My English classes have spent the last week in the midst of our finance unit. Why do a finance unit in English class? I gave my students these reasons:
– For you, as young adults, to have the slightest grasp of the adult world of money
– For you to understand basic economic activity to better grasp current issues in the US
– For you to read some nonfiction text and grasp author’s intent
– For you to ultimately make better financial decisions to have a happier marriage, career, and lifestyle
– “Best Practices” – in order to be successful at something, find someone who does it well and copy what they do. If you want to be wealthy, do what wealthy people do!
It’s not part of the list I presented them, but my primary reason to teach this unit is because I love the subject matter. While I love teaching English, I am not a true English teacher – possibly due to my one college English class being titled “From Jane Austen to Chick Lit: the Art of the Romance Novel” – and teaching students real-world skills is something about which I am very passionate.
I am also pretty sure that most of their parents never teach them anything about money (because they don’t know themselves?). One student told me she asked her mom how much she made and if she made a budget, and her mom told her, “Don’t worry about it.” I hypothesize that America’s taboo on money discussion is one of the reasons we’re in the mess we are in: I try to own the same car as my neighbor but don’t realize he makes twice as much as me…or is actually so broke that he sleeps on a mattress on the floor. Either way I can’t afford that car. Larry Burkett, author of The Complete Financial Guide for Young Couples, wrote, “We spend the first 5-7 years of our marriages trying to attain the same living as our parents.” If a 25-year-old recent college graduate knew his parents made $90,000 a year, perhaps he’d stop trying to achieve the same lifestyle on his $29,000 a year. But because no one talks about money, the lessons we learn from our mistakes are not always transferred to our children or even our friends. So in my class, we talk openly about money.
I base my unit not-so-subtly on Dave Ramsey’s work, including using some material from his Foundations in Personal Finance curriculum for high school that another teacher generously gave me and assigning my students to read a chapter from My Total Money Makeover. They also read a chapter from Tom Stanley and William’s Danko’s The Millionaire Next Door. I brought in Monopoly money to give a visual illustration to how insurance and mutual funds work. We read articles about savings deficits among millennials and practice balancing a checkbook, since for most of my students no one has ever explained it.
Today we discussed how credit cards and credit score worked. To strengthen their ability to analyze graphics, I gave them a copy of an old credit card bill of mine, with my address and account number blocked out:
They had to find how much I owed Visa, and check out the interest table. They couldn’t believe anyone would pay only the minimum payment and pay twice as much for their bill…and yet 18% of Americans only pay the minimum each month, 42% pay it off, and 40% pay somewhere in the middle (Source). When I explained that some credit cards have an annual fee they looked shocked. While I didn’t go full-on Dave Ramsey and tell them to never, ever, ever get a credit card (after all, I was flashing mine at them as examples – how can I teach them something I haven’t had the guts to follow?), I did encourage them to use credit carefully and sparingly. If the average college senior graduates with $27,000 in student loans and $3000-7000 in credit card debt, and then marries someone who also made dumb choices, suddenly there are a lot of 22-year-old couples with $70,000 in debt, and more…not the way to start married life.
Yesterday I showed them a copy of my paycheck and a few student paychecks that were donated to me to show where taxes got taken off. While I cut the students’ names out when I made copies, I just sharpie’d my address and name off my paycheck, and apparently the kids could still see through it even on the copies; they spent multiple periods trying to guess my address, claiming they wanted to come have a Thanksgiving party. I insisted that I did not want them on my property and would most likely call the cops to report hoodlums up to mischief. Silly kids. But they did marvel at the personal information I was giving them; in fact, so did my principal, as he chose the day I had my paycheck blown up the board to do a data walk through (he later told me what a great lesson it was, though he did think it “brave” for me to show them my income).
I show them my real numbers because I think it is more meaningful to them (as opposed to some fictitious person I invented or found on the internet), and second, because it’s easier for me to explain my own numbers. Still, many wondered aloud if I was worried that some student might steal my identity:
Kid: But what if I don’t give this credit card bill back to you?
Me: I whited out my name, address, and account number. All that tells you is that I have an Amazon credit card that once had $2500 charged on it.
Kid: But you keep flashing your cards around as examples. What if I memorized the numbers when you walk by?
Me: You couldn’t memorize vocabulary; how on earth do you plan to memorize numbers as I walk around the room?
Kid: But what if someone takes a picture?
Me: I’m pretty sure I’d notice if they take a picture in the middle of class.
They seemed determined to figure out the ins and outs of identity theft. Some degenerates wanted to know if they could spend a bunch of money, then call the bank and report it as idendity theft and get their money back (I told them sure…if they wanted to go to prison for fraud). They asked no end of questions about cameras on ATMs (“What if I wear a mask? What if a person is at gun point – is there someone watching the camera if they cry for help?”). One poor student said his biological father (with whom he has no contact) started an account with an electric company with his social security card when he was three years old, and couldn’t believe when I told him his father had actually committed identity theft…pretty sad, though since one in 40 adults have a child who is the victim of identity theft, odds would be that at least one of my 100ish English kids would have a story…