Getting Teens More Interested in Thinking About Money

Financial literacy, as we know it, hasn’t been very effective. But we all want it to be! No one wants financial literacy efforts to fail — the more we talk about money — the good and the bad of it — the better understanding we’ll have of it (which is kind of the reason why this site exists). So what might work?

The Wall Street Journal reports that Fidelity Investments challenged think tanks, non-profits, and individuals to come up with an effective way of teaching low-income teenagers financial skills. They received 73 ideas.

Okay, so here’s one:

In the game-night proposal, from Economic Empowerment Initiative, in Atlanta, teens and parents would first prepare a family budget. Then the teens would shop in newspapers and online for discounts and promotions to help save money. In return, the teens receive pretend dollars they could “spend” as they pleased, after putting 10% into a savings account.

Hmm. Um, okay what else?

In the on-campus simulation, pitched by Cooperative Federal, a Syracuse, N.Y., credit union, each youngster would be given a “back story” with a spouse, children, a salary and profession. The players would move around campus purchasing goods and investment products from “salespeople” and encountering surprises along the way. Their objective: financial security.

Uh, does anyone really believe a teenager would be into this unless they were already interested in learning about “investment products from ‘salespeople’”? I mean, really.

Here was the winning idea, which will receive $100,000 in funding:

According to the plan from Utah State University Extension 4-H, financial experts from Fidelity would train the volunteer teen recruits, each of whom would then commit to teaching the material to other youths for 15 hours over the course of a year. Those peer-to-peer lessons could take place in summer camps, after-school programs or 4-H clubs.

Peer-to-peer lessons actually sound like not a terrible idea! Though I’d like to hear more about what kind of things they’d talk about, because talking about things like saving for retirement is more useful when you’re actually working in a job because you can apply that knowledge immediately. From what I’ve seen, the people who are most knowledgable about money picked it up from their family and friends — not from any kind of classes they’ve taken.

Of course, financial literacy doesn’t fix a decade’s worth of stagnating wages and two decades of losing mid-wage jobs, and if people aren’t earning enough money, they won’t have any money leftover to actually save anything. But if we’re talking about money and pointing out problems to address, it’s a start.

Photo: Bradhoc

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