Tightening the Belt

April 10, 2007 1 min read

Most middle- and high-schoolers may know algebra, but can they balance a checkbook? Or compare prices? Or even earn money? “They’re purchasing a lot of their immediate wants, not practicing delayed gratification,” says one high school business teacher. “They don’t think about the long-term effects of their spending.” Because those effects include unmanageable credit-card debt and bankruptcy, some schools insist that students become financially literate. They’re a minority, though: Of the 38 states that, in 2004, included personal finance in curriculum standards, only eight required a course with such content. Leading the way is Utah, where Gayle Whitefield, business department chair at Riverton High School, says that, before her course begins, 75 percent of students say they don’t have a savings account or know if one has been set up for them. So Whitefield sends a letter home, asking parents to engage in financial conversations with their kids as the students go on a financial “diet” via comparison-shopping and investment exercises. At Newfound Regional High in New Hampshire, Laura Miller has realtors and bankruptcy lawyers talk to her class, which also learns money-management skills. “By the time it ends,” she says, “they have a pretty good foundation about financial goals and how to not get into trouble with credit.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Web Watch blog.