My husband and I used to joke about an imaginary book series he would someday write. The cookbook would have three pages:
- Open the refrigerator.
- Take what you find.
- Fry it.
The budgeting book would be similar:
- Look in your pocket (or bank account).
- Take what you find.
- Spend it.
When we quipped about this to our financial advisor, he suggested the addition of a fourth page warning, "If your pocket or bank account is empty, stop spending." Following that piece of advice alone would put us ahead of the 80% of Americans who are strapped with consumer debt. In fact, as of November 2020, consumer debt in the United States was at $14.2 trillion. Even those of us not drowning in debt have a concerning lack of savings, with 66% of Americans living paycheck to paycheck as of March 2020.
The trends are not reversing with the next generation. In fact, a 2014 study indicated that young adults exhibit a dangerous lack of skill and savvy with money. Where 48% of baby boomers were able to answer four out of five questions correctly on a financial literacy quiz, only 24% of millennials could do the same. We're a lot like the blue and pink pegs in the board game Life, driving around the board with fortunes and misfortunes completely controlled by the spin of a wheel, rather than informed planning and decisions.
The lesson is, contrary to the axiom, our children don't learn from our mistakes. They learn from models of success and from solid, consistent instruction.
Recognizing this need, innovator Lorne Jenkins took the home economy game that his mother created for him and his sister growing up and turned it into a digital resource to teach financial literacy to the next generation. Jenkins created Mini Money Management as a simple way to establish and manage a classroom economy. It allows real-life financial choices and learning to be integrated across a student's entire school day in every content area. Management requires only about ten minutes a day and pre- and post-tests have indicated mastery of concepts without any direct instruction.
Both teachers and parents can use the platform to create a real-world economy in their homes and classrooms. Children as young as kindergarten can begin to understand how the multitude of money decisions made each day have consequences, both now and in the future.
"Kids can see how seemingly small life choices add up in both positive and negative ways," says Jenkins. "A first grader realizes that if they chose to buy rather than bring lunch for three days, they won't have enough money to go swimming. Through a low-stakes simulation a high school student comes to understand that owning a car requires insurance, maintenance and gas. We teach them how to either budget for that or make different choices."
While an ever-increasing number of states and districts offer, and even mandate, economics and personal finance courses as a graduation requirement, experts recognize that instruction needs to start even earlier than high school. Mini Money Management's classroom economy can be implemented for students from primary through middle school grades, laying a foundation for the more sophisticated, targeted learning in high school.
Jenkins and his team have recently released additional course offerings and financial simulations for these upper grades, with college courses on the horizon. Mini Money team members deliver the courses digitally, requiring four fifty to sixty minute class sessions, scheduled consecutively, weekly, or in whatever way works with the school's schedule. The team works most often in economic, business, or personal finance classes, but the content connects well with math, social studies, career development, and advisement courses. It can even be offered as an extracurricular through a club, Student Wellness Services, NHS, or college prep.
Money 101 includes an overview of the history of money and the current financial landscape of debt and inequity, followed by simulations for budgeting, spending scenarios, and investing. Students use the GAP budgeting tool (Goals and habits, Awareness, Personal enjoyment), an emotional money quiz, and other gamified learning to take their understanding far beyond just the math.
"We walk kids through a holistic approach to talk about their emotions towards money," says Jenkins. "We help them align their money goals with their values and purpose. We want them to understand that doing something you love often leads to a happier life even if you make less money. We talk about adjusting your lifestyle to avoid the golden handcuffs."
The use of simulations promotes critical and evaluative thinking. Ambiguous and open-ended scenarios encourage students to contemplate and consider the implications of choices, and because the situation feels real, learner engagement stays high. Just like we wouldn't set students loose in a car without first providing low stakes, safe simulation, and driving practice, we can't set them loose financially without the chance to learn and make mistakes that won't bring long-term consequences and insurmountable debt.
The urgency for these skills increases as we realize that the majority of kids aren't learning about money at home. A 2017 T. Rowe Price Survey noted that 69% of parents are reluctant to talk to their kids about money, partly due to their own lack of knowledge and budgeting skills. Mini Money Management gives families a structured way to all learn together.
For teachers, the classroom economy platform is free, and the high school courses are priced per student. Scholarships and discounts are available. Jenkins emphasizes, "We don't ever want a lack of money to be the reason we're not teaching kids about financial literacy!"
Connect to Mini Money Management to set up your classroom economy (K-8), or schedule the Money 101 courses (6-12) for your classroom or school.