Being the Broccoli of Lifestyle Lessons

Teaching kids about money is finally going to become a formal part of going to school in the province of Ontario (it already is in some other Canadian provinces and at least 21 of the United States). This is definitely good news, save for the fact that unfortunately, Financial Literacy is the broccoli of lifestyle lessons. Everyone knows broccoli is super good for you, but it doesn’t get anywhere near the consumption or attention of potato chips or French fries, or ice cream. Similarly, while everyone knows that living within your means and managing your personal finances are tremendously important life skills, adults still do not talk to young people about money near as much as would be ideal. Talking about these ideas in school is certainly a start – but for them to really take hold, kids need to be able to practice them at home.

How do we know this? Well, we’ve been talking to parents and teachers about teaching kids how to think before they buy for over two decades now, at first anecdotally, but in a very methodical way for the last five years by helping them calculate the DIMS® (Does It Make Sense?) Score for a potential purchase or request – before they make it – often through hands-on interactive in-classroom workshops.

It’s absolutely terrific news that Financial Literacy is now formally included in Ontario School curriculums – but like most lifestyle lessons – it needs to be reinforced and practiced at home to really take hold.

Here is what we know for sure:

1. Children are the most interested in learning about money when they want some. This means that financial literacy initially needs to be centred on making strong consumer decisions – that is teaching kids to think before they buy. Young lives are filled with natural segues to this lesson: spending allowance, holiday or birthday gift money, but also trips to the grocery store, gas station, or favourite take-out spot. Encouraging children to be thoughtful during each of these activities introduces them to language and ideas that cannot help but make future more detailed financial lessons stick. Presenting financial ideas and concepts too far in advance of when kids can see them in operational reality runs the risk of falling flat, eg teaching 10th Graders about mortgages. A mortgage is truly meaningful when you need one, and not so much years before that.

2. You don’t have to be a Financial Guru to effectively teach kids about money. Parents from every walk of life teach their kids how to brush their teeth – not only Dentists! Experience has taught us that if our children consistently employ simple tools and habits, they can enjoy a cavity-free smile for life. Similarly, simple tools and habits that help them practice thinking before buying can help them develop lasting financial literacy. When we are talking to kids about money, we need to illustrate quick but meaningful practices they can adopt in their current everyday lives, long before we talk to them about how compound interest can help them prepare for retirement. And non-financial Gurus can absolutely get that job done.

So while it is indeed good news that financial literacy now has official billing in Ontario schools – even with the most delicious cheese sauce imaginable (the prospect of earning an “Easy-A”?), we suspect there is still a lot of work to do in terms of getting it “on the menu”; so many teachers are working overtime just to be able to even host their students “in the building” this coming academic year, little own tailor and deliver new curriculum.

But if you were excited about the prospect of your kids learning about money in the classroom, here’s some more really good news: you already have the tools you need to deliver some of the most important and lasting lessons at home right now. Just click on the pink or green buttons below, or visit our Virtual Café to watch how, starting as early as supper tonight.

We learn from our mistakes – the trick is to let kids learn from little financial mistakes – which they can only really make when shopping – they can’t buy the wrong insurance or car for their circumstances just yet. Think of getting your kids into the habit of “thinking before buying” as merely the seasoning or sauce you use at home to make broccoli (read financial literacy) more palatable. It’s so good for them to practice making small consumer decisions when they are still under your roof and it doesn’t take that much more work than parenting already does. When is the last time you only served broccoli for dinner?

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