Money management and attending college debt-free are among the useful lessons L.A.-area kids are learning in schools offering the Ramsey Education’s Foundations in Personal Finance curriculum.
The versatile finance program covers important yet often over-looked topics such as balancing a checkbook, saving money, following a budget, managing credit and debit cards, buying a car, college scholarships, taxes, retirement and investments. Teachers choose which finance area to focus on.
Sponsors such as Santa Clarita-based Neylan Group International and businesswoman, author and speaker Brendie Heter partner with schools to fund personal finance classes, which are free to students through a school’s math department.
A mom of three, Heter teaches tweens budget planning at Legacy Christian Academy in Santa Clarita. “We work with them and ask, ‘How much are you going to spend on makeup this month, Starbucks, eating out?’ And they don’t know. We help them make a budget,” she says.
Teaching personal finance in school early on can help students avoid costly mistakes. In 2018, U.S. consumer debt totaled $4 trillion. “Americans are borrowing more and more money. At the same time, losing financial literacy,” says Heter, adding that most of her 12-year-old students think it’s impossible to buy a car with cash.
Nationally, more than 4 million middle school, high school and college students have taken the curriculum. In L.A. County, 17 schools offered the personal finance classes during the 2018-2019 school year. About 3,000 students in Santa Clarita have benefited from the curriculum since 2014. And many of these students have 401(k) plans set up by age 19, says Heter.
Heter’s first lesson for students is to change the word “budget” to “plan.” “Plan can’t be past tense, it has to be looking forward,” she says. “If you have zero dollars, do you have a plan for making money?”
Inspired, one of her students made $120 selling lemonade during
a Fourth of July parade. “Those students value the money they make more than if their parents gave them money to go to the mall,” says Heter.
Her students’ first homework assignment is to talk with their parents about the family budget. Often, there is no family budget. But working together on the assignment benefits everyone and changes the family dynamics, she says.
At Valencia High School, statistics teacher Amy Lagusker-Komen started a scholarship program in February that included teaching the scholarship application process and having her students write college essays and complete applications. The goal was for the students to earn $100,000 in scholarships by May. They quickly surpassed that. “I got excited and told them our new goal would be $1 million,” Laugusk-er-Komen says. “Before the end of school, the class reached $1.076 million of accepted funds. I cried I was so happy,” she says.