and interest rates? When are we going to show them how to create basic budgets, talk to them about how to spend less than they earn, and explain the various saving account options that exist? When are we going to give examples of how credit cards can either be a great tool or an absolute nightmare? When are we going to show them real life examples in a meaningful way that will make them want to prepare for their futures? I know examples of all of these things are pasted in random spots throughout our Education IRPs but it needs to be showed in a more focused format! And kids are open to it. I want to summarize the findings of one report in a separate post, but know that 93% of students who participated in it agreed that it was important to learn about finances at an early age.

I’m just asking questions right now. I don’t know any of the answers yet. Do I think personal finance should be a full course available to all high school students? Yes. Am I crazy enough to think that teens will believe me when I say that personal finance is cool? Obviously not. I used to be a teenager and I have two teenage siblings. It takes time to get them interested in a topic, especially one that they can’t dive in and get experience with yet (i.e. can’t open a TFSA until they are 18, get a credit card at 19, etc.). But I do believe it’s possible to get high school students to at least start talking about money in a meaningful way, and another “for credit course” isn’t going to make them want to learn anything.

On top of believing that money management is the top skill all students should graduate high school with, I think that learning how to manage money – and feeling confident in their money management skills – is also something that can make kids feel proud of themselves. In a graduating class, every student will move onto their next chapter: some will move onto post-secondary, some will continue with sports or the arts, and others will join the workforce right away. It doesn’t matter what they do next – every single one of them needs to know how to manage their money. And if I can play a part in helping even one student learn and care more about their personal finances, I will be happy.

Now, where the heck do I start?

  • I agree Cait, it should be taught in the schools and I really don’t know what is taking them so long. Money management skills are paramount to the success of living life, it’s essential yet they don’t teach it. Some say the parents should teach kids about money but what happens if your own parents are rubbish with money? Does that mean that the kids that have parents that understand money are the only one’s that will “get it”? I hope to see changes to the system, after all the kids of today, are the kids of the future. Well done Cait.

    • I do wonder if some of it is cultural; families don’t really talk about money, in some cultures. But I think there should at least be the OPTION for a high school student to take at least one class that is dedicated to personal finance before they graduate. We force enough math down their throats that they’ll likely never use again… why not give them the opportunity to learn about something they’ll use in their daily lives forever?

  • I completely agree with you! In fact, I’m the trainer for my company – we help people pay off loans faster in a nutshell – and recently developed a whole series on personal finance training because our team – even people in their 40s – have no concept of how credit works, or how student loans work, etc. These SKILLS are so undervalued in schools today.

  • I think a senior year of high school or freshman year of college class would be the most important. In high school, I did everything with debit and worked summers so that I would have money to spend.

    In college, there are credit card offers and there is nobody there telling you it’s a bad idea.

    I had to learn it all on my own as I went along and it would have been really great if there was a class that taught at least the basics of interest rates, credit cards, and budgeting.

    • Agreed. In Canada, the last two years of high school are just called Grade 11 and Grade 12. I think that’s a perfect time to start introducing personal finance topics to students, especially because that’s when many of them start working part-time jobs (ages 15-17).

  • I absolutely 100% agree that money management needs to be taught in schools. It is probably the most critical subject a student should learn prior to graduation. I say prior to graduation mostly because some students do indeed start supporting themselves before they even finish high school. Part of the problem with instituting a course on money management is the fact that so many adults are abysmal themselves when it comes to the subject. In a lot of instances we’re the blind leading the blind here.

    What’s even scarier is the fact that the banks are well aware of this as well. I know of one banker in my area that has talked to their local school board about giving a presentation about money management, bank accounts, and different loan products that are available to the students. The school district said no, because it partially involved advertising the bank directly to students. The banker was somewhat ticked off, because they didn’t see a problem with this. I’m so happy that school district said no, but you never know when the next one might say yes. We need to be educating kids about this stuff before businesses do!

    • Yes! I was going to say that it would probably be difficult to find teachers willing to learn enough about personal finance to actually teach it…

      I have a feeling we will have just a few rants about all of this and more, when you’re here!

  • My HS did teach a kind of “real world” math course where you learned a lot about personal finance. It was considered to be the “dumb” math course to take. In my junior year we had the choice of taking personal finance course or taking Algebra 2. I really didn’t see the point in taking another Algebra because I didn’t want a career using math or science. So I begged my parents and guidance counselor to let me take the personal finance course, and they said no!! That it was better for my future if I took Algebra 2. Crazy, huh?

    • I actually remember “Applied Math” being similar here – the “dumb” math that could somewhat be related to real-life situations. No one took it! So ridiculous. And it’s even more ridiculous that anyone would tell you not to take a personal finance course! I wonder if they’d reconsider that now…?

  • I love your idea, Cait! I think it’s brilliant and it sounds like you have the right skillset to make it happen! If you’d like some help or to bounce ideas, let me know. I spent the better part of my professional life designing and running programs for kids. Cheers!

  • Yes, yes, YEEESSSS! I’ve been preaching this for years (although admittedly I haven’t done anything about it so good for you!) I didn’t learn anything about personal finances in high school. Nothing. The only time I remember talking about finances in any capacity was for an assignment in a grade 5 or 6 social studies class when the teacher made us build a wishlist for how much it would cost to live on our own. It was depressing.

    In Ontario (at least back when I was in high school) you have to choose between “university” or “college” stream of courses. Only college-level students had access to a personal finance course and even then I think it was an elective. I was SO ill-prepared for managing my money once I hit university and it makes me really mad because I know I’m not the only one.

    So, yes, I totally stand with you on this one. Teaching personal finances should be an absolutely must in schools. Period!

  • When I was in high school (6 years ago), they didn’t offer a personal finance course. My brother is now a teacher our old high school and he told me that they now have a PF course for seniors! Definitely a step in the right direction. I didn’t take personal finance until my senior year in college – which explains why I racked up so much CC debt before that point!

    • PF for seniors, eh!? Damn. I think it’s important to consider what you’ll do with your finances at that age, of course… but kids need to be taught first, don’t you think? That’s a little backwards! Crazy stuff. Thanks for sharing.

  • Totally! And I’m sure high school students wouldn’t be able to grasp every concept, because some of them (like mortgages) they won’t face for years and years… but it should still be talked about.

  • While I do agree that it would be nice to have in school I first believe that more and more parents need to pick up that responsibility at home. Kids learn from what they see and if mom and dad are horrible with money kids tend to pick up those bad habits. I didn’t know anything about credit cards because my parent didn’t teach me. You know your parents and teachers, and community teach you about right and wrong. But one course is not going to change personal finance. I would say it should be added in sections with math. So they can get a little bit every year. I took Spanish for two semester passed with a B and learned nothing. We need a continuing effort to help kids learn about credit, savings, retirement, etc.

  • In Alberta we have to take a course called Calm – Career and Life management. You need this course to graduate. It’s a 3 credit course. You generally do this course in grade 11.
    It’s been this way for just over 20 years.

    I found the course description: http://education.alberta.ca/media/313385/calm.pdf

    My son also just took the course in 2012. – He had to play role of being a janitor and was poor. He had to budget, look in newspapers for rent, had to make decisions of what what was needs or wants.

    They wrote resumes, did job interviews, and other stuff, but I do know budgeting was there both 20 years ago and now. How much sinks in ? I don’t know – Your talking teenagers!

  • I’d go a step further. I’d advocate that PF be a mandatory class. Just because a kid can solve a quadratic equation doesn’t mean he will realize that a company offering a $10,000 line of credit at 23% with a $100 annual fee is a bad thing (yes, that’s a personal example).

  • I might disagree about the #1 spot (with math, physics, accounting/business, and critical thinking, personal finance is easy to pick up in personal reading after graduation), but it’s definitely important and under-taught today.

    A practical concern: it’s not right for a course.

    Ideally, PF should be taught as late as possible in the curriculum (grade 9 students barely have a concept of money, and will forget long before they have to file their first tax return or think about budgeting for university). However, there’s no room in the grade 12 curriculum.

    Even if there is room for another course at that stage (likely an elective, as the only mandatory grade 12 course in Ontario is, bizarrely, English), I can’t imagine that there are ~120 hours of material just in personal finance, at least for the essential skills that everyone should be walking out of high school with. A few classes on taxes, a few on loans and credit cards, then budgeting, saving, investing, and retirement. The leaves are barely off the trees and you’re either out of material or starting to get really in-depth and technical. So if it can’t be a stand-alone course, where to put it? The curricula for the math courses are jammed already; business fits but few students take it past grade 10. So… English?

    I don’t think it’s hard to convince people that PF should be part of the curriculum. It should be in there. The challenge is making the decision-makers see how it fits into their education model (or creatively breaking the model to make it fit).

  • I actually took a PF class as part of my curriculum in high school. It was only for the first quarter and available to 11th-12th graders only and was just awful. The teacher sounded like Ben Stein the entire time and just droned on and on while marking stuff on a projector.

    Had that class or even the teacher had any enthusiasm about being there I’m sure I could have learned something but I found it exceptionally hard to do so. Now that I’ve been out of school for several years I’ve found ways to better handle my finances and get the most out of my money.

    I think those types of classes should be started as early as 9th grade and continue all the way till graduation. From basics to hardcore budgeting that way when real financial life smacks you in the face you can come at it armed with a baseball bat.

  • I have so much to say on this topic (as a teacher and a PF geek) that I don’t think I can fit it all into a comment! Instead I believe I’ll write a full response on my blog. I’ve written similar sentiments several times, so this time I believe I’ll detail why it will likely never happen! Drop by and check it out next Monday?

    Congrats on making Carrick’s morning Facebook shout out.

  • I have been reading your blog for awhile now. This post really caught my interest. I am a 24 years old student. I have been blessed to be able to live at home rent free while attending university. Now that I am almost done my degree I am starting to feel overwhelmed. I have decided to start living on a budget now so that when I move out (hopefully in a year) I will be use to the concept.

    I agree that financial literacy should be something taught in high school. I almost free like you should have to take a weekend financial seminar before you can get a student loan. I personally think that most students do not know what they are getting into when they get a student loan.

    Thank you for sharing your personal experience with all of us. I started blogging about my current financial experiences. I find it very therapeutic. Congratulations on getting debt free and keep on blogging :)

  • My life would have definitely been a lot easier if I learned about money management in school instead of learning how to bake a cake :-) If you need a partner out here on the East coast I am all in Cait. Let me know what you need.

  • Until it becomes mandatory in schools across Canada, perhaps you should become a a high school speaker yourself. Sharing your personal story and them hearing it from another young individual would be effective.
    We need to teach kids the ABC’s of personal finance, so they are not left with D and E (debt and entitlement) later on.
    You could be the Susan Beacham of Canada. Perhaps you’d like to contact her and do what she does in Canada!
    Susan Beacham was featured on Oprah and on Dr. Phil. She is definitely making a positive difference in schools across the USA.
    http://www.susanbeacham.com You can also see her television appearances on youtube
    By the way congratulations on your amazing accomplishment!
    One of my favorite quotes: If you take the hard way out of life, life will get easier, if you take the easy way life will get harder.

  • Hi Cait,

    I support your endeavors. Check out the Enriched Academy who I work with to help achieve the same goal. You’d like Kevin and Jay who were recently featured on the Dragons Den recently with a CD program for home use. They present regularly to schools in Canada.

  • I found your thoughts interesting. This has long been a topic of discussion with my father (now in his 70s) and in some ways I agree. However, I wonder in general do we rely too much upon school to teach our children about life (I have two boys 17 & 15). My dad was raised by a single mom in the late 40s and 50s, so obviously he did not get the info he felt was required.
    But he taught us awesome lessons when we were young and teenagers – the primary one being if you want it you have to work for it, that simple. We both had jobs as teenagers and even after one very good summer in University I refused help with tuition, books, living expenses etc until I ran out of cash (I made it to the last month).
    My sons have had bank accounts and their own money since they were 5. We would pay them for work and they had to buy larger items they wanted (notably the churn on endless electronic devices). They not only have learnt the value of money and work but the joy in giving. They contribute from their own funds to charities, family trips and buy birthday presents for family members.
    This summer I forced my 17 year old to take a summer job in landscaping (yes he somewhat despises the work) but he loves the money. He has taken business at school but the experience has helped solidify what it means to have your own business and what it means to work for others – how to be responsible (which many of the people who work there and are older are not), how to be respectful and the importance of setting goals to pursue.
    He not only has a healthy bank account to pay for gas he uses while driving vehicles but he also was able to upgrade his cell phone and pay for a data package (which I refuse to pay for) – and like his learnt frugal nature, he watches his Mb counter very closely.

    What is taught in school should help our children become effective and productive members of society. But we as their parents, grandparents, friends and employers also have responsibilities to teach them about life and all the pieces that go with it. There is an old proverb which we have found in our journey to be incredible true – It takes a village to raise a child.
    Let’s not assume that everything that can or will be taught in life has to occur in a classroom which only gets at most about 5 hours of a childs day.

  • I agree with Laura wholeheartedly.

    Yes, I wish financial literacy was taught in schools. Yes, I agree it should be. But since it isn’t, it is time to stop wishing and start teaching it ourselves.

    If you don’t feel qualified to teach your kids basic money skills, grab a book or search the internet for ideas (we have a GREAT book that will help you out! :-) ). Even if you have a spotty financial past, you can teach kids what NOT to do and how you helped yourself out of a bad situation. Learn together, do whatever it takes, but do something to make sure your kids have more financial knowledge than the majority of kids leaving school these days and you will have taught them one of the most important skills of their lives.

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