Where did you learn about personal finance? Did a patient parent explain the difference between spending for what you need versus what you want? Or perhaps a dedicated teacher helped you understand the complexities of saving and investing in the modern world. If you did have someone teach you financial literacy, you’re one of the lucky ones. Most of us learned what we know about 401ks, 529 plans, taxes, and household budgets from the school of hard knocks.
April is National Financial Literacy Month, a time to reflect on our understanding of money matters and encourage individuals to adopt good financial habits. Increasingly we find that sharing these lessons about managing your money need to occur earlier and more frequently to ensure better outcomes. That’s why I have been so passionate about advocating for financial literacy education in our schools.
In 2019, a survey of over 30,000 college students reported that only 35% had ever taken a personal finance class. And when asked to choose between a variety of college challenges such as coursework and time management, 53% said the challenge they were least prepared to face was managing money.
The good news is studies show that financial literacy education does make a difference. In fact, a study of financial health outcomes found that adults who had taken a financial education class in high school enjoyed better credit scores than their peers.
When schools do offer financial education, have teachers received the training needed to teach these important courses? It’s a crucial question. A 2018 study concluded that “well-funded teacher preparation may be the key to successfully implementing financial education programs.”
The first step in advocating for financial literacy classes and the educators who teach them is finding like-minded support. As a parent, you can contact your school and leaders in state and local government. You can also help recruit interested businesses and nonprofits to collaborate with your school.
Two years ago, South Carolina’s Future Scholar 529 College Savings Plan teamed up with SC Economics, a nonprofit dedicated to economic education, to launch the South Carolina Financial Literacy Master Teacher Program. The program provides participating teachers with specialized training and curriculum resources and incentivizes educators to teach professional development workshops to their colleagues in K-12 schools.
“Poor financial decisions are a result of not being taught important financial concepts,” said Monica Brisbon, a National Board Certified business education teacher at Carolina Forest High School in Myrtle Beach and one of the South Carolina Financial Literacy Master Teachers. “I enjoy educating youth to make better financial decisions. Attending workshops has enlightened me on topics that I struggled with as a young adult. I tell my students that had I known then what I know now, I would be in an even better financial position in my life,” she added.
Financial Literacy at Home
You can begin financial literacy education at home. It can be as simple as describing how you approach your own financial obligations and investments. Your age-appropriate conversations won’t need to delve into actual numbers to communicate your values when it comes to money.
Even small children can understand delayed gratification and the need to save for what they want. For older children, weaving information about financial topics such as credit card interest, insurance or taxes into daily conversations will make these subjects feel more familiar so that learning about them is less threatening.
And as soon as your child begins to think about higher education, include college savings in your discussions. If you’ve opened a 529 college savings account, you can both make contributions, check your progress together and marvel at the wonders of compound interest!
So, don’t wait for the school of hard knocks to teach the financial literacy lessons our young adults need to learn. By teaching this knowledge to children at a young age – both in school and at home – we can prepare them to be financially prepared adults.
Curtis Loftis serves as the administrator of South Carolina’s Future Scholar 529 College Savings Plan. Visit treasurer.sc.gov or futurescholar.com for more information.