Getting wise with financial literacy for kids

Some kids say their families are just not good with money, or unlucky, but ASB Get Wise programme manager Linda Hodgson says it’s all about making the right decisions.

Whilst reading, writing and arithmetic have always been key focuses in education, financial literacy has not. It’s just in the past five years that the Get Wise programme has set out to change the way kids think about money in an increasingly consumer-driven world.

“Really, the biggest difference is that money has become largely invisible. A lot of kids don’t get the experience of dealing with money. Swipe that card, that’s all it takes,” said Hodgson.

In fact, one child that Hodgson knows of believed that her mother actually earned money by grocery shopping – after all, her mother would go around the grocery store, put all the groceries in the shopping trolley, and at the end, get money out of the machine in the store.

The Get Wise programme reaches about 450 schools around New Zealand each year, with specialised workshops for years 1 – 8 that are delivered by trained facilitators. Then the schools are given resources so that teachers can continue to make financial literacy part off the curriculum throughout a chosen school term. It’s even beginning to change the way that teachers think, said Hodgson.

“My favourite story is a teacher going away and saying after class, “I really need to reconsider a pair of hot red boots I wanted to buy.””

The focus of Get Wise is around determining needs from wants in a “consume now, worry later,” world, in which even malls and stores are scientifically designed to entice shoppers to spend more, and advertising pervades all of our spaces. Identifying things such as shelter, food, water and warmth as needs, and toys and games as wants is essential, says Hodgson.

“We teach kids that they can speed to their needs, and wait for their wants, because by intermediate school age, they are starting to make decisions that really matter.”

Hodgson admits that it sounds a bit boring – especially with terms such as budget planning. But Get Wise aims to make it fun by turning what seems like chore into an inspirational goal, such as planning and saving for a family holiday.

With wants, Get Wise helps kids to identify ways to get their wants as well as their needs. If there is a gap between what they want and the money they have, how can they earn extra money? Are there perhaps some extra chores that they could pick up that would have some value for the family, and would help them to earn a few dollars extra that they can save toward their goal?

Different parents teach their kids about money in different ways, says Hodgson. Some parents are hugely passionate about showing their kids how to manage money, but in a lot of households – affluent and struggling – there is an attitude of “we don’t talk about money.” In past times, when pay packets would come home with Dad on a Friday night and it was split up into different envelopes for different bills and savings goals, it was at least visible. But today, kids are not as well schooled on managing money because they don’t see where it goes, and hence, don’t understand its value or how hard people work for it.

“One of the schools asked if we could hold a workshop for parents. It’s extraordinarily hard to get parents to come along though, because money is a very emotional topic for people,” said Hodgson. “People who have it don’t think they have problems with managing it, and people who don’t have it don’t believe they have anything to talk about.”

The New Zealand Council of Educations has independently evaluated the Get Wise programme, and has found that it is being successful in changing knowledge, attitudes and behaviour around money.