I organized a mini human library at our school this year. Students had the opportunity to “sign out” a staff member, and each staff-book had a “title”. Ari Lesser, our physics teacher had this one: Middle-Class, But Investing Like Warren Buffet. Ari has serious concerns about the need for education in financial literacy in our schools.
When did you personally become interested in personal finances and investing?
When I was about 10 years old, I’d hang out at the golf course by the 9th hole and wait for players to hit their golf balls into the water. I’d collect as many of them as I could, bring them home, bleach them, and then sell them back to the golfers. Half the time, they were a bit intoxicated, and that helped my business. They’d say, “Hey, Junior! Are you going to sell that back to me?” I got the concept of profit at a young age.
My interest in investing developed in 4th year university. My degree is in engineering, and I had a design project for which I studied companies’ technologies that were related to my field of study. I found their technologies and processes fascinating, and it made me continue to research the company as a prospective investment. My dad had invested too, though he hadn’t talked about it with me. So I got a general interest in investing by osmosis, and a direct interest through doing that project.
Would you say that your parents taught you the value of managing money well?
Yes and no.
Yes, they showed me the value of a dollar, and how to stretch it and manage it. But I don’t think they allowed themselves enough enjoyment in spending money. There’s got to be a balance between saving and spending.
I tell my parents, “I hope that when the time comes, I’ll find that you haven’t left me an inheritance because you’ve spent all your money and enjoyed it.” If parents raise their children to be financially savvy, those children won’t need an inheritance. It’s like teaching someone to farm instead of giving them food. It’s a better gift.
In your opinion, should schools have a role in preparing students to manage their personal finances? Or is this the job of parents?
It’s a dual responsibility, but some parents don’t know enough about finances to teach their children about it. People have areas of expertise. Mine is in physics, and others have an expertise in financial literacy. We need these people to teach students in our schools.
We send students out into the world ill-equipped to handle their money. It’s like sending kids out of day care without knowing how to share. Our education system is lacking when it comes to preparing students for management of their personal finances. Why is it that only the less academic streams bother to teach kids about the benefits of making bi-weekly mortgage payments? There are too many people with Ph.Ds who don’t know how to manage their money. They miss out on the freedom and empowerment that financial freedom brings.
What changes would you like to see in our education system when it comes to financial literacy? What specific topics would you like to see schools covering?
I think that it should be mandatory for students in every grade and in every academic stream to study a rigorous unit on financial literacy. The unit could be tied to their math courses. Teachers would need formal training because not all teachers come to the profession with strong financial literacy. The design of the units would have to involve very careful decision making. Experts in wealth management and debt management – the kinds of experts hired by banks – would be involved.
Students should come out of school knowing how to budget and how to make money grow. We need to teach them about the hazards of debt and the wisdom of saving and investing. They should learn about different investment vehicles, how to diversify, how to recognize good investments. Students should graduate with a grasp of concepts like high risk-high yield and low risk-low yield. We also need to teach them the human side of finances – the need for balance – the fact that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all way of managing finances.
Would you be interested in designing and/or delivering a unit on personal finances?
I’d be more interested in running a financial literacy club. People who teach it should have formal training. I don’t have appropriate skills to pass it on to the next generation. I see my own personal finances through my own specific lens. I’m not ready to tell others what to do.
When we had our human library, students were talking with you non-stop. What were their interests?
They want to feel financial freedom. Kids have witnessed their parents struggling with money, and they want to be financially competent.
I noticed that only boys “signed you out”. Do you think that in general, boys have a greater interest in personal finances than girls do?
No. I talked with a small number of students for a long time, and I don’t think it was a representative sample. I have yet to meet someone – male or female – who isn’t interested in money. The interest is there in everyone. It just isn’t always developed.
If there is anything else you would like to add, please do.
I would like students to understand that money can’t buy them happiness, but that well-managed money can remove stress from their lives. When you consider the amount of stress people carry because of their debts and the number of marriages that break up because of financial conflicts, it’s clear that it’s not just a matter of money – it’s a matter of health.
I’d also like students to realize that more money is not necessarily better. It depends on what you do with it. In general, I believe that schools need to give students a head start in managing money, growing it, and using it as the tool it’s meant to be.
The consummate physics teacher, Ari (on left) excitedly shows off his new fire tube to his colleagues – even though the school year is over.
As Ari and I were talking, another teacher stopped by. She admitted that she typifies the “well-educated but lacking in financial competence” stereotype that Ari described. She said that it was difficult to deal with the shame that she feels about her financial situation. Although each one of us involved in that conversation had a different level of money management savvy, there was no disrespect or shame in it. We spoke as equals, and there was no posturing involved. Wouldn’t it be great if that could be the norm?
Do you think that schools should teach money management? What qualifications do you think are needed for someone to be a teacher of financial literacy in schools? Your comments are welcome.
Image courtesy of EWA