Lessons in living

JOEL BELL, Bobby Snook and Justin Iott (left to right) work on a monthly budget during a Life After Graduation class at Liberty-Benton High School. Ohio law now requires financial literacy programs in schools, but many area schools have been teaching the topic for years. (RANDY ROBERTS / The Courier)

JOEL BELL, Bobby Snook and Justin Iott (left to right) work on a monthly budget during a Life After Graduation class at Liberty-Benton High School. Ohio law now requires financial literacy programs in schools, but many area schools have been teaching the topic for years. (RANDY ROBERTS / The Courier)

By SARA ARTHURS
STAFF WRITER

Ohio law requires high school students, beginning with this year’s senior class, to study financial literacy, but many area schools have been teaching the topic for years.

Teens are learning about credit cards, mortgages, and how to stretch their first entry-level paycheck. Often personal finance is not its own class but part of a larger class.

At Liberty-Benton High School, family consumer science teacher Deb Morella teaches Life After Graduation, a course which includes a money management curriculum.

During the first week of the class, each student researches a career they are interested in pursuing and finds out what type of salary is expected and how much education is required. They then find a job opening in that field online and learn job search strategies such as writing cover letters and resumes.

Morella brings in professionals to conduct practice interviews. The students pretend they are 23 or 24 years old and interviewing for a job. Once they’re “hired,” they learn about payroll taxes and receive paychecks that Morella types up for them every two weeks. She also teaches budgeting and money management skills.

They practice paying for living expenses, search for apartments and decide whether to get a roommate and whether to purchase renter’s insurance. They learn about leases and sometimes take field trips to area apartment complexes. Then they go over how to furnish their apartment and shop for their needs.

“They have to live within their means, of course,” Morella said.

Next comes learning about buying versus leasing a car and learning about auto insurance.

Around this point in the class, Morella goes over general budgeting and banking techniques to build wealth. Students learn savings techniques and the importance of developing an emergency fund.

In one exercise, students roll dice or draw from a hat to see how random chance may affect their finances. This could mean finding $10 in their pants pocket or earning extra money pet sitting, or it could be getting into a car accident or having to buy more milk because the gallon in the fridge has spoiled.

The students are also taught cooking skills, if time allows.

The class ends with students putting together a booklet of 20 financial facts they learned in the class and how to apply them to their life.

Morella said it’s eye-opening for students to learn how to stretch an entry-level salary. They’re usually shocked at the cost of groceries and utilities. They also learn that “living life as an adult is a little more time-consuming” than teens realize, such as needing to keep financial records.

Morella said after graduation some students will choose a career that pays well, and have their parents pay for college, while others may choose a less well-paying field and have school loans so they are starting their 20s “in a much different financial place.” She figures imaginary school loans into the budgets her students must set up with their imaginary salaries.

Rich Steiner, curriculum coordinator for Findlay City Schools, said that several years ago the Findlay district started making sure all seventh-graders have a course that covers topics including working and earning, understanding the difference between cash and credit, goods and services, banking basics, economic decision-making, budgeting, paying bills and the role of taxes.

All ninth-graders participate in a program called Taste of Reality, in which they are given an amount of money they would earn and determine how much it would cost to rent a house, buy a car and pay for insurance and maintenance, and how to make their salary able to handle all of those costs.

At the high school level, multiple courses deal with financial literacy topics. Steiner said teachers use a workbook developed by Dave Ramsey, a nationally known author who has written several books on financial security, to teach students not to get into debt and to learn about budgeting, insurance and related matters. Financial literacy is covered in some math, economics and accounting courses.

Steiner said students need to learn these skills in a society where it’s the norm to focus on immediate satisfaction.

“People tend to use credit cards and borrow money beyond their means,” he said.

Ryan Headley is a teacher who has taught the Foundations in Personal Finance curriculum at Findlay High School.

The course deals with saving money as well as investing in mutual funds or a 401(k), and on the importance of staying out of debt. Headley has also talked about the need to be aware of marketing and advertisements, and how to negotiate a good deal. Students learn how to pay their bills and taxes with their paycheck and learn about real estate and how to get a mortgage. The class finishes with information about life, car and other types of insurance.

Tips for avoiding debt are emphasized, such as teaching students how to use credit cards wisely.

Headley tells students that on their first day on a college campus they’ll receive offers of credit cards with perks like free T-shirts which he tells them they should resist.

He said this doesn’t mean they should never get a credit card, but he recommends waiting until after college.

Students learn how to develop a “zero-based budget,” meaning that every dollar is allocated to a particular purpose.

“Make sure every single dollar’s going somewhere,” Headley said.

Headley has found that students enjoy the class and 95 percent said on a end-of-year survey that they have learned from it.

It’s an elective class but does count as a math credit, which may be one thing that draws students to it, he said.

Headley has always been interested in personal finance and said he loves that the school is teaching it at the high school level.

He said students will probably watch how their parents handle money, so parents should be aware of what they’re modeling.

Marty Zender, high school guidance counselor at Van Buren High School, said some financial education is covered in economics classes. The school also invites bank employees to talk to seniors.

A lot of high school students already have credit cards and checking accounts, he said. And if a teen doesn’t understand the credit card interest rate “it can get out of hand” quickly.

Teachers are learning that young people seldom write checks any more, instead paying online.

Zender encourages parents to “just be aware of what they’re doing, what they’re spending it (their money) on.”

Arthurs: 419-427-8494
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