How to Teach Financial Literacy in the Economics Classroom Pt. 1 (Personal Finance Series Pt. 3)

Nobody ever taught me how to make a budget. Sure, I picked up tips and tricks from my family and friends over time. But nobody ever sat me down to explain how to manage my finances and what my budget should look like. As a result, I lived in fear of money for most of college and even my early adulthood. I was afraid of running out of money or borrowing too much (student loans, ugh!) so I basically tried to rarely spend any money (even though those loan payments hit my account every quarter). I wasn’t generous. I never wanted to go out to eat. I was coming from a place of scarcity.

And you know what I learned? That when you don’t spend money, you end up with a lot of money in your checking account. I learned how to live cheaply, simply, minimalistically (is that a word?) throughout college when I had no income.

You know what else I learned? When you have no idea what you’re doing and you’re borrowing money you’ll end up taking out the wrong kinds of loans. I signed up for student loans during the worst interest rates for the type of loans I had in recent history. My interest rates ranged from 6-9%. I wish I were kidding. By the time I graduated, the amount of money I owed was way, way more than I had taken out in loans. This was scary.

And yet- I consider this valuable learning. Don’t get me wrong, I messed up big time. Yet less than 5 years out of college, my husband and I are debt free. And our mistakes and our fumbling through learning how to make and maintain a budget are exactly what make me qualified to teach personal finance. It’s not that I’m an expert, it’s that I learned the hard way.

So today, as we get into the first part of the nitty gritty of planning to teach personal finance, think about what you already know. What have you learned the hard way? Because these learning experiences can become valuable mini lessons as you teach personal finance in the Economics classroom. Being honest with your students about where you messed up and where you had success helps them see this process as a journey- and gives them hope that they too can recover from bad financial decisions (or hopefully avoid making them in the first place). And if you don’t know much…well, that’s what Google is for!

So as you start to plan your personal finance unit (or use my project), here are some practical, hands on tips! Next week I’ll be back with even more so stay tuned!

Step One: Decide what you want the project to look like. Is it going to be an entire unit of study where you cover a topic in class every day and students learn how to budget in a short period of time? Will you (like me) sprinkle topics and mini lessons throughout the semester so that students mostly complete the research/project at home or in smaller chunks of class time?

Step Two: Organize your topics. What will you cover? Do a little research and decide what your students will learn. I have my students start with finding their post-college job and then researching the college they want to go to so they can calculate student debt estimates. Mine is a college prep school so maybe the college research won’t apply to you. Then my students interview their parents for financial wisdom. Then as the semester unfolds we cover these topics in this order: housing, food, transportation, utilities/insurance/health/bills, clothing/entertainment/shopping, debt, investment/charity/gifts/savings which all culminate into a final budget.

Step Three: Decide how students will learn the information. Will they primarily do research (that’s what I do!)? Will you deliver mini-lessons on each topic? Will you, like me, mostly have them research but also include mini lessons on topics you’re an expert in? For my classroom, I add in mini lessons on finding housing, grocery shopping, and repaying debt. I spend a lot of time teaching about credit vs. debit cards and which student loans have the lowest interest rates. I even take my students step by step through my budgeting journey and how exactly I tackled my student debt. Many students tell me this was the most useful information. You know why? It’s my personal experience- and that’s powerful to young adults.

Step Four: Implement it! Just go for it! There’s no reason to wait or doubt yourself. After all, it’s vital information your students need.

Stay tuned for next week’s post, which will cover how to create mini lessons and add your own flair!

If you missed my last blogs in the series check them out here: Part One & Part Two.

With love,

Mrs. P

P.S. Part Four here.

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