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Junior Achievement Day

March 16, 2015

“Money skills are 21st century survival skills,” says my father and mentor Richard Wagner, and he’s right. In these times money is our means to putting food on our plates and a roof over our heads.

This begs the question, what are we doing to teach our young people these necessary skills? This is particularly challenging because many adults don’t have good money skills themselves.

To address this Colorado has made an effort to incorporate financial education into the public school curriculum. I recently had the honor of participating in one such effort, Junior Achievement Day.

J.A. Day is a program for 8th graders that takes them out of the classroom for a day and simulates adult money management and decision making. Each student receives a mock profile with an income and a family set up. The students then go around to various mock store fronts representing differing areas where folks spend money: utilities, insurance, transportation, daycare, groceries… learning about these differing financial obligations and about making financial decisions in a real life context.

I chose to represent groceries because food is a highly dynamic spending category. Not only is there significant financial leverage available where it comes to food (everyone must eat, but the price point varies dramatically between eating out, cooking at home and the types of food one enjoys), but also the consequences of food purchases affect familial / social interactions, self-care, health and more.

The kids were rowdy with middle school flirtation and image management. Still, when it came to finances and food I got their attention, even excitement. They were notably interested in the financial aspects, especially how widely their choices can vary and result in such diverse outcomes. They lit up when I connected what they spend on food to what they would be likely to spend on health care, as well as how how they take care of themselves will relate to their ability to think and be at their best – therefore affecting their ability to succeed.

I chose to write on Junior Achievement Day to highlight the fact that children are learning financial management, whether it’s intended to be taught or not. They are interested in the web and the cycle of money, and they are able to develop some understandings.

This is difficult and insecure place for many adults, not feel competent as teachers themselves. But remember that nobody is in this alone. Financial education is happening at all times and comes from innumerable different sources. As role models all we can individually do is our best. In the areas where we fall short, it’s great to reach out to other financial educational sources. The most important part is to be aware that financial education is always occurring – and that to set our youth up for success throughout life we need to be mindful and tend to the development of long term financial health.

Resources for Early Financial Education:

Junior Achievement
Young American’s Bank, Center for Financial Education
Money Smart Week
Money as You Grow
For young adults, Coin in the Bank , coupled with the book: Coin: The Irreverent Yet Practical Guide to Money Management for Recent College Graduates – Judy McNary