How to Get Personal Finance Taught in a Public High School

by Joe Plemon on June 30, 2010

In contemplating whether to write this post, I weighed the negative aspect of “tooting my own horn” with the positive aspect of helping get more high schoolers some solid financial training. One compelling factor in my decision is that Austin Morgan at Foreigner’s Finances had already shared this info in our recent podcast interview. Soooo…the latter won out, and here is the story of how we were able to incorporate great financial training into the local high school curriculum.

“I wish I had know this when I was younger.”

As our church has hosted Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University (FPU) over the years,  the most oft repeated comment from the participants has been, “I just wish I had known this stuff when I was younger.” Our leadership team has been empathetic – we all wish we had developed better financial foundations when we were younger. But one night, after hearing this lament once again, a light bulb came on for team member Lisa, “Maybe we can’t turn back time, but surely there is something that we can do to help our current generation of young people learn these principles.”

A lively discussion ensued, resulting in assignments. Mine was to learn if such an agenda existed. Lisa and Tami were charged with learning what was currently being taught at our community high school.

Getting our foot in the door

I learned that Dave Ramsey does indeed have a program designed specifically for high school students. Lisa and Tami learned that economic theory (not personal finance) was being currently taught. So Lisa and I (with the support of our team) forged ahead, making an appointment with the principal to solicit interest in the Dave Ramsey high school version of FPU. Although the principal was open to the idea, he needed to figure out how to integrate it into their curriculum and also get his business teacher on board. Red tape? Yes. Unfortunately, the business teacher, who was close to retirement, was less than enthusiastic about starting something new. The principal respected the teacher’s wishes and FPU for students went on hold.

A break through

We bided our time. The next school year, the business teacher had retired, the principal had become superintendent, and a new principal was appointed. Lisa and Joe tried again, with much better results. We met first with the superintendent – former principal – who encouraged us to meet with the current principal. More appointments, scheduling and meetings were required. We gave Principal Detering a copy of the Dave Ramsey syllabus, along with an introductory DVD about the class, “Foundations in Personal Finance.” We also offered to pay for all class materials. It was Spring, 2008. Principal Detering and class teacher Linda Wood enthusiastically endorsed the Dave Ramsey curriculum and agreed to integrate it into the Fall, 2008 agenda. The best news? Foundations in Personal Finance became a part of the class “Resource Management”, a requirement for all seniors.

The cost

“How much,” some of you are asking, “did this cost?”

Hey. I would be disappointed if you didn’t ask. After all, we are talking finances here. We had two basic choices: both involved purchasing the training DVDs featuring Dave Ramsey, but one option was to purchase individual student books while the other was to purchase a CD containing the book information in printable format. Option one cost less for the first year, but, because the student books would need to be replaced every year, would become more expensive the second year and each succeeding year. Because the second option would require the school to run copies for each student for each lesson, I discussed this option with Principal Detering, who readily agreed. Our total cost, therefore, for multiple years of great financial lessons for all high school seniors, came to $700.

How has it gone?

While I wish I could say that this class has revolutionized personal finance for every graduate, this is not the case. However, I am not surprised. No one at any age will “get” personal finance unless and until they are ready to learn. And while Dave Ramsey appeals to some high school students, he comes across as corny to others. Still, several have given me cause for hope. When I visited the class toward the end of last school year, I asked, “OK.  What is Baby Step One?”  I was pleasantly surprised to see  numerous hands shoot upward. One senior asked me the best way to start her own Roth IRA. Several told me they want to make it through college debt free. And one upcoming entrepreneur, as a way to earn extra money, baked home made cookies to sell to fellow students while they dined on school lunches. Although Principal Detering had to curtail this endeavor, he nevertheless admired her initiative.

Concluding thoughts

I have zero regrets about getting this program into our local high school. Yes, it took some perseverance (and expense) to get it done. Some students roll their eyes and figuratively put their fingers into their ears. But…some are getting it.

These make the effort and expense all worthwhile…many times over.

What are the high school students in your community learning about personal finance?  Have you been involved?  How did it go?

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Jason @ Redeeming Riches June 30, 2010 at 9:39 am

Joe, this is a great idea to get this into High Schools! Looking forward to hearing more progress on this. I think this is something that, on a church level, could/should be done in Youth Groups, College Ministries and Young Adult Ministries as well!

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joeplemon June 30, 2010 at 9:47 am

Jason,
Yes, the church definitely has great opportunities and responsibilities to teach biblical principles of finance to our upcoming generation. Our church offers to pay half for any high school or college student who signs up for Financial Peace University. We want these young people to have an investment into their own future, but we also want to support them. Those who take us up on the offer (quite a few) have done very well in the course.

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Darren June 30, 2010 at 10:53 am

This is awesome to hear. I’ve heard that Dave has a program geared towards high school students. I definitely could’ve used the knowledge at that age.

Question: Did you have to pay for everything? Why didn’t the school share in some of the cost? I would assume that since they’re bringing in the curriculum, they’d accept the costs.

Anyhow, great job!!!

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joeplemon June 30, 2010 at 11:05 am

Darren,
Yes, the school could have participated in some of the costs, but we felt like we should make this as painless as possible. New expenses would need school board approval, which adds more hoops to jump through and less chance of approval. And right now, in Illinois, school teachers are getting laid off in mass, so all programs are being highly scrutinized. Besides, this is something we are passionate about, so “putting our money where our mouth is” makes sense.

Thanks for the encouraging words!

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Carol@inthetrenches June 30, 2010 at 2:11 pm

Wonderful post to raise the awareness! Especially appreciate the honest reactions of the students. This topic of student financial training seems to be growing in momentum and is long overdue. Thank you.

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FinanceDad June 30, 2010 at 3:18 pm

I can see why many in public schools wouldn’t embrace the message, because of the messenger. Although Dave Ramsey may be a guru when it comes to personal finance, he incorporates his Christian views, which many secular folks find appalling.

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Andrew May 19, 2013 at 3:52 pm

I wouldn’t say “appalling” but this book has been forced on me in a college class. As an Atheist, I have rather strong objections to Christian values being forced on me at a public university. Now, that being said, I completely respect one’s right to be a Christian…all I ask is that I be given the same consideration, and I am not.

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joeplemon June 30, 2010 at 4:34 pm

@Carol,
Thanks for taking this post the way it was intended: to raise awareness. You said this topic is growing in momentum… Do you know of any specific data or illustrations to substantiate this momentum?

@Finance Dad,
Our public school screened the material carefully to make sure it had no covert (or overt) Christian message in it. It doesn’t. Dave made this series specifically for public schools, intentionally leaving out any biblical or other Christian references.

But this isn’t really meant to be about Dave Ramsey; it is meant to get some high schoolers much needed training. If not a Dave Ramsey curriculum, then some other. I wrote about Dave because that is what I am familiar with and what worked in our instance.

Thanks for your thoughts.

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Tia June 30, 2010 at 5:56 pm

Joe – that’s neat. As long as the basics of personal finance are now going to be taught, it’s better for the students. Schools should be able to choose the right programs for their students, but it is a good issue to raise.

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Financial bondage June 30, 2010 at 7:11 pm

I heard that Dave Ramsey had this but I did not know much about it, or if many schools even used it. Getting a public school to do something different that could actually help the kids must of been like pulling teeth..

Dave Ramsey really don’t mention God or scripture all that much… a few times yes, but not very often.

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Carol@inthetrenches June 30, 2010 at 8:07 pm

Sorry, no figures to back it up yet. Emails circulating among bloggers. Got one today encouraging me to do something with In The Trenches for school age people and Early Retirement Extreme is coming out with a book around September that I think would be sure fire for the college age.

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Jason @ One Money Design June 30, 2010 at 9:57 pm

Way to go, Joe! I’ve thought about this gap in personal finance teaching alot and am so glad to see someone take action and try to make a difference. Getting high school and even college kids equipped to manage their personal finances will help get this debt mess under control! Please keep us informed.

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Ace June 30, 2010 at 11:09 pm

Joe great job really! I think you should spread the word as much as possible! Hopefully you’ll set an example for other people to set up something similar in their community!

I actually had a personal finance class taught at my school. It wasn’t required, but I’m sure glad that I took it. The one thing that I was so thankful for learning about was the importance of time for compounding interest.

I hope that people try to spread the word on this one Joe, I think there are many out there they would love to help but don’t know about programs such as Dave Ramsey’s.

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joeplemon July 1, 2010 at 5:06 am

@Financial Bondage,
Getting it into this public school wasn’t exactly like pulling teeth…actually, our school officials were supportive; it was more like getting all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed.

@Carol,
If “In the Trenches” does something for school age children, let me know. I want to spread the word. Thanks for the heads up on Early Retirement Extreme’s upcoming book.

@Jason,
Thanks for the encouragement. If we have any new developments I will keep you posted.

@Ace,
That is the real point of this post: to encourage others to get involved. People CAN get something done if they will only take the initiative to learn what programs are available and take that first step.

Thanks for the encouraging words. I am going to try to get more “hands on” (if allowed) in our local high school.

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Little House July 1, 2010 at 10:39 am

What a wonderful idea. Is there any way you could follow those students from that class on a long term basis, sort of like a data study group? I’d be curious to know how those students are doing in 10 years. If those you thought weren’t listening actually benefited from your course 10 years later. Great idea!

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J Richmond July 1, 2010 at 12:16 pm

kids are so little about personal finances its amazing that they are not all bankrupt by 25

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joeplemon July 1, 2010 at 12:30 pm

@Little House,
Great idea. If I can figure out a way to do it, I will. Thanks.

@J Richard,
You are right: A survey a couple of years ago indicated that 19% of all bankruptcies in America are filed by people 25 and under. Makes me wonder how most of us made it through young adulthood relatively unscathed financially.

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joeplemon August 23, 2010 at 1:30 pm

CNA,
Your cousin has impeccable taste! :)
Seriously, thanks for reading and commenting. And tell your cousin I said thanks for the good word.
Joe

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