Type the term “financial literacy” into Google ™ and you’ll likely come up with some 6,830,000 results featuring scary statistics and new strategies for improving the world’s growing financial literacy challenges.We did a little research into the issue ourselves and found that our favorite financial literacy facts aren’t all doom and gloom. Instead, they come from studies that show what great impact a little financial education can have. One of our favorites is from a study by Wells Fargo Bank(SM) in partnership with Visa Inc.™.  The study observed two test groups of college-going cardholders, offering only one group an opportunity to participate in an online credit education program. Data was collected from both groups; the findings were astounding. Cardholders who completed the two online lessons with quizzes were less likely than their counterparts to:

  • File bankruptcy in the years following completion of the lessons (51.2 percent)
  • Have credit card bills 60 days past due (45.1 percent)
  • Rack up late fees (22.8 percent)
  • Have revolving monthly balances

This is just one of the studies proving that students exposed to financial education have greater chances of being more financially literate than their peers. Educators, this is where you shine!

Game-based learning
Researchers believe that one of the reasons the Wells Fargo study was such a success was the use of online learning. Online learning environments, especially when they include educational games, have been found to increase students’ interaction level with the subject, therefore improving retention.

Educators can access the Practical Money Skills for Life™ microsite to bring the same online learning used in the study into the classroom. The games are free and feature financial education games for all ages. But, online games are not the only way to bring financial fun into your classroom.

Budget simulations can be a great hands-on way to teach about financial literacy. Keep your lesson simple by asking students to develop a budget for themselves for the next month. Hand out pocket registers to track their progress, logging everything from allowance money “credits” to lunch money “debits.”

You can take your budget simulation to the next level by holding a financial simulation fair. Have students start with the career they would like to have in the coming years and help them decide a reasonable salary. Set up “decision booths” where students will make decisions about where to live, what kind of car to drive, how much to save, and other expenses and lifestyle choices. At each booth, students should receive an “expense card” associated with each decision. Don’t forget to have someone handing out “speed bump” cards to factor in life’s unexpected expenses.

During the fair, have students collect all of their “expense cards” in a bank bag (make it an annual event and reuse them year after year). At the end of the event, ask students to tally their total expenses against their yearly salary and post their total on a tabletop display board. Close the event with an impromptu awards ceremony, rewarding students who were able to make financial decisions that allowed them to stick within their budget. Simple rewards like a pencil made of recycled money or acoin purse bearing your school’s logo can reinforce student’s new-found financial understanding.

It’s not just math and economics teachers who get to have all of the financial education fun! Get creative to find ways to incorporate finances – from budgets to retirement savings – into your lesson plans. And remember, a little financial education goes a long way.

Donnini, Ph.D., Lisa A., KayAnn Miller, and Kitch Walker. “Improving Americans’ Financial Literacy: Educational Tools Work.” Visa Inc., Apr. 2011. Web. 16 Sept. 2011.

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