According to a recent study on financial literacy, American teens rank around average compared to the rest of the world. The article posted on isn’t shocking in any way, especially when you compare the average American adult’s knowledge of personal finance. Of course personal finance isn’t taught in our education system either, so that is definitely impacting our results compared to other countries.

Ironically, this summer I’m teaching a personal finance class to middle school students. It’s an enrichment class, so the curriculum combines fun activities with “real-life” activities including budgeting. I found a great resource from 21st Century Math Projects called “The Game of Life” along with materials I’ve used in the past. Let me just mention that my group of students is definitely above average when it comes to personal finance, and here are two possible reasons why:

  • Socio-economic status – the demographic of my class isn’t nearly as diversified as a typical classroom, especially when it comes to income level. These are enrichment classes, and guess where you find enrichment classes? In affluent areas, that’s where!
  • Demographics – my student population is made up of mostly white and Asian students, again not very diversified.

How do I know they are above average? Well, I made the mistake of allowing them to choose their own careers and a career for their spouse.  Many of them chose six figure salaries for themselves and their spouses (or at least for their spouse – those stinkers!) One student even looked up the income of Bill Gates and decided to become the founder of a multi-billion dollar company! You go, girl!

Since I’m using “The Game of Life” math project, many of the choices for housing are based upon median-income earners in states other than California, yet my students’ income wouldn’t qualify for median at all. I also made the mistake of giving them a flat tax rate of 17% which isn’t high enough compared to their salaries. When they calculated their budgets based on certain choices, they ended up with skewed budgets, paying only 11% of their income towards housing, and saving 70%! Some students even rationalized that even if they made $211,000, they’d move to another state to save money on housing (we live in California, so I explained that housing here is much more expensive.)

To remedy the disillusionment of being able to save so much of their income and spend so little on basic necessities, I had to implement “Reality Checks.” For example, if they chose the profession of surgeon, they probably have a student loan they’re paying off. Student loan debt has now been added to my student’s budget if they earn over $100,000 annually. I also had them look up actual homes for sale on to explain that the housing cost is dependent on the city in which they live. They also had to recalculate their net income based on a 34% tax rate. Many of them now have had to adjust their budgets to reflect a more realistic version. I want them to have fun with this project, but I also don’t want them to walk away with visions of grandeur.

As much fun as it is to see their expression when they get a “change of life” card (i.e. they get married or have children, etc.), I’m enjoying the choices they’re making with their budgets which are mostly very frugal!

Do you think personal finance should be part of the education curriculum?


  1. A big fat YES!!!!! FinEd should be included. I am so inspired that you are teaching middle-schoolers! One day…when my story is a little more complete, I would LOVE to teach classes like that. We had economics in school…and played a stock market game….but not personal finance.

    • @MomCents – It’s a huge, gaping whole in our education system. PF should be required in high school and offered as an elective in middle school. Too many of our young adults are at a loss for how to budget their money or plan for the future.

  2. I definitely think that personal finance should be a part of school. When I went, there was not a single class that taught personal finance and it was sad.

    • @Michelle – I think only 5 or 6 states require a PF course in high school and that’s just pitiful. I really enjoy teaching it and it could be added to any math class in middle school or high school – it’s an important life skill!

  3. Bill at FamZoo Reply

    Kudos to you for teaching kids personal finance, and to answer your question: YES!!

  4. Paul @ The Frugal Toad Reply

    I also taught a personal finance elective class to middle school age students. So important that young adults be given opportunity to practice financial literacy skills and learn from mistakes before they become adults!

  5. 100% YES and YES! I think this is the age where personal finance education is needed in school. Aside from learning to spend and use their finances wisely. The character of being responsible will be molded to each and every teens and students.

    • @Nik – It’s funny, but the students I’m teaching lean towards wanting to save all of their income! When certain “life changes” come up, they first ask if they can pay off an expense in cash using their savings (like a car), or keep their housing low so they can save more money. It’s really inspiring.

  6. Jon @ Money Smart Guides Reply

    I think so. As it stands right now, you learn personal finance – either directly or indirectly – from your parents. If they are horrible with money, odds are you will be too because you have nothing to base good money habits off of. As least with classes in school, you can learn the basics and have a chance at being good with money. And who knows, maybe you can then help your parents out and have them become better with money as well.

    • @Jon – Even for kids who grow up in families that are responsible with their finances, there’s usually little direct instruction or discussion about it. I grew up in a very frugal, wealth building family and I had NO CLUE how to manage finances as an adult. We just never discussed it and I think they just assumed I would learn it through osmosis or marry someone who would handle all the finances!

  7. Squirrelers Reply

    That’s very cool that you’re teaching kids personal finance. I absolutely believe that this is a subject that should be taught in school. The reality that there are so many people growing up feeling entitled to have certain material comforts and brands, without even thinking first about actual needs (including saving) speaks to this need. Good for you!

    • @Squirrelers – The demographic I’m teaching this class to are very frugal, which is great to see. They love seeing their savings grow and make choices to keep their expenses down! This should definitely be part of the curriculum starting in middle school (6th grade or higher – the 5th graders in this multi-grade class are a little uninterested this summer.)

Write A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.