Discussion: What Should Be Part of a High School Consumer Education Curriculum?

Over the last few months, I’ve become very interested in the teaching of consumer education in high schools, especially as it pertains to preparing high schoolers for the challenges that they’ll face in the real world: going to college, paying for college, buying a car, buying a house, dealing with debt, finding a good job, spending less than you earn, balancing a checkbook, managing your money, and so on.

I am a firm believer that the reason many people find themselves lost financially is that the basic tools needed to know how to manage money isn’t taught to them during their childhood. Some children are lucky: they have parents who manage to deal out the necessary lessons. Other children aren’t so lucky and they wind up out in the real world without the vaguest idea of how to handle their paycheck – and that often results in years of confusion as they learn to ride that bicycle.

I should know. My consumer education came well after my school days were done and was delivered by learning from mistakes – some big mistakes. I floundered around for years before finally picking up enough pieces of the puzzle to really understand how, as a consumer, I could function in society successfully and build up my piece of the pie.

That’s a shame. No student should leave school without the basic knowledge they need to get ahead financially – or at least keep their head above water. With that belief, I started digging into the realities of high school consumer education.

The first thing I discovered is that consumer education standards vary widely from state to state. Some states have a good program with mandatory consumer education. Other states offer no consumer education at all. Most states fall somewhere in the middle, with slight requirements but without the meat on the bone for students to really take home solid lessons.

The second thing I discovered is that the curriculum taught in many classes seems to be almost arbitrary. Here’s an example of the goals of consumer education class taught in Tennessee:

1.0 Students will analyze interrelationships of economic systems, consumers, and
producers.
2.0 Students will analyze relationships between the U.S. economic system and consumers.
3.0 Students will integrate knowledge, skills, and practices required for management of resources in a technologically expanding global economy.
4.0 Students will examine skills necessary for informed purchasing, solving consumer problems, and understanding ethical consumer issues.
5.0 Students will assess financial institutions and demonstrate appropriate financial management strategies.
6.0 Students will examine practices that foster financial security for individuals and families
across the life span.
7.0 Students will analyze the role of credit in personal and family financial management.
8.0 Students will apply management principles to personal and family decisions concerning types of insurance needed to contain and manage loss.
9.0 Students will integrate knowledge, skills, and practices required for careers in consumer economics.
10.0 Students will demonstrate leadership, citizenship and teamwork skills required for success in economic roles as consumer, producer, and citizen.

I understand the logic behind this basic framework, but much of it doesn’t teach basic consumer education to students. The first three are better suited to an economics course and the ninth and tenth options are nice but don’t really help teaching students how to succeed with their own money.

My feeling is that such curriculae fail the students (at least in part). Depending on how the above material is taught, very little real material

I’d like to propose a different curriculum, and I’d like you to help me with it by criticizing it and offering suggestions. I’d like to eventually flesh this material out into a guide that could be made available for download to assist high school teachers and other individuals who are interested in teaching the basics of consumer education to their children.

So, what should be taught? I think it’s a good idea to start with my old post on Everything You Ever Really Needed to Know About Personal Finance on the Back of Five Business Cards. You could really break this entire curriculum down into just four small pieces.

Spend Less Than You Earn
The introductory part of the curriculum could focus just on this one little element. Show quite visually what happens when you spend more than you earn, spend the same amount you earn (living paycheck to paycheck), and spend less than you earn. Give some real-world examples of each by showing stories of real people in bankruptcy, living paycheck to paycheck, and getting ahead.

Earning More
This could cover areas of how to prepare for a job, write a resume, fill out a job application, and so forth. It could also cover the value of going to school, figuring out what you should be studying (using some good stuff from What Color Is Your Parachute?), and the basics of what to expect in the real world. One could touch on things like passive income, starting a side business, and things like that as well.

Spending Less
This is where the “consumer” part of the consumer education comes in, covering things like how to spend less at the grocery store and the department store, how to research a purchase, the amount of cash you can save by making these little moves, how to deconstruct the cost of various bills, and so on. Throw the expenses of normal life up there and look at how they can be reduced. Deconstruct some advertisements so they can see how they work.

Managing the Gap
At the same time, show how this spending needs to be put in the context of your income and where it can be kept. How does one balance a checkbook? How does one develop a very simple budget? What does one do with the left over money (NOT just spend it)? How does one use a credit card effectively? What’s the value of a savings account? One could even touch on investing here just a bit.

To me, these are the tools that kids need out of a consumer education class, and materials like this should be taught in every high school.

What elements do you think are important in a high school consumer education curriculum? What’s not taught in schools that should be? I’m interested to hear your thoughts.

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73 thoughts on “Discussion: What Should Be Part of a High School Consumer Education Curriculum?

  1. Andy says:

    I think you also need to cover investing to a decent degree to get people saving for retirement early. Even just the basics so they know what mutual funds are, what retirement accounts are and how you invest in them. I also think a basic overview of taxes needs to be included. Just basic stuff about what you have to do and how to file a federal and state tax return, and where to go for more information.

  2. Emily says:

    YAHOO!! Finally, I can take a copy of your article to my supervisor to validate why I teach the skills I do in our “Financial Literacy” class. We have six hours to teach these skills but at least in the Louisville, KY area, organizations are recognizing the need for this curriculum. I would be glad to send you the workbook we use. We cover the entire basic gamet from reading a pay stub to how a credit card REALLY works, to saving for your home. Thanks for the boost today. I needed it!

  3. Shanel Yang says:

    What a strange coincidence! Based on the latest post at The Happiness Project, I began taking the first steps to return to my original dream of teaching high school (and maybe junior high) students about how to succeed in life. I have to tell you that, here, in Los Angeles, we have the worst free education system in the world! First, the U.S. has the worst of any major country in the world for grades K-12. Then, CA has the worst of any state in the U.S. Finally, the Los Angeles Unified School District has the worst of any school district in CA! I experienced this firsthand b/c I had to attend this schools myself.

    Anyway, I mention all of this b/c, at least for my curriculum, I’m going to focus first on how to change the mindset of these economically poor, mostly first and second generation immigrants (mostly from Mexico while I was from Korea), so that they won’t automatically reject any message I have to teach about working hard, saving money, and resisting hyper-consumerism.

    I like your basic three points, and they might work great anywhere else but in the LAUSD. But, I’m sure most kids have been “taught” to be frugal, work hard, and to not spend more money than they have since at least elementary school by various well-meaning adults. The problem is the kids don’t buy it because no one around them is does any of that. I’m not sure myself how to get around that problem except by piquing their interest with the fact that many self-made millionaires and even billionaires started dirt poor and built their wealth (and continue to amass their wealth) by being frugal, working hard, and spending way, way, way below their means. Then, I think they might listen. Then, I’ll talk about the security that money can buy and that things lose their value and even enjoyment very quickly. But, most of all, I want to impress upon them the belief that they can be rich if they want to as long as they follow the formula to be rich.

  4. Sharon says:

    Be nice to this poor teacher. I am sure that numbers nine and ten are listed because (depending on the state and district) they are required in every class…career references and “social skills”.
    The goals that you think may belong to a general economics class may be there because the teacher is more comfortable in that arena.
    Also goals like these have to be written in educationalese. Let me translate what they really mean:
    3.0 Students will integrate knowledge, skills, and practices required for management of resources in a technologically expanding global economy.
    Students will be able to use Excel, on-line banking systems like ING Direct.

    4.0 Students will examine skills necessary for informed purchasing, solving consumer problems, and understanding ethical consumer issues.
    The “10-second” rule and questions to ask before purchasing, making complaints, what complaints and frugal practices are honest?

    5.0 Students will assess financial institutions and demonstrate appropriate financial management strategies.
    Looking at bank fees, balancing a checkbook, investments and fees

    6.0 Students will examine practices that foster financial security for individuals and families
    across the life span.
    Spending less than you earn, budgeting, emergency funds, planning for retirement, beginning of insurance, costs of parenthood and strategies to deal with those costs. career choices

    7.0 Students will analyze the role of credit in personal and family financial management.
    Credit cards and loans for autos and houses

    8.0 Students will apply management principles to personal and family decisions concerning types of insurance needed to contain and manage loss.

    Budgeting and differences in various types of insurance, emergency funds

    Most of what you want is in those goals, just buried under the gobblety-gook. I would be interested to know if the actual teacher’s outline for the class actually looks for like your plan.

  5. "Mo" Money says:

    This tells me the education system is out of touch. High school students need to learn the basics of every day finances. But the parents need to involve their kids in the family finances to help in the learning process

  6. Trent says:

    Sharon: I agree they’re in there, but it’s basically impossible to find the real meat of such a curriculum online. I’ve spent hours trying to find it and given up.

    That’s basically why I wrote this post. I’d like such basic consumer education to be available online in a place that’s easy to find and easy for anyone to read. I have some plans for this, actually.

  7. Bob says:

    They must watch Maxxed Out.

  8. Do a google search on “Boy Scout Personal Management.” All boys who want to earn an Eagle rank must complete this merit badge. It has a small time-management component but most of it is consumer education.

  9. Matt says:

    As a recent college graduate from Tennessee I can personally attest to the woeful lack of this type of education at all levels. My high school curriculum didn’t even include the things you listed here…in fact a consumer economics class wasn’t even required. As for college, there are no such classes in existence at my school (as far as I know). The most that the school did was to issue us a little book at graduation called “Things you need to know now that you’ve graduated”…it included most of the things you recommend, but honestly, I’m sure very few people read it.

    In my opinion it is almost criminal to let students out into the world without this knowledge. But then again, you can’t force this kind of information on people, so I don’t think this type of course should be mandatory, but I really think it at least needs to be offered!

    Thanks for your post it really struck a nerve with me! I couldn’t agree more! In fact, my brother is in high school right now and I’m teaching him a lot of the stuff I learned from this blog! Thanks!

  10. Greg says:

    Ok, I agree that this is an important topic. But, let me play devil’s advocate for a bit.

    1. Your four main topics to teach are core values that you obviously believe. I believe them, too. But look around our country, and it’s clear that the majority don’t believe in them. Do you think that just because they’re taught in high school, students will buy into them, even though they run counter to what all of their friends, neighbors, family and even teachers do on a daily basis?

    2. Teaching values in public schools is a touchy thing, especially when they run counter to the values of the community. Why should your values be taught over the values of others?

    3. Is school really the place to teach these things, or are you trying to dump even more of what should be the parents’ job onto public school teachers who are already burdened with teaching core subjects and the myriad of other jobs that used to be called parenting?

    4. Think of all the other value-based lessons that have been taught in public schools that are counter to our everyday culture. Has “Just Say No” encouraged kids not to abuse substances? Have the sex-ed programs (especially abstinence-only) taught kids not to have sex?

    I really applaud your efforts to teach kids about money and finance, but I don’t think it will be effective, and will be one more burden on the already over-burdened public schools.

  11. Seth Miller says:

    I’ve been thinking about this subject as well because I believe our educational system misses teaching students usable skills. Here are a few of my thoughts:
    Balancing the check book is a term that most teachers would be familiar with but I don’t believe it would relate to students. Maybe instead it could be taught as using cash or debit responsibly, or tracking spending.
    Along those same lines, I think a lesson on estimating how much the students monthly budget would be if they paid for everything themselves instead of their parents. Have them figure out how much their share of the utilities, cable, cell phone, car insurance, fuel, etc bills are. If you had them guess this number before I bet they would have no idea.
    I’d also hit the point hard about what to do with the “extra” money. If you can show them that they can retire early by starting young I think that would be a great motivator for students who would rather not be working at all. I think talking to them about how if they have a job at 16 that earns them 50 dollars a week they could save 25 dollars a week in a retirement account and they continue putting away just 25 dollars a week by the time they were 50 they could have over 300,000 dollars in that account (assuming 10%).
    I love this idea and I can’t wait to read more about it.

  12. tomjen says:

    A note to your earn more point: Why not have them start a side business while _in_ highschool? Done right, they could get help and instructions from the local chamber of commerce. They are not likely to struck it rich, but why not let them try?

  13. otherdeb (Deb Wunder) says:

    I think the most important thing, and it comes into play in pretty much all areas of life, is to teach the kids how to think critically and make good decisions. It’s the ability I see as most lacking in the students I interact with on a daily basis. Making good decisions about money and finances flows from having the ability to make good decisions in general.

    Also, the other thing I see missing in education is consequences. Between “No Child Left Behind”, and all the stuff to preserve their self-esteem by not letting them reap the consequences of their actions, we pretty much ensure that they will fail later in life, because they continue thinking that someone else will bail them out.

  14. blossomteacher says:

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with your 4 pillars of financial responsibility. I’ve been working on my little brother (18, just graduated high school) in respect to these. Some of these are taught in school…I had to take a life skills class in 8th grade that included making a budget, balancing a check book, and researching how much you’d have to make to support the life you want to lead. I just wish we’d had that class senior year instead of in 8th grade! In 8th grade, that stuff seems so far away…by senior year, especially if you are going to college or moving out, it becomes a reality fast! If you are going to start early with financial lessons in school, it has to be carried through yearly…it can’t just be a shot in dark, one class one year, and that’s it. What you need is a comprehensive program, K-12, which is do-able, because finances=math, and math is taught at every level. I start it with my kindergarten class…we learn the value of the coins, the names, but then we talk about what you can really buy with each coin, and how if you have 1 penny, you can’t get much, but if you save up lots of pennies, you can get something at the dollar store. During career week, we talk about why mom and dad have jobs, and how they make money at their jobs (most kids think money just magically comes from the bank or mom’s purse). Once we get into that discussion…that mom and dad have to spend time away from YOU to earn money, the kids start naturally talking about things they can do to help mom and dad…like things they can do for free when they go home…playing in the backyard, digging in the sandbox, etc. It’s really exciting to see the kids start to “get it,” but I know the next 12 years teachers won’t necessarily re-enforce those lessons. I guess I’m just in such a “teach them early, teach them well” mindset because I wasn’t, and now I’m paying the piper for my financial indiscretions :)

  15. Jules says:

    The biggest issue I see with your plan (as nice as it is) is that frugality is not a lesson that can be formally taught. It’s a set of values that must be inculcated from birth that combines financial prudence, independence, intelligence, wisdom, assessing risk and reward. In other words–you can preach all you want to the kids about saving money and working hard and getting educated and all that, but practice is what makes habits, not preaching. So while I think a goos high school financial education should offer a foundation on economics (what’s a budget, how interest is compounded, why the dollar fluctuates, how supply and demand works, etc) I don’t think you should tell kids what they should do with the information once it’s in their hands.

    Neuroscience says you can’t, anyway: the frontal and prefrontal cortices (judgment/decision making) are not fully myelinated and/or mature until you’re in your 20s. Ever wonder why a perfectly smart kid does something completely stupid? It’s because his brain literally isn’t working. Again, what it comes down to is practice: a kid growing up in a home where frugality and living within one’s means is practiced will most likely grow up to be a financially wise person. A kid who doesn’t most likely won’t.

    The fact is, there are no guarantees, in either education or biology. I know a girl who went to Harvard who is now making less than her tuition ever year as a social worker. Whereas Steve Jobs never finished college and now owns two multimillion dollar corporations. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink, that sort of thing.

    The one aspect of your proposed course that could actually work (and be really important) is the part where you teach how to analyze a commercial for how it hooks and grabs. Product placement in stores, how commercials infiltrate out conscious mind, and the psychology behind consumerism would be valuable and interesting–at least, I think it is, but then, neuroscience was my area of study until I dropped my PhD (not that you ever really escape).

  16. cv says:

    I think the most important piece is the gut-check of where a starting salary will get you. I had to do a project in middle school math where we found the starting salary for a job we were interested in and then used classified ads to find apartments, cars, etc. to come up with a budget, and we all learned a lot. I think a lot of people just starting out get into big trouble because they don’t really understand the impact of things like taxes, health insurance and student loans, as well as what you get and give up by choosing to live in a high cost of living area. Real world projects like planning out meals and going to the grocery store to price them versus pricing restaurant meals for a week would be good. Figuring out all the taxes, fees, gas and maintenance on a car, would help, too, since many people look at only the monthly payment and overestimate what they can afford.

    I think a lot of people make poor choices out of ignorance at the transition points after high school or college, and then things spiral out of control from there. High school consumer education should spend some real effort helping people start out right. I’d also add money management while you’re in college – loans, interest rates, how to not get in trouble with credit cards, etc.

  17. Russ says:

    I really like the idea of a standardized course in basic personal finance being taught in school.
    Money: save, spend, give

    I think the values issue could be bypassed by just using the facts.
    If you spend more than you make, you will be bankrupt and all that entails.
    If you spend what you make, you will live paycheck to paycheck.
    If you spend less than you make, then you can save money and here’s what you can do with saved money.

    Why not have the math classes use real financial examples? Social studies could cover what is happening in ‘real’ life as well as its consequences, perhaps even bringing in examples from other cultures. English can do the resumes, and job applications.

    I would like to see a year long senior required course involving setting up a household, starting with getting a job, reading a paystub, opening a checking account, maintaining it, paying for utilities, grocery shopping, price comparisons at the grocery store, buying a car, car insurance, the consequences of financing it different ways (no values, just the math), insurance, savings, work benefits like health insurance, FSA, handling emergencies, credit cards, payday loan shops, savings accounts.
    Then finally into savings for general and specific goals like retirement, college, down payments and the different investment vehicles like CDs, bonds, stocks, mutual funds.

    I would love my union to offer a course like this since so few of the employees even bother to get the matching funds in our 401k.

  18. scott says:

    I think that the ability to read and understand a contract is a crucial skill. It seems like so many people get themselves in trouble by signing something (a sub-prime mortgage, a variable rate credit card application) without understanding what the contract really means. They don’t seem to get the idea that doing something now has consequences later on, even (or especially?) when those consequences are spelled out in legaleze.

    Perhaps teaching the basic skills in a cause-and-effect style will help with this, as well as get across your value lessons (which I agree with other posters will be rejected by high school students if you present them in a straight-forward manner).

    Maybe a lesson in basic budgeting is followed by a “now you have car trouble” or “I really want a new cell phone” scenario. Analyze three options: using money from savings, using a credit card, and using a pay-day loan. Read the paperwork for each and compute the compounded interest. Determine how much of their budget they can use to pay off the loans. See what this does to the budget after a week, a month, three months, a year, etc. See what the initial cost turns into with compounded interest. How much did they pay for that cell phone? What else could they have purchased with that money if they had spent it differently? Teach them to figure out the short and long term affects of the decisions they make.

    I believe that if people really understand the effects of their choices, they will clue in to the lessons you really want them to learn. And I think that’s a more effective way of learning those lessons.

  19. CJ says:

    Typically Economics is a core high school requirement, while consumer economics is an elective. A lot of what has been suggested (taxes, investing, etc.) is going to be taught in Economics anyway. I think a good consumer economics class should be individualized as much as possible. Students should be required to do things like explore careers that fit their interested, develop a budget based on those careers, and participate in games that simulate the unexpected things in life. Have discussions with students about THEIR priorities – I agree with the views that frugality is a value that should be introduced but not required. Because it is an elective, this is an opportunity for students to see that finance does not have to be dry and boring.

  20. Lisa says:

    I am a teacher. I do believe that schools should try to teach more basic economics. We do this in elementary school, such as setting up classroom stores, class auctions, ect, but it should be extended to high school requirement, including the points that Trent made.
    I was amused at the zeal of the post that declared what he/she would teach. We don’t get to decide what we teach in our classrooms. The district’s name is on our paycheck, therefore we teach the curriculum that the district pays us to teach. Otherwise we’d all be doing whatever we felt passionate about and there would be many holes in the curriculum.
    The place to start the reform is with the states standards and the district’s curriculum. The school boards have influence over that. I advise whoever wants to make a real difference to talk to those people, and you might be surprised at how they do listen.

  21. Faculties says:

    I think walking students through some decisions — how to comparison-shop, for instance — would be very helpful.

    I also want to tell a story about my high school education. We were required to take a class in “Economics,” which was Money for Dummies — a very dumbed-down textbook, and basically all we learned was how to write checks and that advertising is Really Good. I kept looking for some real information about how to accumulate wealth in there. The textbook didn’t say anything about saving for retirement, or even saving at all. But between the lines I noticed that the people who had real money did not earn it in their salaries; they got it from saving and investing. So as a graduation present I asked my parents for a gift of stock. They had lived through the Depression and were very, very averse to owning stock. They owned none and wanted to discourage me from ever trying it. But I made the point that any other graduation present would be gone in a few years anyway, so they might as well give me stock. So they gave me some AT&T stock — I think about $2000 worth — because my aunt worked for AT&T. Soon afterwards AT&T was broken up into the baby Bells, so I had stock in umpteen different companies. I’ve never sold a penny of it. At the moment the spin-offs equal about five different companies, plus AT&T. I had it on automatic reinvestment for many years, though now I’m taking the dividends. The dividends have averaged around 10%. The AT&T stock alone is now worth $84,000. THAT is the value of educating people about finances in high school.

  22. Elaine says:

    I was so happy to see this blog, because I have been working on a similar course idea for about four years. Mine differs in that it will be taught at the community college level instead of high school.

    For the past two years, I have been testing various aspects of the original concept on my Excel students. I created assignments to get them more involved with their own personal financial matters, instead of using projects from a textbook. The results were astonishing. I could never have predicted these outcomes, so I’m very glad I invested the extra time and effort to do the research. I’m finally ready to pitch my ideas to the Dean of Community Education this month. I’m starting at community ed so I can fine-tune the material before taking it to the next level.

    Hopefully more faculty will catch on and incorporate some of the principles into the gen ed courses.

  23. junk mail man says:

    There is absolutely no reason why basic strategies of personal finance should not be taught in public schools. Immaturity of prefrontal cortices sounds really scientific, Jules, but high school students are people who are on their way to maturity and responsible citizenship. The fact that many students will ignore what is taught is obviously a given. But many would benefit from it. And Greg, teaching “values” may make you uncomfortable, but it is done every single day in every public school in the country, mandated by law.

    Anybody remember those “Personal Law” classes where they tell you what penalties await you if you in the legal system if you decide to start selling drugs to your classmates? What’s the message? Don’t get involved with drugs because it’s bad for you, bad for your friends, and bad for everybody. That’s a “value.” So is: “Don’t rack up credit card debt that you can’t pay off, because you will end up broke, depressed, and subsisting off the tax dollars of people who work for a living.” That’s a value that can and should be taught to high schoolers, along with positive models of how to achieve the financial responsibility Trent is talking about.

    I think Trent should write a curriculum because it would be dynamite.

  24. Kate says:

    I think Dave Ramsey has developed a personal finance curriculum based on “Financial Peace” that is available for use in schools.
    I was in high school long before 401-K and other plans made investing readily available to working middle-class people, so all the financial training we got was information in Home Ec class on how to write checks and use credit cards.

  25. Jeff says:

    Trent -
    My son of 12 just received his Personal Management merit badge in Boy Scouts. It was a great lesson – requiring him to set up a budget of expected income and expenses while tracking the actual for 9 weeks. He learned about mutual funds, stocks, CDs, saving and checking accounts. He pretended to buy several stock and had to track them over time.

    As a result he has set up a Christmas fund, a saving account for long term, and a short term saving for an IPOD.

    You can see the requirements at
    http://meritbadge.org/wiki/index.php?title=Personal_Management

  26. Heidi says:

    I’m really surprised you’re getting flak for this, Trent, esp from people who read a blog like yours.

    I understand that it’s tough to get the idea across to students, but that’s not a reason not to try. When I think of my own financial education, I think the biggest obstacle was that I had based my knowledge on what I perceived that everyone else was doing. “Everyone finances a car”, “everyone has a credit card”, “no one has a 401K”, that kind of “wisdom”.

    Just some basic statistics about what financial life is like for most Americans, and what consequences those situations have could do a lot to combat these kinds of myths.

    As for your curriculum, I’d add the cost of interest in “spending less” and add the value of interest in “earning more”. This allows you to tackle retirement savings, consumer debt, mortgages and student loans, even how to leverage debt.

  27. Jules says:

    @ junk mail man

    The fact that many will ignore the advice given to them is all the more reason to focus efforts on teaching basic literacy and math skills rather than getting into personal finance. Because really–it’s all math.

    As far as the neuroscience: I was only trying to make the point that kids will do stupid things irrespective of how much education you give them. Kids shouldn’t be shielded from the results of their own idiocy, and we shouldn’t think that just because we have a course in high school, that we can. Real life is best lived, not learned.

  28. Johanna says:

    I’d like to see an extended lesson on “what things cost.” What kind of apartment can you get for a particular price, how much does it cost to buy food for yourself for a month, to keep a car up and running, etc. Maybe offer some realistic budgets for people living in different parts of the country (East Coast versus Midwest versus West Coast), in different communities (urban, suburban, rural), with different levels of education, in different living situations (single, with roommates, raising a family), and so forth.

    Students should also be introduced to the idea of “false economy” – that when manufacturers are are pressured to sell their products for a cheaper price, they may end up making sacrifices in quality or even safety, or adopting practices that some may consider unethical. It’s not necessary for the schools to teach the values themselves, but maybe they can teach students how to figure out whether a product is consistent with their own values.

  29. !wanda says:

    It wasn’t all that long ago that I was in high school, but I do remember that there was not enough time in the day for all the classes I wanted to take. There was recently an article in the NYTimes about how many students in high-performing high schools don’t have a lunch period because they want to take as rigorous a course schedule as they can. Today, doing this is almost a requirement if you want to get into a highly selective college. And you want to add yet another course to the required curriculum, one that many students don’t need? Any course you add to the curriculum is going to take away time from other things.

  30. k says:

    A lot of teenagers might not be ready to appreciate finances.

    What about aiming this at college students? That is often the first time a teenager lives away from home and has to think about food and shelter.

    I teach at an ivy league university and am shocked at how little these students know about budgeting, retirement, etc.

    Of course, not all people go to college. This curriculum could be offered in free brochures/workshops/… Some employers already offer free financial counseling.

  31. K says:

    I don’t think that preaching frugality will necessarily change their behavior and might actually turn them off from the whole topic. I think what needs to be stressed is the following:

    1) if you don’t go to college, it will be much harder to reach your goals. You are likely to make $1M more over the course of your life with a college degree. For the same reason, I would downplay the alternative income streams at this age because they will be tempted to give up college and think they can make a fortune on their own
    2) even with a “real” job out of college, you will probably struggle to get by for the first year or 2, and you can’t afford all the things your parents have after 20 years of working.
    3) compound interest works against you when you borrow on credit and works for you when you start investing early. With a Roth IRA, you will never have to pay taxes on that money again. With a 401k, you probably get free money from your employer.
    4) I think now is the best time to get them planing for early retirement because the still have a lot of goals and dreams I think after the grind of working, people lose touch of what they really want to do. Give them the tools to pan for this
    5) you should budget your money because a lot of things come up only once a year an you need to have money for them

    I agree that this is a subject that needs to be taught but you should stick to the facts and not delve too much into the values or preaching about how to live (frugality)

  32. MoneyBlogga says:

    I read somewhere (I forget where) of a school/teacher/class that gave the students pretend money to “invest” in actual stocks. The basic idea was this: pick the stock, “invest” your pretend money (ie. give it to the teacher to shred, or whatever), watch what happens to the stock over the course of a predetermined length of time, the overall winner gets gifted. Good idea. None of my kids’ schools did this in any of the statistical-based classes (math, economics) as there were no finance-based classes offered in any of their schools in which this premise may have “fit” better. Still, the basics of investment were taught along with the whole point of investment – to see how (hopefully) your money grows (or doesn’t) based on the research done and the amount of the gamble taken. It’s a pretty good start to one piece of the overall financial puzzle. It stands to reason, then, that if the investment bug takes hold, money will have to be budgeted in order to invest thereafter.

    The other problem I see particularly with my kids and their friends is the absurd amount of advertising aimed in their direction. They are advertised to constantly. It’s so easy for them to get caught up in the hype and rationalize the spending of money they haven’t even yet received. As in, “I’ll be making $800 next month, so…” We’ve all been there and I remember it well. It’s hard to deny that “high” when one is young of making coveted purchases. I see people constantly buying more and more stuff. It’s hard to talk about retirement with a 21 year old let alone a 15 year old – they think the laws of nature don’t apply to them!

  33. Good Post. I agree in principle, but here in the industrial midwest the graduation rate is 50% or less–it was 47% at my son’s high school. Where do you even start with statistics like that? Curriculum is irrelevant if the kids aren’t even finishing. And only about half of the ones who do graduate have skills that would prepare them to do basic work. So, 75% of our kids are being sent into the adult world without any clue at all.

  34. clint says:

    How about just the simple task of balancing a check book. I personally went through 12 years of School 4 years of undergrad work, and 3 years of a masters and 4 years of a PhD., and not once did I take a class on how to balance a check book. Not once did a teacher say you have to make more than you spend, not once did a teacher tell me that a credit card company was going to try to rip me off, not once did a teacher tell me that my house was my biggest expense and would cost me almost a third of my income if I let it. Debt in any form is bad and we need to teach our own children this fact because out teachers don’t have time to do it. They are to busy teaching our kids how to take tests to pass the national standards.

    Just my thought’s

    Clint Lawton

    http://www.a-debt-free-life.com

  35. April says:

    This post triggered a few different thoughts:

    1.) Trent’s basic outline is actually a good one in that it is simple and easy to understand. However, designing a relevant curriculum is a deceptively easy premise. You could write an incredible curriculum and have it be taught by the best teachers, but the best you can expect is superficial learning. This, as a history teacher, it took me a few years to figure out. What do I want my students to remember about medieval history when I see them a year or two years later? Should I be disappointed if they have only bare name recognition of the Crusades, but don’t know who King Richard is and how he brokered an uneasy truce with Saladin? I’ve made peace with the fact that a lot of the detail will be filtered away, and the most important thing I want my students to understand is that war has been raging between Christians and Muslims for many centuries and it is an important factor in how the U.S. and Middle East relate to each other today. (It’s my answer to the “Why do they (Muslims, Arabs, Iraq, etc.) hate/fight us?” question.)

    The larger issue is that kids grow up in a hyper-consumerist culture promoted by media conglomerates, and one large message that is blasted over and over again is that what you learn in school is not important. Can you think of any show, particularly teen-oriented shows, where school is not just the backdrop for soap-style drama, but an actual learning ground where the curriculum was woven into the storyline? (The only show I can think of is Joan of Arcadia, which I sadly miss.) In a society where advertising is king, schools — particularly public schools — are in a losing position when it comes to advocating their value to their clientele.

    2.) Writing checks and doing investing are valuable skills, but skills like that are best taught one-on-one with someone who has the time and long-term personal connection with a kid to follow through on progress. Our public schools are not set up to provide that kind of support. We are still set up as mass information delivery systems, with limited opportunities for authentic interaction. It has been expected that these practical skills will be taught by parents, so the question becomes where do kids whose parents don’t have these skills learn it from? If you’ve never invested in a 401k, how can you be expected to advise your children? I’m not sure what the answer is. One way public education looks like its going is the longer school day to teach those skills in lower income neighborhoods, with the unfortunate side effect of downplaying the role of family in their education.

    3.) I disagree with K that teachers should steer away from teaching values and “preaching” things like frugality. All teachers at some level are teaching values to their students. As a teacher, I teach values both explicitly (war has high costs and thus people should look for other ways to resolve conflicts first) and implicitly (treat other people with respect, as you would like to be treated). Most of the time, I choose values that are as uncontroversial as possible, because even as a tenured teacher, I realize that my job can be at risk if I go too far from what is accepted by the community. Frugality is a controversial value, because it is at odds with the largesse of capitalism. Look at a high school economics textbook, and you will see the mechanics of production, consumption, and profit laid out as a blueprint for success and achievement. But I would say as controversial values go, I don’t think most people would argue that teaching frugality is bad. What’s wrong with telling students that they should think about saving that $1.25 they normally spend on a Powerade and drink water instead? It’s not going to bankrupt Coca-Cola, and keeping all that high-fructose corn syrup out of their systems is healthier for them and would probably help with discipline. Unfortuntely it’s mostly a moot issue, because of the anti-school predisposition of most students that I addressed above. If I were to take it up a notch and organize a Powerade boycott, something that would actually hurt the manufacturer’s and school district’s bottom line, then I would become dangerous and my efforts would be quashed swiftly and harshly. But if one student hears the message and it actually makes them think about how they spend money, I feel like I’ve made a positive difference for both that child and the world.

  36. anna says:

    Definitely talk about the power of advertising and how it influences what we buy (not just the item, but also the quality/quantity) and advertising as shaping identity (buying style).

    There’s a really good PBS videocast about teens and advertising called “merchants of cool” . I think it’s the first link if you google it.

  37. Pauly Baby says:

    I am a high school consumer science teacher in Pennsylvania. I teach entire courses about personal finance and also present it as a unit in every other class I teach. There are many, many personal finance curricula out there aimed at teens, but most are developed by banks/credit card companies and focus on the responsible use of credit. I have written my own to address the needs of our community and the things I think are important.

    I would suggest you are endeavoring the impossible, but since I try it every day, I wish you all the best and welcome your questions.

    Aside from basic money handling and consumer savvy, I try to impress upon my students that they are ideally situated to take advantage of their simultaneous lack of responsibility and the beauty of long-term exposure to the stock market/compunding interest. In ten years, I’ve had precisely one student that made an investment while still in school. His story is inspiring and I will share it if you like.

    As I see it, there are three main difficulties in teaching high school students about personal finance:

    #1 – These Millenials, for the most part, do not exist in reality. Most students have the pro-baller, rapper, actress/model, marry-up path to wealth in mind. Others exist in a world of entitlement where mom/dad/grandparents indulge every whim. Practicality, delayed gratification, and hard work aren’t developmentally appropriate strategies until the mid-twenties. At least.

    #2 – While it seems paradoxical, teaching money management and investment strategies to kids from the lower socioeconomic strata can be misunderstood at best and insulting at worst. Public schools function (or attempt to) by promoting middle class values and this is a main reason for disconnect for many students. Good money management skills, financial planning, retirement investing…these are very middle class pursuits. If any of my students had $100, they would spend it for survival now, not future gain.

    #3 – An extension of #2 really. Kids often don’t have much money, so managing it wisely is irrelevant and theoretical (again, developmentally inappropriate). Couple this with the immense consumer pressure teens face and it’s a recipe for a credit orgy.

    Good Luck!

  38. gr8whyte says:

    A personal finance course should be offered in high school. Sure, parents *SHOULD* be teaching them this stuff but not all can or will for a variety of reasons so I think society’s better off with a high school PF course as part of a “good citizenship” program. Smart kids won’t have to take it and can always test out. IMO, it’s sort of similar to having to take a high school driving course. Will a PF course guarantee that all students will become financially responsible citizens? No, it won’t in the same sense that the existence of driving courses in high schools can’t guarantee there will never be bad drivers on our roads but I do think society will be worse off without either. Yes, it will have to be paid for — want to stop the war in Iraq and use just a teensy fraction of what we spend there every year?

    For those commenters concerned with “values”, the course will only teach the nuts and bolts of how to function/live/retire financially in a technologically advanced society. Stuff like math, taxes, electronic banking, financial scams, etc. The kids will still have to decide if they want to live the straight and narrow, embark on a life of crime, or anything else in between. Who knows, a PF course might actually turn out another Michael Milken (just kidding).

    My parents never taught me anything on PF except saving (they drummed that one into my head), I guess the equivalent of “spend less than you earn”. Worked out OK I think.

  39. Elizabeth says:

    Advertising 101 – high school students don’t like to feel taken advantage of. Show them how people are trying to control their brains and maybe they will try to resist. (The state of Florida made news several years ago by taking this approach in its anti-tobacco campaigns.)

  40. bleh bleh says:

    probably easier to agree on what religion to teach in high schools…

  41. Pam says:

    I agree with Sharon. I am a high school family and consumer science teacher. The standards you listed are in “teacher-speak”, in a nutshell. There are more user-friendly explanations on state education websites under vocational education. The things you mentioned I actually go over in the consumer life portion of my classes, and we talk about future jobs and how much they will make vs. what their dreams of the future are. It forces them to look at things realistically. Each individual teacher takes his or her state’s standards and molds them into an acceptable format for her classroom–a dedicated teacher covers things to most people’s satisfaction.

  42. Greg says:

    “Don’t rack up credit card debt that you can’t pay off, because you will end up broke, depressed, and subsisting off the tax dollars of people who work for a living.” That’s a value that can and should be taught to high schoolers, along with positive models of how to achieve the financial responsibility Trent is talking about.”

    Yes, that is a value that can and should be taught. I agree with it, and I teach it to my own kids. But my point is that it is not a common value to our country. Look at all the people upside down on their mortgages and cars just so they could show off to neighbors. Look at the out-of-control credit card debt people carry. Look at the out-of-control debt our country is in. For the government (the school system) to teach this value to high school kids would be like an alcoholic teaching kids not to drink. They won’t listen.

    I agree with the comment above that this can’t be just taught in a class–it’s something that has to be modeled on a daily basis. Who, in the kids’ lives is modeling this?

  43. SwingCheese says:

    In the state where I teach, Economics is mandated by the state as a graduation requirement. Many of the above suggestions for projects and curricular changes are already being implemented by my colleagues. I don’t think that there is anything wrong with teaching how investments, credit cards, advertising, etc. work, nor do I think there is anything wrong with teaching high school students how to budget. However, when it comes to determining what is in the curriculum for a given field, it is more often than not a set of national standards which have been adopted by the state, and to which the district expects their teachers to adhere. So you could create a wonderful personal finance curriculum, but if it doesn’t meet the national (or state or district) standards, it may by picked up only in piecemeal, if at all.

  44. MO says:

    I’ve always wanted to do this myself.
    A person writes down everything they have purchased, examples, vacations, cars, blah blah.
    One scenario they do is everything is financed.
    Other scenario is that nothing is financed.
    How long would they have to delay the purchase and how much money would they save. Which is really simply more money IN MY pocket.
    For high school students most of the purchases would have to be hypothetical.
    BUT it sure would be interesting to see exactly how much the grand total would be.
    Lurk

  45. sara says:

    Some posters have alluded to this, but I think activities that gave some sort of context for how much things cost would have great value. ESPECIALLY as kids are getting ready to go to college. I had no context for how much college was going to cost- 2,000 20,000, 200,000- tuition all seemed like a lot to me, and I just didn’t understand. But having kids run the numbers to see that getting a particular major at a particular college and then how much that type of career might earn and how much of the income will be used to live on in the area they want to live in, and then how long it will take them to pay off those loans… That would be a great reality check for kids that might help them see the value of choosing a major that will lend itself to a career that will provide the standard of living they’ll want to live at.

  46. Kim says:

    I second the Dave Ramsey suggestion. His rules are so simple even a third grader can follow them:
    Have a small emergency fund of $1000. Don’t buy anything until you have this.
    Other lessons include: you can’t afford anything until you have the cash to pay for it–this includes cars. Don’t use credit cards (this lesson alone if learned when I was in high school would have saved me tens of thousands of dollars). Do the debt snowball and pay off every debt you owe as quickly as possible. Start saving for retirement when you are in your early 20′s and you will easily be a multi millionaire when you retire.
    These are quick, easy, lessons that would make every kid in your class a millionaire pretty easily.

  47. Britney says:

    While it’s not aimed at high schoolers, Smith College has a fairly successful Women and Financial Independence Program (http://www.smith.edu/wfi) that teaches the basics of investing, saving for retirement, credit cards, paying taxes, etc. through a series of lunchtime workshops. It’s not an academic class, but an (enjoyable) lecture series.

  48. Margaret says:

    There might be something of use at http://flylady.net/pages/FLYsense3.asp for inclusion in your high school curriculum project. It deals with helping people get themselves out of financial messes they have got themselves into through lack of financial knowledge or improper prioritisation of spending or lack of organisation etc. As with everything, take what suits and ignore that which doesn’t fit.

    I’m wondering if high school isn’t a bit late to start with such a program. The reason I say that is that I notice the teacher next door to my daughter’s class (Grade 3) uses play dollars as rewards and incentives for her class. At this point I’m not to sure just where she is heading with it or how far she is going to take the idea, but I’d like to think that she would be sewing the seeds of good management of personal finances. I hope so anyway. I’m fairly confident that kids in Grade 3 or 4 level would probably understand your 5 business cards approach.

  49. Mel says:

    If I were teaching the class:

    1. How money works – why you shouldn’t spend more than you earn.
    2. Don’t live paycheck to paycheck. Save for retirement/unexpected – the lottery is not a retirement plan.
    3. Credit Ratings/Cards. Why credit cards are not cash and how much you save when you don’t use them.
    4. Taxes. If you can’t do them properly, pay someone who can – your cousin who owns a pizza place is not a good choice.
    5. How to manage debt, good debt vs. bad debt.
    etc…

    It’s not about values as someone suggested in another comment, it’s not mine vs. yours, it’s about common sense. Teenagers are being taught much more controversial things in school, how to manage money and be financially responsible is important and if schools can’t/won’t teach it then maybe we as citizens can help the next generation avoid our mistakes. Trent’s ‘curriculum’ could be utilized to start a volunteer based class offered to students who want to participate. It could eventually lead to schools requiring the class if/when it proves itself useful. I think it’s a great idea, wish it had been available to me when I was in HS.

  50. Mel says:

    Also, if you make it a ‘game’ where everyone gets a certain amount of play money and has to make decisions what to do with it and then at the end of the semester see who made the most financially responsible decisions. Maybe even make grades contingent on the outcome? In our video game focused society, I bet that would get a HS Student’s attention.

  51. Nicole says:

    Honestly, I think 2 things are seriously lacking when it comes to financial education – both from parents and from schools.

    The first is that I see a lot of people (my age) that think that the second they graduate from college that they deserve and are entitled to everything that there parents have – house, brand new cars, flat screen tv, nice vacations, new clothes – and so they immediately get themselves into huge amounts of debt to get these things.

    Second, and not unrelated to the first, is the misconception that you work to buy “things”. Why do we not work for our futures instead of objects? Money to me means freedom, not more stuff. They need to be taught that you don’t work for money, you let money work for you.

  52. Kate says:

    Well, what about the point that the average woman earns less than men for equivalent work and also ends her life as a widow? This may seem irrelevant from the financial perspective of a teenaged girl, but it seems like something that girls should be told, and the implications of those facts explained to them. Even if a girl has no plan to “settle” for being a SAHM or a housewife, her earning power is likely to be limited compared to that of the boy sitting next to her. More so if she takes time away from her career to have and raise a child.

    I think it’s natural, given the facts of life, for a woman and mother to expect to rely on a mate for at least some financial support. But since women live longer and usually marry men older than themselves, they’re statistically likely to end up alone in their last years. Education may not need to “solve” this “problem.” But it should at least bring up that very real possibility, and prepare girls to start thinking in the very long term.

  53. Crystal says:

    Practical skills should be taught, such as how to balance a checkbook.

    The class should also teach the basics of budgeting, such as what is an appropriate percentage of your income to spend on housing.

    It should also teach what interest is, and how compound interest can work for and against you.

  54. Liz says:

    I’m also a teacher (there seem to be a lot of us posting on this one)! My background is in library science, i.e. teaching how to critically evaluate information, file it away, etc. I think this course would be great across the curriculum if the teachers can find the time/approval from their districts.

    In the past, I’ve taught my college freshmen using real-world examples, such as you have $700 to get a new computer because yours just broke…which one are you going to go with and why (and not just rely on advertising).

    While I think saving early for retirement is a very, very important topic, I’m not sure it will appeal to a student who isn’t making any money. It should definitely be mentioned, but it’s hard to get a 30-year-old excited about retirement (trust me, I’ve met a few of them).

    I think it would be valuable to show how much things/food/clothing cost in the world. Have a set annual income for their chosen profession and call a few apartment places, etc. to get quotes. Teach them how to plan meals and how much it will cost at the grocery store, etc. Then, figure out how much paying off a certain amount of students loans will cost each year. (I wish I had understood a bit more about that one).

    My personal feeling is that this is a parent’s job. But, then again, I think there are a lot of things that are a parent’s job that have become a teacher’s job. That being said, it’s still important to provide the information because even if it reaches one kid – you have made a difference.

  55. Kathleen says:

    For me, consumer ed was required only in 7th and 8th grade. Too little, and too early for it to really make a difference. Worse, it focused entirely on cooking and sewing, not finances/credit/budgeting. Cooking & sewing are both useful skills, but, while anyone can and will teach themselves how to cook if the need arises, a lot of people won’t even realize the need for financial knowledge until it is much, much too late. It took me 7 years of managing my own finances to realize I needed a budget. I’m sure I’m not the worst-case scenario, either.

    @Kate
    Very good point about the special financial needs of women- I’ve never heard any of this addressed while in high school. I think mentioning that women typically earn less and often interrupt their careers to have children is treading into dangerous territory for many H.S. teachers. Not to mention divorce and the importance for women to understand and be involved with the family finances. They just don’t want to go there.

  56. Marcy says:

    Since I taught in a private school, I had the freedom to design a good bit of the curriculum. I was able to do a number of things posters have suggested in our Economics course– and the kids did respond well to things like “draw your career and Life curcumstances( married/not,spouse’s career/ # of kids/where you live/ current debt level and why) out of the hat; now do the research on cost of living and design a budget.” We added in things like retirement/savings and net income in 10 year periods, occasionally throwing in disasters, opportunities, and in one case a big inheritance( tax discussion got very interesting!) I taught a lot of Dave Ramsey in the process–and in the several years since, I’ve heard from several of the kids talking about things from that course and what it meant to their lives now. It’s not a lost cause! It is a lot like teaching religion–you have to get the disciples out their speading the word! If we give the facts, like so many of the posters are saying, they will use them–and even if they don’t, cause jules is right about the neuroscience, the information will be there for when they do have a fully functioning brain! Maybe the public school teachers are too hamstrung by various powers-that-be to teach this stuff–the homeschoolers will pick it up–and they are a large enough group to make a difference in the future. So go to it, Trent!

  57. mollyh says:

    I think basic economics and consumer education is very important, and should be taught in school. Considering the astounding rates of bankruptcy and foreclosure recently I’m not sure some parents even know enough about their own finances to impart these lessons to their children. That being said, I also understand that the state, district and school boards dictate what can and should be taught in those kinds of classes. What they don’t dictate is the way in which it is taught. The way to really get across to teenagers is to make it real to them. The book you just reviewed, “you’re so money”, would probably be helpful to that age group because a lot of them are brand focused and as a teenager it is so important to have all the right ‘stuff’. It might impact them to know that they can manage finances responsibly and still have money for the newest iPhone.
    The other thing teenagers are really good at is competition. In my high school economics class everyone had to do “the stock project”. This was in essense a semester long project in which students were given a certain amount of hypothetical money and instructed to ‘invest’ in at least four different stocks. We then had to track our stocks all semester and report on our hypothetical financial situation at the end of the semester. How much better could this project have been if it had an element of competition? Student with the most capital gains wins one prize, student with the most stable overall portfolio wins another prize, etc.
    In this ever more technical society, students could be given an avitar in SecondLife and spend a semester managing “real life” scenarios like buying a house in an evironment ripe with learning opportunities.

  58. Allie says:

    Over the last few years I’ve been thinking what a great idea it would be to teach a class such as this. All I remember learning in school was how to write out a check when I was in 7th grade. Pretty sad. I do agree that parents should teach these things to their kids but many don’t because they don’t even know themselves (just look at the housing market)or are embarassed about the mistakes they’ve made in their own lives.

    I think learning how to make ends meet on a resasonable salary would be great. Take the starting salary of whatever profession they see themselves in, show them all the taxes that come out, health insurance, retirement, etc. Then create a reasonable budget for food, clothing, utilities, housing, car, gas, gifts, student loans, emergencies and every other little thing that can come up in life. Then take it further and throw in a child since so many very young adults are having kids. See how fast the diapers, formula, daycare, working less or staying at home etc. all affect the budget. Students should see what kind of apartment a certain amount of money will get you, not just look in the newspaper. You might be able to live in a $500 a month apartment but what is the neighborhood like? Throughout the year the students should have certain emergencies or other financial requirements pop up unexpectedly. How does this affect their spending?

    Kids should also learn about the dangers of credit cards. How long will it take to pay off that new flat screen TV? How many hours of work is that equivalent to? They should also be shown how compounding interest works.

    And of course the basics about money market funds, mutal funds, individual stocks. They could even play a stockpicking game, like the one on CNN. Learn about price/earnings ratios and such.

    Lots of luck Trent. Love the idea!

  59. LLC says:

    In your online research, have you come across the National Endowment for Financial Education high school program. They have created a curriculum that covers many of the topics that you address. They make it available for free to many organizations, states, and any teacher that wants to try and implement. They have tried to make it flexible to work with a variety of school districts and curricular mandates. I’m not affiliated with them, or an expert on their program, but here’s a website to start with:

    http://nefe.org/HighSchoolProgram/tabid/146/Default.aspx

  60. Elizabeth says:

    I completely agree with this. I have often thought about coming up with some type of guide or textbook to “pitch” to school systems because I agree that this is so important. I first became aware that a program like this was needed when I worked as a sub-prime auto loan manager. There are so many people out there that have no idea how to manage their money, what a credit score is and how they can sabotage themselves and their credit so easily. I think that one thing to add would be credit education including learning about credit reports and the importance of this.

  61. gr8whyte says:

    @ Greg (comment #25) : I cannot agree with “… this can’t be just taught in a class–it’s something that has to be modeled on a daily basis. Who, in the kids’ lives is modeling this?”. I learned lots of good stuff like math, English, and the sciences in high school that served me well throughout life so PF can and should be taught in school just like driving. If no financially-responsible model exists in the kids’ local environment, how about looking outside for one, e.g., Warren Buffett? No PF course can guarantee financial stability in life. Some will do well, some will crash. A PF course adds to the overall breadth of knowledge one acquires through life that might prevent a financial train wreck or two. A PF course can also point out that individuals cannot survive financially on the borrow-and-spend strategy practiced by our government. Our government can stay drunk on borrowed money largely because it has the power of taxation while individuals will end up in bankruptcy or perhaps in jail.

  62. spencer says:

    It’s my opinion that this stuff doesn’t get taught because our economy is so consumer driven.

    If people spend less, save more, don’t buy things they don’t need and don’t rack up massive amounts of credit card debt, that’s less money for corporations and local businesses (many of which provide sponsorships/financial support to schools)It may sound like a conspiracy but it’s easier to make money off the uneducated and uninformed.

  63. Pearl says:

    “But they’ll just ignore it anyway” is possibly the stupidest excuse I’ve ever heard for why not to teach a child something.

    This should be taught in schools because if it’s not, they learn personal finance from their parents the way I did. Which means I learned how to go bankrupt in my forties, have no savings or retirement fund, and how to leech off of my father, if I were so inclined.

    I actually learned how the credit system worked from an off-hand comment by one of my roommates. I learned how to budget by working myself into debt.

    I am in my early twenties and all of this did not happen because I’m lazy. It happened because I never learned the value of money. This is why people my age are going into debt.

  64. Laurel Plum says:

    I am a fairly new reader of the Simple Dollar, and love it. Thank you for taking the time and effort to produce such a great resource.

    re: today’s post – I have a 17 year old at home. Technically, in one year my teen will be an adult and should be able to live on their own. I feel that the majority of the education she has received in the last few years is purely theoretical based strictly in the ideal environments. Or sometimes worse, heavily biased to the personal interests of some of the teachers. Usually, the teachers do not have alot of freedom in their lesson plans and are just as frustrated as we are, so I do not blame the teachers. Life application lessons and critical thinking have fallen hard to the wayside in favor of political correctness and going way overboard in sensitivity training. I think this is a sad backlash of severe policies put into place to avoid any controversy and even more importantly to the powers that be – avoidance of any form of liabilty. The result? I am not just afraid my teen is not ready for life, I am terrified because I know she is not.

    I equivicate the new policies toward curriculum style to an individual wanting to start their own small business and enrolling in courses where the curriculum is focused on how to be upper management of a fortune 500 company. – you don’t learn to do the accounting, you learn how to hire an accountant; -you don’t learn human resource policies and laws, you learn how to develop a good HR department; etc. If you intend to run a company where at first you will be the sole employer and the sole employee, the real life application of your education makes it impossible to move forward. The guy down the block who chose not to take the courses is actually better off just from the lessons of trial and error.

    In our house, we continue to look for ways to supplement life skills education to bridge the gaps. For finances, one of our local credit unions has a fairly good program for young adults. Here is the web address – http://www.usfcu.org/asp/products/product_7_6.asp
    These tools have given us a good base to discuss applicable theory, use our own finances as real life examples, and then to together make plans using her own finances.

    There may be other programs out there that are as good or better, but I love that this program is geared specifically toward the young adult. They have made it really easy to introduce and understand sometimes complex ideas.

  65. Laurel Plum says:

    Sorry, the previous link was the page I had bookmarked. If you follow the link, you will see “Young Adults” in the sidebar. There are several resources under that category.

    We have stopped in on occasion to follow up on “the lessons” we have been working on. They have often given us even more resources than those listed on the site. They might also share those with you if you made the request.

  66. Cindy B. says:

    Junior Achievement has several classes they teach of starting a business and other financial issues.
    http://www.ja.org

  67. absatpitt says:

    As you write a curriculum, you must find a way to engage all students. I might be misguided – but if this is for any sort of mass production – you need to take into account the culture surrounded by different socioeconomic status.

  68. Hallie says:

    Please also include a small section on balancing a checkbook! I am a bank teller, and you would be shocked at the number of people who couldn’t even come up with a ballpark figure of what they have in their account. And a majority of these people wouldn’t even know how to start when it comes to balancing a checkbook. Knowing what you have is very important when you are trying to spend less!

  69. Nate says:

    I think you’re missing one important part.

    Money does not equal Happiness

  70. Rhonda says:

    There are materials available for schools to use to teach personal finance to teens. The FDIC has a curriculum, as does NEFE.

    I am currently trying to get personal finance classes started in our local library system because our schools do not teach it at all.

  71. I had a teacher who taught us as 13-year-olds how to write letters to the companies we purchased from. She showed us how to find the company’s address and how to write an effective complaint letter (be brief, clear about satisfactory compensation, etc etc). We had to write two such letters per grading period, and we had to give them to her for review before she mailed them for us. It was WONDERFUL consumer training that I still use today.

    As an 8-year old, I had a different teacher who gave us artificial checking accounts and pretend checks. We used the checks to place pretend orders from toy catalogs, and we balanced our “checkbooks” to find out how much money was left. There’s a reason they always say it’s “never too early to start,” you know?

  72. Kris says:

    This comes a year late, of course, but I edited a textbook, Consumer Economics and Personal Finance, that touched on these topics, as well as how to use public transportation and buy a car, renting an apartment, etc. It was published by Nextext, a division of Mcdougal Littell in 2002 and is likely out of print. We spent months researching state requirements to convince the publisher there was a market for this type of course. We came up with almost nothing.

  73. beth says:

    i wish schools (and govt)would put their money directly into students. if we believe in financial and personal responsibility and independence, put $1000 in a mutual fund account for every kid to have for college or tech school when they graduate. how much would that be in 12-13 years?
    so much $ is wasted with BIG districts and BIG administrative costs that real learning is smothered in special programs and new ideas.
    i teach high school and I do what I can for my 6 classes, but the system (grades)is not about real world learning.

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