Money 101: When Should The ABC’s Of Personal Finance Start Being Taught?

Dante Vitoria's Dante's Inferno

By Dante Vitoria April 25, 2017

I think we can all agree that financial education is important at any age. I’m not advocating switching the TV from Peppa Pig or Dora the Explorer to Mad Money (sorry Jimmy, but you already KNOW I’m not your biggest fan) in the playroom. What I am talking about is a simple plan of education for our “youngsters” and how to implement the MUCH-NEEDED CHANGE, without spending any extra money OR even more importantly, disrupting the education curriculum (like Common Core etc.) at all.

There has been much debate about making college students take personal finance courses, but I feel that is simply FAR TOO LATE. Sure, there are Investment Clubs on almost every college campus (and most Frat Houses) but usually, they are just that “clubs”…unstructured, and social in nature, with no standardized structure or format, and more importantly, no requirement on the members for competency or proficiency in the subject.

High School students, often in the more affluent communities, are invited and encouraged to participate in “Investment Contests” (often sponsored by local newspapers etc.), but often times the winners are either “coached” by financial professionals (GUILTY, my niece has benefited from a certain “knowledgeable” Uncle, but I digress) OR worse, they throw darts at a board OR pick companies that they like (McDonald’s, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, etc.) and not based upon any due diligence or knowledge at all.

On the Elementary School level, the students are, it would seem to me, a bit more “open” and receptive to a topic, and they wouldn’t have pre-determined ideas or “favorites”. Additionally, the earlier they learn a topic, the more SOME may gravitate to it and develop not only a desire to learn more, but gain substantial acumen for the subject matter. It is also a “COOL” subject, not that finding the square root of 9 isn’t cool (WOW, did I just say that?) and will become a topic for discussion as they grow older. After all, you NEED to know about money when you go to the Mall or shop online, RIGHT?

The main cause of concern and the largest rebuttal I encountered doing my research for the topic was: “But we will have to have specialized teachers to teach the course.” REALLY, to eight-year old’s? Hardly, however a clear-cut ancillary by-product would be, the teachers who do actually teach the course, will have to “brush-up” on their financial acumen as well. Think of all the positive numbers in your 403(b) accounts NOW teachers!

There will be a mad dash to teach these courses. And, honestly speaking, MOST people in the United States could use a refresher course on personal finance, so BOTH teachers and students would be gaining from the classes. Of course, that would “hurt” the many pundits on ALL of those GREAT FINANCIAL SHOWS, wouldn’t it? Sorry Jimmy (Jim Cramer for those of you who are unsure). We all have watched these shows, but the REASON you listen to ME is, I point out FACTS that you may have overlooked, that others won’t, like this: READY? If the all-knowing Host is LOOKING into the TV camera, and telling EVERYONE in his/her audience what stock to buy, do they ACTUALLY KNOW who is watching the show? And don’t give me that GARBAGE about Nielsen ratings, demographics or focus groups. The answer is…NO, they do not.

So, without knowing who is watching, OR knowing their viewers’ financial situation, how can they tell you what stock to buy? Think if you will, three family members, watching TV, together (I know, when does that happen, right?)
Mom, who is a single parent, late 40’s, full-time job and MAYBE a home-based business or a part-time “weekend” gig to make a few extra “bucks”. Two kids at home, looking to save for college education, making mortgage payments, car payments, etc. Next to her is her sixteen-year old child, who inherited $25,000 from her Grandfather’s estate and has it in an account. He/she THINKS that will cover ALL the tuition needed to get through medical school at Johns Hopkins (don’t laugh, many 16-year old’s have NO IDEA of what lies ahead). And on the loveseat, is Grandma. She lives off Social Security, a portion of her late husband’s (IF she is LUCKY) and a small pension (yes once upon a time, American workers received those too). She watches her pennies, worries about the “COLA”, and NOT Pepsi or Coke…the Cost of Living Adjustment.
Can the PUNDITS REALLY TELL each of those 3 people what stock to buy now?
The answer clearly is NO, they can’t!
What do YOU THINK? Never looked at from that angle, did you?

By educating our young people, they will be well armed to face their financial battles, and HOPEFULLY be less of a burden on our (or more accurately THEIR economy) in the future, thus keeping the economy strong! I do not see a downside to providing financial education in ALL elementary school levels. Allow the school district to determine what grade it is introduced, but I feel it MUST be introduced to ALL students by the fourth grade. And you may allow for Special Education students, but that is a different category as well.

Imagine IF Betsy DeVos, Randi Weingarten and all of the other “powers to be” agreed, maybe our country would not be EIGHTEEN in the World Rankings of Education Systems.
And MAYBE our economy would be stronger…
And MAYBE kids in Elementary School would learn other “cool” things, other than the square root of 9 (it’s STILL 3, right?)

Dante Vitoria is the Founder and CEO of The Vitoria Group in New York City.

1 Comment

  1. Debra

    Great point!


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