This post is from staff writer April Dykman.
If you read Get Rich Slowly regularly, you probably know that this is Financial Literacy Month.
And my inbox has been filled with press releases about it, like best practices for financial literacy and 30-day programs to get your finances on track.
But for me, tactics like those didn’t spur me to become financially literate. So what finally did the trick? Unhappiness.
When I was just out of college, I basically had no savings and about $1,500 of credit card debt. I’d pay down the balance and then run it up again. I honestly can’t even remember what sort of Stuff I was buying. Probably clothes and gifts and pedicures, if I had to guess. I also had a job I didn’t love. And I hated how dependent I was on that job, since I had no savings to speak of.
I don’t know how I stumbled on GRS, but one day, I did. I lurked for about a year before I left my first comment. In that year, I learned that if I started really paying attention to my finances, I wouldn’t have to ever feel like I’m a slave to my job. I learned that even on a modest salary, I could build an emergency fund. I could save for retirement. I could travel to Italy.
So, I did it. It took time, but I paid off my debt. I saved an emergency fund. Then I saved for a trip to Italy, and then I saved eight months of living expenses so I could quit my job and try being a real estate agent. Real estate wasn’t for me, but I never regretted quitting that job!
I know I wouldn’t have made such big changes if I hadn’t been deeply unhappy with my situation. And that brings me to our first Spare Change link this month!
Who’s behind financial literacy efforts?
In “The fallacy of financial literacy,” Jill Schlesinger, CFP and editor-at-large for CBS MoneyWatch, argues that pain is a more effective motivator than any financial literacy program. In addition, she’s suspicious about financial literacy efforts, many of which are backed by big banks, “whose motives may be suspect,” she writes. “Many of these big companies promote their public education projects, while at the same time continuing to sell murky, complicated products.”
Three ways to make personal finance relevant to kids
I wrote earlier this month about how personal finance curriculum lacks “stickiness”. Kiplinger writer Janet Bodnar covered this in a recent article, as well, and she points to more studies that illustrate the problems with personal finance education. She also offers three tips for teaching your kids about money in a way that will stick. First, she recommends an allowance that’s tied to financial responsibilities, such as buying their own clothes or paying their cell phone bill. Second, teaching on a “need-to-know basis,” instead of overwhelming kids with information that’s not really relevant to them yet. And third, making it fun with games or competitions.
And speaking of making it fun…
Financial literacy by video game
Neale Godfrey knew she needed a new way to teach financial literacy to kids. “The fundamentals of the information I teach have not changed much in the past 25 years,” she writes in her Huffington Post article. “The way we consume that information has changed.” So Godfrey, the chairman of Children’s Financial Network and author of books like “Money Doesn’t Grow on Trees,” decided to turn to technology. Specifically, video games. Godfrey developed Green$treets: Unleash The Loot!, a mobile video game app for kids. But then she went a step further. “We teamed up with the Fingerprint network … to use their platform in order to connect the technology to real life — during game play we connect via email to parents, grandparents, and educators to tell them what the kids are learning so they can reinforce the learning in real life as well,” she writes.
Career-themed theme park
Several years ago, my nieces and nephew went to a theme park in Monterrey, Mexico. But this wasn’t a theme park filled with whiplash-inducing roller coasters or zero-gravity machines. Instead, Kidzania gives kids a day job and a salary. Founded by Mexican entrepreneur López Ancona, KidZania aims to be a realistic educational environment that allows kids to explore careers and learn about money. Kids can be firefighters, doctors, or fast-food employees, to name just three of the many career choices, and they’re paid in KidZos, the official currency of KidZania. There are currently 12 KidZania parks around the world, with one planned to open in the U.S. in 2015.
Unfortunately for me, KidZania is only for kids aged 4 through 16. I mean, real estate didn’t work out, and while writing is going pretty well, I wouldn’t mind testing a career as a pastry chef. Or a race-car driver.