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Livin' 101

Worried that many high school graduates are "financially illiterate," Montana state Rep. William R. Wiseman has decided to do something about it.

He's teaching "Livin' 101" at a high school in rural Highwood, Mont.

After hearing Mr. Wiseman's views about how some young people rack up overwhelming debts because they aren't taught how to manage money, Highwood Superintendent Jeff Blessum invited Mr. Wiseman to pilot a personal-finance class with the 13 seniors at Highwood High School within his 142-student district.

Mr. Wiseman, a Republican from Great Falls who spent 23 years in the U.S. Air Force and worked for 19 years as a stockbroker, accepted. Since January, he's been teaching the class three times a week. A Highwood teacher leads the class two times a week.

The school calls the class "Pecuniary History of Western Civilization." Mr. Wiseman prefers Livin' 101.

Mr. Wiseman, 65, said he at first scared the students into getting a grip on financial matters by telling them they had to plan for retirement. "I went over the case of people who didn't think of retirement, who can't afford to maintain their own homes. I said, 'If you don't want to save, you're going to be eating dog food.'"

A couple of students apparently took Mr. Wiseman's message to heart.

Senior Courtnie McGowan, 17, said she's thinking about putting $1,000 into a retirement account.

When Mr. Wiseman first started talking about saving for retirement, "at first I thought, 'Oh, my goodness, that is so far away,'" said Willow Ripley, another 17-year-old senior in the finance class. "The more he talked about it, I saw that if I put money away right away, it builds up."

The seniors have found lessons about budgeting and about buying a car or house useful, too.

"I didn't realize how much money I spent on little things until we had a chart and wrote it down," Ms. Ripley said.

Senior Josh Pattillo, 18, said Mr. Wiseman gave good advice about credit cards. "A rule of thumb is only to have one credit card. That way you won't get yourself into too much trouble," he said.

Mr. Wiseman, who will retire from the legislature at the end of the year, hopes to be invited to launch Livin' 101 at other schools in Montana after the semester ends. The 42-student Highwood High School will continue the class with its own resources.

--MARY ANN ZEHR [email protected]

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