This is the latest in my series of posts spotlighting underrepresented communities around the world and the entrepreneurs trying to help them. In this installment, I talk to the CEO of Moneythink, an organization trying to help thousands of teenagers learn how to manage their money.
There's little question that the American education system has failed at teaching personal finance to generations and generations of students. That's because there is little to no personal finance education actually being taught--at all. According to a Council for Economic Education survey, only 14 states require students to take a personal finance course, and only 20 require economics.
Despite having a national debt of around $19 trillion, average consumer credit card debt of nearly $16,000 per household as of 2015, and national car loan averages nearing $30,000, most American high schools are still not teaching the next generation how to achieve financial stability.
Moneythink, a Chicago-based nonprofit focused on providing financial education to low income children and young adults, wants to change that. Co-founder and CEO Ted Gonder created the organization after studying economics at the University of Chicago and seeing the disparities in standard of living while volunteering throughout the city.
"We created this volunteer club with ourselves as the guinea pigs where we would go into local high school classrooms and start teaching personal finance concepts and building relationships with kids in some of the toughest high schools," Gonder says.
"That club grew on our campus, it grew in Chicago, and then we started getting interest from college students on other campuses across the country who wanted to start chapters of their own."
Back to Basics
The principles Moneythink teaches are basic. Topics like budgeting, savings, and taxes are the main focus.
Gonder says there are a lot of organizations that volunteer to teach financial literacy to high schoolers, but it ends up going over their heads. After all, topics such as mortgages and retirement aren't going to help a 17-year-old manage money if they enter college and need a part-time job to make ends meet.
Many of the core principles taught during Moneythink courses are geared toward helping inner-city youth avoid money traps. That means introducing them to the high fees associated with predatory lending, which is rampant in underprivileged areas. But mostly, it's about teaching students how to track their money and how to save properly.
Keeping it Relevant is Key
Using examples students may have heard of through pop culture, Moneythink is able to teach lessons that stick.
"In our early days, we use to have a lesson with Wesley Snipes as an example of someone who is evading his taxes," Gonder says. "What does it actually mean that he's evading his taxes? Why are people knocking on his door to collect money from him in the first place? What's the greater significance of that and why is that relevant to you? That's one way that we originally discovered that we could engage students."
According to Gonder, Moneythink is getting great feedback about its lessons, including hearing stories from students applying the information.
"Early on actually we had a student who was learning budgeting skills in our mentoring session and we found out later that he spoke with his mom and that they worked the numbers and it looked like there was a possibility that they wouldn't have been able to keep the heat on in the winter that winter. This was in autumn," Gonder says.
"He actually spent time with the worksheet and concepts from the Moneythink mentoring program home and basically they went through the exercise with the family." Gonder says his family was able to keep the heat on.
While anecdotal feedback is great, Moneythink is focused on measuring their impact by tracking behavior change in students who go through its lessons. If it, along with other non-profit financial literacy organizations, can further prove the value in such lessons to students, the 36 states not requiring such classes should consider jumping on board.
If you like stories about entrepreneurs helping underserved communities, check out some of the other stories in the series. Meet the entrepreneurs trying to turn smartphones into laptops for people in the developing world. Or, check out the nonprofit using virtual reality to convince potential donors to fight poverty.