Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?
Anyone who has met me can tell right away that I’m a personal finance advocate and enjoy talking about anything and everything related to the topic. When my old diving coach, who is also a fifth-grade teacher, asked me to present a personal finance lesson to her summer school students, I was thrilled to accept.
Pulling from what I learned early on from my parents and my own research, I started to build a two-part lesson plan about spending, savings, investing, and donating for a (virtual) classroom of fifth graders. I enjoyed the process so much that I want to share it with you. I hope it helps you look at personal finance through a new lens or provides material to facilitate a conversation with a grade-school aged child in your life.
Let’s Talk About Money and Where It Comes From
In this particular class, most students earned money from chores, grades, or special events (birthdays, holidays, etc.). Before the lesson, I sent the children a survey to get a sense of where their interests lie and where they spend their hard earned money.
“Where do you spend your money?” I was pleasantly surprised by the answers. Some of the kids responded that they bought toys or crafts, but the majority of them saved it in their wallet at home.
We started the lesson with spending and I was tipped off that it’s common for these kids to ask for the “card” to buy things, a.k.a. the parent’s credit card. I used this intel to focus this part of the lesson on the difference between using cash and using credit cards to purchase something.
I emphasized the big difference between using cash and credit was that with cash, the action of paying for the purchase is instantaneous, while using credit is a delayed repayment process that needs to be handled with care and is where many of our clients fall victim to growing their debt.
I walked them through the transaction process and the problems someone could potentially run into if they spend using cash and credit at the same time and don’t have a system to track their purchases.
The moral of the story is: The less you spend, the more money you have to put towards savings, investing, and donating.
Saving is assigning a purpose to your money and taking the time to prepare for that goal. It’s like preparing for a big history test. Your goal is to get a good grade, and to make it happen you need to plan how you’ll effectively spend your time before the test. You can choose to hang out with friends, to play video games, or study. In the case of the test, the best result will come from making the decision to spend time studying to make sure you’re prepared.
I brought it back to the importance of goal setting. Whenever there is a goal, financial or otherwise, you are going to be more successful if you write that goal down and take the necessary steps to prepare for that goal. In the case of financial goals, the preparation is saving money.
At the highest level, investing is putting your money towards something that has an expectation of getting even more money.
Investing is Like Pizza
I introduced the concept of stocks and bonds by relating it to a pizza order. Stocks were peperoni and bonds were sausage, and the amount of stocks or bonds someone chose is based on their preference. Some people like all pepperoni pizza, others like sausage and some want half and half.
Playing the Stock Market
I told the students a story about a game my father created to teach my brothers and me about the stock market. He asked each of us to pick five stocks for our “accounts” and we tracked their progress every Saturday morning by looking up the current stock price in the paper.
I came in dead last. My dad suggested that we pick companies we like, and of course I selected my favorite places to shop. Unfortunately, The Limited and Abercrombie and Fitch didn’t do as well as Nike, Disney, and the other stocks my brothers picked. Lesson learned: always be diversified!
Compounding Plus Birthday Money
Circling back to the concept of investment growth, we focused on a math problem to learn “The Rule of 72.” We used the hypothetical money that Grandma and Grandpa give them every birthday and calculated the total based on two different scenarios — assuming a one-time investment of birthday money vs. investing birthday money every year. The kids were amazed by how much $50 could grow assuming a rate of return over time. In one of the examples, the money grew to over $100,000. Oh the power of starting at a young age!
I spent time discussing some ways to give, which include donating items, time, and talent. The survey asked about giving and if they have donated in the past. The children had donated to programs and causes with their families. I was so happy to hear that the kids gave to charities and hope I gave them a few more ideas about how they can donate even if they don’t have a lot of money to give.
I ended the lesson with big picture money tips that helped to summarize our two-day discussion.
- Spending – The secret to wealth is living below your means. Spend less than you earn by tracking your money transactions and use the 48-hour rule on purchases. (Wait 48 hours before you buy anything).
- Saving – Create good saving habits early by setting aside 10% of your income. “Making money is easy. The difficult thing in life is not making it, it’s keeping it.”
- Investing – Remember the power of the Rule of 72. Start investing early and often.
- Donating – “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” – Hellen Keller
I am so grateful for the time I spent with this (virtual) class of fifth graders. They asked some great questions and seemed to leave the class inspired to take some of the lessons they learned and implement them in their lives.