Parents today are regularly encouraged to talk to their children about substance abuse, sex, and bullying. And, while those topics are important to everyone's overall well-being, there should be one more topic on that list: money.
It’s a subject that is often taboo in adult circles, but such a major part of our lives. Being in charge of your finances makes for a less-stressful life; being financially fit means healthier living.
Financial education is not required prior to graduation in Montana, although many teachers are incorporating it into other subjects. They find ways to include personal finance into their teaching because they realize the importance of financial know-how. Some school districts have implemented programs on their own to prevent students from heading into the real world ill-prepared to be wise consumers, and credit unions across the state aid in this effort.
Financial education is one of the seven pillars of credit union philosophy. Montana credit unions are committed to helping young people attain money management skills, and credit unions partner with schools and social service entities year-around with no ulterior motive. There is a push this month in honor of Financial Literacy Month and Credit Union Youth Week, which runs April 20 to 26.
Some credit unions are holding giveaways that focus on encouraging youth members to save more and youthful non-members to join and open a saving account. Other credit unions are making a concerted effort to send staff into classrooms in neighboring schools to teach kids about money and some financial basics.
Learning how to managing money doesn't happen all at once; it's a life-long proccess. Children can grasp basic lessons as early as preschool, and can continue to learn and deepen their understanding ideally through steady guidance. The sooner young people understand the correlation between what money buys and money’s real source (not a plastic-card with an endless supply), the more likely they will grow into financially savvy adults.
Karen Smith, executive director of Montana Credit Unions for Community Development (MCUCD), said one challenge in teaching money management is children today don’t necessarily see real money in our near cashless society. Having children open a savings account where they can deposit birthday money, collected coins, or a portion of their allowance can be a way to help them visualize the process.
“Start the conversation about money with kids at an early age,” Smith said. “Basics like setting goals and saving are lessons that will stick with them for a lifetime.”
MCUCD is a non-profit based in Helena working to increase financial literacy across the state through credit unions. It provides training in financial coaching, financial literacy workshops, and certification for financial counselors.