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?
PS – I’ll be talking with Gail Vaz-Oxlade on her show The Late Shift with Gail Vaz-Oxlade tonight at 7:25 PST / 10:25 EST. If you want to listen, you should be able to stream it from this site.