Answering Chicago’s “Questions to Pose”

The University of Chicago has produced a list of “Questions to Pose” that parents and community members can use to understand if a financial education program in their school is unbiased and high-quality. We answered them all, for anyone who is considering a workshop. If you would like to discuss any of our answers, please do not hesitate to contact us at

What specific financial education program is my student using in school? Gifting Sense, a mission-driven provider of free workshops (and tools) designed to allow children to experience first-hand that thinking before buying is a powerful and rewarding life skill.

Who is the author or creator of the materials? Is there a potential conflict of interest? Karen Holland, an Economist, and parent. Karen has a Master’s Degree in Economic History from the University of Toronto, and an Honours Bachelor of Arts Degree in Economics from Queen’s University at Kingston, Ontario. She worked as an Analyst (in Human Resources, Sovereign Risk, Financial Institutions, and Corporate Treasury) for the Royal Bank of Canada before having a family. She has been working on the Gifting Sense Project since 2015. She relishes any opportunity to discuss in detail why thinking before buying is the cornerstone of financial literacy.

Gifting Sense operates without any sponsorship or third-party support. The project has been bootstrapped since inception. There are no conflicts of interest. The dream is to partner with a large charitable foundation (Pivotal Ventures, The MacArthur Foundation, Bloomberg Charities…) who shares our values. This would allow us to scale the ongoing delivery of workshops once demand outstrips existing capacity to deliver them.

Is there advertising or branding from financial institutions or products on the materials? None.

Are there incentives for students and/or teachers to use the program? If so, how might those incentives influence students’ learning? The only incentive for teachers is that they can bring financial literacy alive for their students by dedicating one 45 minute class to experiencing how thinking before buying allows young people to avoid disappointment, not just “waste”. Once students discover that thinking before buying does NOT mean that you never get to do or buy anything fun, only that you plan your spending to avoid buyer’s remorse and FOMO (not to mention saving money, precious mental energy and the planet) asking financial questions quickly moves from an intimidating task to a powerful tool.

There is nothing wrong with FinTech, it is efficient, and it can be helpful. But today’s parents learned that money was scarce, and that spending came with inherent trade-offs, largely as a result of the physical and visual cues that using cash provided. When your pockets were empty, you couldn’t buy anymore. Today’s children are digital payment system natives, who can find themselves making some very fast and seemingly painless consumer decisions.

Calculating the DIMS – Does It Make Sense?® Score takes all of three minutes. It’s just a little “speed bump”; slowing down the pace at which consumer decisions are made. Children are fully capable of making well-thought-out consumer decisions when we give them a tool to quickly, but not arbitrarily, do so.

The problem we are solving is the lack of universal granular instruction on how to spend wisely, that feels relevant to us when our money stories are still being developed, i.e. during childhood and ideally before the end of middle school.

Instead of having to work to uncover and then perhaps re-engineer a less than productive money story as an adult, why not just create circumstances under which a positive money-story is developed in the first place?

Do the materials encourage the use of a particular financial institution’s or company’s product(s)? No.

What data is being collected by the materials? When is it purged? How is it stored? We collect no personal information. We have every completed digital worksheet, so we know what DIMS Scores have been calculated for (a lot of SmartPhones, running shoes, professional sporting event and concert tickets…) but not by who, nor if a purchase was ever made.

What is done with student data collected by the materials? No student data is collected. There is no registration, nor paywall requirement to use the DIMS Score® calculator. We are a mission-driven organization. We want to make it as easy as possible for children from all economic realities to experience how being financially responsible is rewarding not boring. We want as many children as possible to understand how much agency they have over their personal financial futures. People always ask us “how we make money”. We don’t. We’ve found an efficient and easily repeatable way to solve a problem, and want to share it with as many families, communities and schools as possible.

What are the goals of the materials? What problem(s) do the materials aim to solve? The program and tools we employ are designed to allow children to experience first-hand, why thinking before buying is actually rewarding, versus boring, during the time in a young person’s life when their money story is still being developed. The unconscious habits and beliefs we develop about money between the ages of 3 and 13, not only inform how we think and act about money as adults, but tend to remain stable. So having a positive money-management experience before the end of middle school really matters.

The problem we are solving is the lack of universal granular instruction on how to spend wisely, that feels relevant to us when our money stories are still being developed. Instead of having to work to uncover and then perhaps re-engineer a less than productive money story as an adult, why not just create circumstances under which a positive money-story is developed in the first place?

What are the priorities of the program?

  • Allow children to experience first-hand, that thinking before buying isn’t about never doing or buying anything fun, but rather about making sure that you can use and appreciate what you do buy.
  • Which lets children understand that being financially responsible does a lot more than just “save money”; it also reduces disappointment and waste, improves family harmony and financial well-being, as well as protecting the planet.
  • Which builds a solid foundation to have a peaceful personal financial future. Thinking before buying is the cornerstone of financial literacy, so we’ve made it easy to give kids the habit of thinking before buying.

Do the materials address the roles of financial institutions in the financial system? Only in that they are an adjunct to any shopping decision and so any payment method. It doesn’t matter if you are going to pay for a potential purchase with cash, a gift card, debit card, credit card, ApplePay, Venmo or Interac, we hope children will pause, and calculate the DIMS – Does It Make Sense?® Score before they spend a dime.

Does the program provide information that serves the interests of financial institutions or companies, or does the information serve a different purpose? The program only serves students, their families and schools.

How do participants benefit from the messages in the materials? How might participants change their behaviour as a result of the program?  To what extent does this behaviour change benefit the vendor? Thinking before buying is an incredibly effective, immediate and long-term, “disappointment avoidance tool”. If Gifting Sense succeeds in its mission of getting today’s school-aged children ready for all the personal finance decisions that lie in their future, tomorrow’s young adults will never lament that “no one ever taught them about money”. We lay the foundation for children to become comfortable with basic financial jargon and concepts, which allows them to confidently seek out the more sophisticated financial information they will require later in life when it can be helpful.

The only way the program benefits Gifting Sense is that it helps us deliver the difference we want to make. What’s the adage? “Be the change you want to see.” 

What are the advertised benefits of the program? Have these been proven? The advertised benefits of the program are that it brings financial literacy to life for students in a way that is relevant to them and so much more helpful to developing a positive money story than say a lesson on mortgages – twenty years before you need one. The knowledge children acquire in workshop is fundamental, but because it is centred around helping them assess, compare and categorize purchase(s) they personally are considering making or asking for, it is engaging. When are kids really interested in learning about money? When they want some!

See the testimonials listed at the bottom of our home page to assess if our claims have been substantiated.

Have the materials been evaluated by an independent reviewer? Our barrier-free structure makes it difficult to more than empirically measure how many children are money-smarter as a result of our work. That said, parents, educators, personal finance authors and experts regularly speak highly of our platform and tools. And most importantly, kids tell us all the time “…you explained that so well…”, or “…I just never thought of it that way…”. Our advertising is “word of mouth”.

We have given workshops (via Zoom since the Spring of 2020) across Canada and the United States, as well as in Argentina, Mexico, and Sweden! The list grows every week. Workshops are typically delivered in schools or community centres, but also recently through Outschool, where we have been able to work with home-schooled learners.

We would love the University of Chicago’s Financial Education Initiative to assess our approach themselves. We only want to get better at what we are doing and feel confident their assessment would uncover ways we could do just that.

Have the materials been found to be objective? Yes. Take thinking before buying for a test drive and see for yourself.

Do the materials only provide partial information? Our focus is on wise-spending but in the following context: Personal finances are no different than team sports, to “win” you have to be both offensive (earn) and defensive (spend wisely). Most adults know they should spend less than they make and then ideally invest the surplus. The struggle is how to do that, live in a way that allows us to create an investable surplus at almost any income level. But we are lucky because life is already structured with all sorts of natural opportunities to learn wise spending habits long before we become adult income earners.

Who among us wasn’t ever asked as a child what they might like to receive for an upcoming birthday or holiday gift, how best to spend “back-to-school” dollars, or even just what to have for dinner? Treating these ordinary questions as the natural opportunities they are to give kids wise spending habits shows today’s youth how possible it is to create an investable surplus at almost any income level.

Do the materials deemphasize information that will help students think critically about certain financial institutions, companies, or products? The opposite. Our workshops, tools and process show how easy and important it is to quickly, but not arbitrarily, assess a possible purchase in time to assure it makes sense for the buyer and their family.

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