WASHINGTON, July 16, 2014 — Jamal, an eighth-grader who lives just outside the Beltway, had an adventure in time travel this summer.
For a brief while in June, he was no longer an 8th grader. He was 34 years old with a wife, two young children, and a job at a technology start-up making $73,000 per year. For the first time, Jamal learned what it means to have financial responsibilities as he looked over a monthly pile of student loan and utility bills, a mortgage for his family’s 4-bedroom townhouse, a car payment, and a quote for that leaky roof that needs repair.
This type of time travel may sound more like fiction than fact, but each year for thousands of students in the Greater Washington region, it is possible.
For Jamal and thousands of local D.C.-area students, their time machine is Finance Park, an innovative, hands-on, dynamic learning center on the campus of Frost Middle School in Fairfax County, where students walk in the shoes of adults. The program is run by Junior Achievement of Greater Washington, in partnership with Fairfax County Public Schools and Capital One Bank.
The innovative Finance Park program, which begins in the classroom with several weeks of rigorous financial education instruction and culminates in a day-long trip to Finance Park, is required for all eighth grade students in Fairfax County Public Schools. Designed like a modern shopping mall, each storefront represents a line on the students’ budget. They go from store to store, making decisions about how they will spend their monthly salary. There’s one catch: they must end the day with a balanced budget.
Next year, Junior Achievement, in partnership with Prince George’s County Public Schools and Capital One will open the Greater Washington region’s second financial literacy center on the campus of G. James Gholson Middle School/Cora L. Rice Elementary School in Landover, Maryland. This center will serve more than 9,000 additional middle-school students in the Greater Washington region each year, as well as adults looking to build their money-management skills.
Following the economic crisis, financial literacy has become a catch phrase on the front pages of newspapers across the nation. Many school districts and state legislatures have made it a priority during discussions of reforming education and better preparing students to enter the workforce. Like reading, writing and arithmetic, financial literacy is a fundamental component of education and a crucial building block for future success.
But, despite the attention the topic has garnered, these lessons don’t always happen in schools. The recently released Council for Economic Education’s 2014 Survey of the States reports that only 19 states require high school students to take a personal finance course, while the number of states that include personal finance in their educational standards has actually decreased since 2011.
Closer to home, a recent survey revealed that 70 percent of local DC-area residents surveyed reported that students today don’t have the skills they need to be successful in managing their personal finances.
Unfortunately, they’re right.
A new study out last month from the FINRA Investor Education Foundation reveals that despite the importance of making well-informed financial choices, younger Americans lack the knowledge to do so. In fact, only 24 percent can answer four or five questions correctly on a five-question financial literacy quiz.
Programs like Finance Park help to fill the gap and ensure the next generation is equipped with the skills they need to succeed. But, we all have a role to play.
It’s never too early to begin talking to the young people in your life about money and by doing so, we can help shape their attitudes and approaches to their finances and help them to develop basic money management skills that they can use throughout their lives. Now is the time to transform financial literacy from a moment into a movement to ensure that this generation of young people are better equipped to make financial decisions and given the tools to take the rudder, choose a direction, and control their future. Some of the money management basics to teach the teens in your life include:
- Set financial goals. As a first step to financial freedom, help your teens think through and establish their own financial goals. Short-term goals could include setting aside money to cover everyday expenses and entertainment, or saving toward a vacation with friends. Long-term financial goals might include planning to repay student loans or saving to buy a car.
- Develop a realistic budget. Help them create a budget that serves as a roadmap for achieving their goals. Teach them to consider how much income they have (from a part-time job, allowance or babysitting pay) and how they have been spending that cash. Mapping out expenses and income will help show any gaps and will allow you to discuss spending priorities.
- Save, save, save. While it might be challenging for young people to put aside money in savings, this is an important habit to foster, and can help them to be better prepared for the unexpected (like car problems or an unplanned school expense). Consider helping your teen set up a savings account and having deposits automatically transferred into the account on a regular basis.
- Be smart about credit. Explain the importance of a good credit score and the importance of establishing a good credit history, which includes paying bills on time.
For more information on how you can help support Junior Achievement of Greater Washington, visit www.myja.org. And, for more tips on talking with your teen about money, visit Capital One’s Family Finances resource center.
Ed Grenier, President and CEO, Junior Achievement of Greater Washington co-authored this article