Demand grows for personal finance classesHigh school business teacher Steve Trudeau says he sees a fairly full room of students taking the personal-finance class he teaches, agreeing with a trend highlighted by the Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis.
By: Debbie Griffin, River Falls Journal
High school business teacher Steve Trudeau says he sees a fairly full room of students taking the personal-finance class he teaches, agreeing with a trend highlighted by the Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis.
More states are either offering or requiring personal finance. And where it’s not required, more kids opt to learn it.
Trudeau says the growing demand could be a byproduct of the country’s recent economic turmoil.
Nearly everyone must take economics in high school and learn about the financial system as a whole -- supply, demand and all their workings. Trudeau sees the personal finance class as more of a hands-on experience.
He says, “It’s the opportunity to learn things that more intimately affect your life.”
Trudeau likens what students learn about personal finance to Batman’s tool belt -- a different resource for every situation. At its core, says Trudeau, the class teaches students how to budget and live within their means.
When he started teaching the class four years ago, Trudeau struggled with how to impart the dry, textbook lessons as memorable experience. He wondered how to reach people whose financial needs are mostly met.
He chopped the lessons into units and planned hands-on projects for each. The class doesn’t take tests but engages in class projects with enthusiasm.
“You can’t talk about money without touching on this,” said Trudeau. “I always get a couple of kids who want to change their careers because it’s not enough money.”
Students must produce a stand-out resume and cover letter plus do a cost-analysis for pursuing their chosen career. Their teacher says the cost of higher education always shocks them.
Trudeau lets each student land the dream job of their choice. They must realistically determine what their salary will be and where they’ll live, then add up utilities, student loans, and other expenses.
He advises, “Money is a resource, nothing more. It’s not status, it’s a resource.”
This longer unit includes lessons of what credit is, its different forms and how to use it properly. Kids go through the (mock) process of buying a house -- applying for financing; searching; and figuring in utilities, maintenance, insurance.
The teacher says all the students, but especially the boys, enjoy the car-buying experience. They analyze finance and insurance options plus exercise their comparison-shopping skills.
Talking about credit cards includes a portion on compounding interest and an exercise where kids determine how long it takes to settle a debt if they’re making only the minimum required payment each month.
“It blows their minds.” Trudeau said of the length of time.
Classes don’t spend lots of time talking stock strategies -- though Trudeau admits a few of his students are way ahead of him in that regard. Students learn basics about the stock market, mutual funds, individual retirement accounts and risk factors. They define the Dow Jones and NASDAQ indices.
The teacher advocates a sooner-the-better retirement-savings philosophy and has kids practice investing after getting a (mock) windfall from a relative.
Trudeau said, “This is the shortest unit of all.”
The students basically do their own taxes, both as an exercise and in reality. He says it’s rewarding to see them come away with that sense of accomplishment -- that “I did it!” feeling.
Lessons cover dollars, sense
Trudeau says, “Personal finance is a passion for me.”
He teaches the one-quarter class four times a year; it is an elective open to sophomores, juniors and seniors. From many students he hears, “My parents are making me take this class.”
Trudeau says it’s also interesting how the class seems to open new and interesting conversations at home. Typically parents wouldn’t discuss their personal finances with their children, but the classes touch on important topics that the kids talk about at home.
The teacher got a kick out of one student telling him he was helping with the family budget now. Trudeau imparts overall lessons like just because someone makes “X” amount per year doesn’t mean they’re wealthy. Kids learn that even people who make lots of money still spend more than they make and that living paycheck-to-paycheck is scary.
The class also includes discussion about choosing a standard of living then setting goals to achieve it.
Trudeau admits that money is hard to talk about and that everyone has a different philosophy about it, but he enjoys teaching the classes and helping prepare the young people for real-life situations.
He says about being or becoming smarter about money, “What’s happened in the last few years changed a lot of people’s minds quick.”