Teaching Financial Literacy: More than Dollars and Cents

The financial education that students receive on the road to graduation varies from state to state. Although all 50 states and Washington, D.C. include economics in their K–12 standard curricula, there is little consensus beyond this point.

Consider these current (as of 2016) standards for teaching financial literacy:

  • Only 23 states require that high school economics courses be offered in their schools.
  • Only 17 states require high school students to take a course in personal finance (and only 5 states require a standalone semester-long course in personal finance).
  • Only 16 states require standardized testing on economic concepts (a number that dropped from 25 in the past 20 years).

Math curricula introduce the concepts of dollars and cents to students but often that’s all the exposure they receive. Many leave for college without knowing how to write a check, how to spot errors in their account balance, how to budget and save money, or how credit card interest works. And without these practical money skills, many young adults may find themselves in financial trouble.

Millennials and Their Money

Recent surveys show that Millennials, or young adults born in the 1980s and 1990s, have some serious money concerns:

millennials and their money statistics

  • 43% are worried they aren’t putting enough into savings
  • 82% worry once a month or more about money and 30% worry they don’t have enough money to last until the end of the month
  • 40% believe they are currently financially fit (defined as “having savings, paying bills, minimizing debt, budgeting and preparing for emergencies”)
  • 38% pay off their credit card balance in full each month

But here is some good news! Research from the Council for Economic Education shows that in Idaho, Georgia, and Texas—all states where financial education is mandatory for graduation and where financial education is considered rigorous—there were “notable improvements” in credit scores among 18- to 22-year-olds since education mandates were put in place.

Finding Ways to Promote Financial Literacy

Even if your state doesn’t require personal finance education, there are ways you can teach your students practical money skills that can set a foundation for smart money management as they grow.

Start early. Even young elementary students can begin to understand the concepts of money. Use leveled books to explain the topic and begin building a foundation for financial literacy.

Turn traditional money lessons into hands-on, real-life experiences. Consider starting a classroom business, keeping classroom checkbooks to “buy” privileges, or simply having students purchase lunch at school, then counting their change.

There are many online resources to help with your financial literacy lessons. Check out these sites to get started:

It’s your turn! Do you have a successful lesson plan that helps your students build their financial know-how? Let us know what works for you!

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