Activities and Resources to Teach Financial Literacy Skills to Kids and Teens

Why should we teach financial literacy in schools beginning at an early age?

The facts are simple. The lack of personal financial education has had a very negative impact on the lives of many Americans. Nearly 56% of Americans don’t have an emergency fund of at least $1000 to cover unexpected expenses. Many are racking up student loan and credit card debt, living paycheck to paycheck. The consequences of poor financial decision-making can’t be undone quickly. It can take years to dig yourself out of debt.

Children come from many different circumstances. Some are from financially stable homes. Others are living in situations where their families are barely getting by. Some children are living in shelters and depending on income assistance or the generosity of strangers. Parents are reluctant to discuss finances with their children.

The bottom line is that if we are going to make sure that everyone has a roof over their head and food on the table, we need to teach kids and teens how to manage money and school is an appropriate avenue to begin.

Many states have basic financial literacy included in their standards beginning with kindergarten. Along with the established standards, there is typically a curriculum and instruction sequence.

Activities
Let’s look at some activities and helpful resources for teaching financial literacy.

Elementary

At this stage, you are literally laying the financial literacy foundation. Students this age are learning all about physical money. They’re learning what each coin is, what it looks like, and what it’s worth. They’re learning the value of each piece of paper money. This is a good time to introduce the difference between wants and needs, as this becomes the basis for prioritizing spending for needs and saving for things we want. At this point, students learn by being hands-on with money and through experiences that involve money.

  • Identify and count money – play games, pose scenarios, and let students count money.
  • Create a classroom store – create a store stocked with pencils, erasers, and other things that students like. Throughout the week, students have the opportunity to earn money (scholar dollars) to spend at the store on Friday. This teaches them about the values/costs of items, earning income, spending, and saving.

Junior High

Students are ready to explore more complex aspects of financial literacy such as wages, planning how to pay for college, and saving. They’ll benefit from project-based activities.

  • Exploring careers and salaries – have students select a couple of careers to research. They should look at things like job requirements/description, training or education required for the career, median salary/income, and any other factors that might be important to them. They’ll present their findings and decide if either of these careers would be worth pursuing for them.
  • Bring a banking professional to campus to explain savings, checking, and other accounts to students.

High School

High school students are preparing to go out into the world. They’re going to need to know so many important financial skills it’s important to give them just the right balance of information and practical application that financial literacy skills “stick”. Connecting financial literacy with things that are important to them is key to helping them truly understand concepts. Here are some activities to give them experience with real-life scenarios.

  • Have them walk in someone else’s shoes for a week – put them in groups and assign them different life roles such as single, married with and without children, with student loans, with car payments, house payments, rent, etc., They’ll work together to research their circumstances, create and manage a budget, tally up all expenses, etc., to see if they have enough to cover their expenses for a week.
  • 911 – just when you think everything is going okay, something unexpected can happen that wrecks your budget. Have students brainstorm emergency events that have happened in their families such as broken appliances, injuries, or a leaky roof. Have them estimate how much it would cost to address those emergencies. This helps them see the importance of an emergency fund.

Resources
Here are some books that may be helpful for teaching key financial literacy concepts.

Book Title/AuthorConceptGrade/Age
The Coin Counting Book
by Rozanne Lanczak Williams
Introduces CoinsK to 3 grade
Follow the Money by Rozanne Lanczak WilliamsDifferent types of money, money vocabularyK to 3 grade
Rock, Brock and Savings Shock by Sheila BairSpending vs. Saving 3 to 5 grade 
Isabel’s Carwash
By Sheila Bair
Investing, borrowing, saving, spending. Includes a study guide4 to 6 
M is for Money by Will RaineyNormalizes conversations about money. A great book to send home with students to share with their familiesAll Ages
The Survival Guide for Money Smarts: Earn, Save, Spend, Give by Eric Braun Earning, saving, spending and donating, setting financial goals9 to 14 years
How to turn $100 into $1,000,000 by James McKenna, Jeannine Glista, Matt FontaineMaking, saving, and growing money10 to 14 years
Finance 101 for Kids: Money Lessons Children Cannot Afford to Miss by Walter AndralPopular graphic novel that covers concepts like how money started, all the way to economic forces that can impact personal finances8 to 12 years
I Want More Pizza by Steve BurkholderHow and why managing money is importantTeens and Pre-teens
What You Should Have Learned About Money But Never Did by Sophia BeraPersonal finance basics like setting goals, paying down debt, starting an emergency fund, and saving for retirementOlder high school/college

It’s never too early to educate kids about money and how to spend it properly. Financial literacy is the key to a prosperous and successful future. Do you have a favorite activity or resource for teaching financial literacy? Share it in the comments.


Teia Hoover Baker is an educator, published author, and entrepreneur. She is an innovative, devoted educator whose career has been dedicated to coordinating programs that support struggling learners. Her passion is meeting students where they are and guiding them to excel. Her main focus is always what is best for children. Teia holds a Bachelor’s in Journalism and a Master’s of Education. In her spare time, she enjoys being Lovie to her growing grandchildren.

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