LB Note: Today we have a great guest post from my friend Matt about his new financial literacy nonprofit, Talking In Class. Enjoy!
I don’t ever remember my parents talking to me about money when I was little, and I’d suspect most Americans feel the same way.
We talked about all sorts of things – from music and movies to sports and history and eventually even the birds and the bees – but money wasn’t typically one of them. I never got the sense that the topic was actively avoided; it just didn’t come up. And if it did, our talks certainly didn’t register with me.
School wasn’t any better. I vaguely remember touching on some personal finance topics in middle school or high school, but nothing stayed with me much longer than it took to walk out of the classroom.
All of this must change. The great news is that it can, and it can start with you.
Here’s what I mean…
For all the talk about the sad state of personal finance literacy in our country, there are millions and millions of Americans who know an awful lot about money. I’m not just talking about accountants and economists and bankers and credit counselors and certified financial planners and folks with fancy degrees and three-letter acronyms behind their names. I’m talking about people who are just fascinated with money and have taken it upon themselves to learn more by consuming blogs like Financial Best Life, podcasts, online courses and more. I’m talking about people who have graduated from The School of Financial Hard Knocks, making money mistake after money mistake over the years, learning from them and coming out the other side armed with valuable knowledge from which millions of Americans could benefit if it were shared.
That’s the key. If we can get more money-smart Americans to share what they know, we can make a real difference in financial literacy in this country. And I’m not just talking about sharing with adults. It’s important to share this information with kids, too. I created TalkingInClass.org with that idea in mind.
TalkingInClass.org aims to motivate money-savvy grownups to go into classrooms in their community and share what they know with kids, and it all sprung from one visit to my son’s fifth grade classroom in Austin, Texas.
In January 2016, my son’s homework included a worksheet on the differences between credit cards, debit cards, checking accounts and other financial tools. As someone who talks about these things for a living – my day job is credit card expert for CreditCards.com — this was right up my alley, so we went over the assignment and he did well with it. (That wasn’t unexpected. As the son of someone who talks about these things for a living, he’s already become familiar with them.)
The next day, my son told his teacher what I do for a living, and she told him to ask me if I would come and talk to the class about it. I said yes, and a week or two later, I found myself standing in front of two dozen fifth graders talking about money. I was a little intimidated going in, to be perfectly honest, but I left energized and inspired. The kids seemed genuinely interested in the topic. They asked surprisingly thoughtful questions.
After the talk, it struck me: More people need to do this, and I need to help.
My job has introduced me to countless money-smart people – many of whom know way more about money than I ever could. I thought if I could get 100 of those people to share what they know in 20-child classrooms in their community, we’d have 2,000 kids who would become a little smarter about money. That would be a great start, and it wouldn’t require an extra dime of money from a bond election to make it happen.
Here are some tips for those who want to “talk in class…”
- Reach out to a teacher or school official: It all starts with open communication. Send an email to your kid’s teacher or some other official talking briefly about your expertise and offering to share what you know with students. The goal of the email is to start the dialogue with the teacher. Understand, however, that these may progress slowly. Teachers are incredibly busy and overworked and may take some time to respond. Plus, when they do, they might tell you that what you want to talk about won’t be relevant to what they’re studying in class until several months later. That’s all fine. It’s all part of the conversation for determining just how best you can help the teacher and when your input can have the most impact in her curriculum.
- Keep the topic narrow: When discussing possible topics with the teacher, be careful not to cast too wide of a net. You’d be amazed at just how quickly time passes when you’re speaking in public – especially with inquisitive kids asking question after question of you. Stick to a narrow topic and take a 30,000-foot-view approach. One example would be how interest can be both good and bad. It’s a concept that most kids would be able to grasp, and it’s incredibly important.
- Make it relatable and fun: Whether you’re 8 or 88, no one wants to be bored or lectured to. Keep the kids’ interest by using personal anecdotes and relatable examples. For example, when I spoke, I told the kids about how I used Pokémon cards and a visit to Target as a teachable moment about credit. Also, when illustrating how fast interest can grow on a credit card, I talked about how much more expensive Xboxes and iPhones are if you only make the minimum payment each month on your credit card. Finally, if you can gamify any of your presentation, that can have a huge impact.
- You don’t have to be a parent: While it might be easier to get involved with a kid’s classroom as a parent, that doesn’t mean that others might not be welcome. Grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and other family members could certainly reach out, too – either directly or through the child’s parent. It’s all about what you know and having the passion to share that knowledge with kids.
Whoever you are and whatever your expertise, do something.
You’ve worked hard to gain all that knowledge and there are millions of kids across this country who would benefit from you sharing just a little of what you know. You don’t need a fancy degree. You don’t need to be a great public speaker. You just need know-how, passion and a willingness to share. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.
Matt Schulz is the founder of TalkingInClass.org, a website devoted to improving childhood financial literacy by mobilizing money-smart grownups to share their knowledge in America’s classrooms. In his day job, he is Senior Industry Analyst at CreditCards.com and is regularly quoted by news outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and New York Times. He has also appeared on national news shows such as CBS Evening News, NBC’s Today Show, CNBC’s Power Lunch and Fox Business’ Mornings With Maria as well on hundreds of local TV and radio stations throughout the nation. Matt lives in Austin with his amazing wife and awesome little boy, whose 5th grade homework assignment was the inspiration for the creation of TalkingInClass.org.