Adding Personal Finance to The Curriculum: Can Your Students Balance a Checkbook?

by stacey

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Sometimes it seems that the idea of providing education geared toward personal finances is an afterthought in our society. Sure, we are capable of spending money, but we rarely receive guidance on how to spend it, despite the fact that our lifestyles are centered around credit, debt and money management.

We’re just pushed out there as an adult, told to get a bank account, credit cards and loans, and maybe some retirement accounts so that when we reach the age of 67 (or whatever retirement age will ultimately be), we will have enough to money to support us.

There are not many educational opportunities provided to us in our early years, which is why some states have fought to teach students personal finance. But is this something that should seriously be explored or is it just too much to ask?

Why We Desperately Need Personal Finance Education

It’s been argued for years that personal finance should be added to high school curriculum—and for good reason. If there is no greater indication of how incapable adults can be at making sound financial decisions, just take a look at the financial crisis of 2008.

Sure, the greed behind investment firms, mortgage lenders and insurance companies had a lot to do with our economic downfall, but American citizens have to take some of responsibility in purchasing $400,000 homes with fast-food restaurant incomes.

Our eyes were bigger than our wallets. We wanted nice cars, plasma TVs and granite countertops. This superficial thinking is what drove some of us to foreclosure and bankruptcy.

Had we been taught how to handle money responsibly, maybe some of this mess could have been avoided. But we weren’t educated. So now we have to learn from our mistakes the hard way because, despite our ignorance, no one is bailing us out beyond $800-a-year tax credits. Yippee!

This is why lawmakers in New Jersey have pushed to gear some curriculum toward educating students on personal finance. In their case, they have been successful. But most states don’t catch this kind of break.

State Budgets Can’t Support Additional Curriculum

It’s no secret that state budgets are short on money and have very little to issue to school districts. Times are so tough, in fact, that many schools have closed due to a lack of funding. So of course, if entire schools are closing, how can additional curriculum even become a consideration?

And those that can pay for curriculum find expenses overwhelming. This is proven in a Statement to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee preceding New Jersey’s passage of its bill to establish a personal finance program for high school seniors. In it was a financial plan that revealed adding curriculum would cost $79,179.00 if taught to 210 students in one school year by one teacher.

This is why so many states don’t view new curriculum as a possibility. So far, only Idaho, Georgia, Kansas, Texas, Illinois, New York, Utah and Kentucky have made personal financial education a requirement for high school graduation or have offered it as an option.

Now you’re probably wondering, couldn’t this whole issue be avoided if parents simply taught their own children personal finance? Well, for starters, parents can’t teach what they haven’t learned themselves. Haven’t we already addressed the financial irresponsibility that contributed widely to the financial crisis?

This isn’t to say that parents can’t contribute by reinforcing what’s learned in school (i.e. opening a bank account), but educating students in personal finance should be left to professional educators.

Why Can’t Personal Finance Be Explored Before High School?

What’s probably most interesting in the discussion of personal finance is that teaching it to students before high school is rarely mentioned, especially when it’s evident that personal finance comprehension and responsibility is teachable at an earlier age.

Not only does financial expert Suze Orman suggest that children start working as early as 12 years old to gain an understanding how money works, but a number of youth-oriented programs and financial institutions currently work with younger children.

For instance, the Young Americans Center for Financial Education, located in Denver, Colorado, offers stellar educational opportunities to children as young as five years old with its Young Americans Bank, classes on money management, summer camps and programs for young entrepreneurs.

Junior Achievement also offers programs to preteens and younger with JA Finance Park, a program introducing financial planning to students as early as middle school, and JA Personal Finance, which helps young students “protect themselves from the unexpected financial pitfalls that plague so many adults.”

These programs prove that personal finance can be introduced to students well before they are pushed out of the nest. But will more states create financial educational opportunities that we never received?

It’s wishful thinking at this point. But it doesn’t hurt to wish, does it?

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