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Right on the money

Gaining financial literacy should start at a young age.

Vanessa Kunderman is thankful she had a crash course in financial education. The 27-year-old entrepreneur didn’t learn anything substantial about money while in grade school. Nor did she pick up that much about managing personal finances while in college.

Only after working as a financial adviser did she gain an understanding of the difference between a bond and a stock and how to tell a yield from a capital gain. Even still, navigating the increasingly complex landscape of managing money remains a challenge.

“Now I am self-employed and trying to apply that knowledge, but it’s still difficult because you don’t have job security and the same kind of level of benefits,” says the former blogger on finances, now running an online business dealing with holistic wellness.

Still, Kunderman says she considers herself better prepared for the rigours of our money-minded world than many of her peers. “Most millennials don’t understand what’s happening because they were never taught how.”

Many don’t learn about investing while on the job. They often don’t have time to do so on their own, either. Even when they do, there’s no money to save for the future. That’s because they’re likely grappling with student debt. All too often, home ownership seems like an unattainable dream. After all, how can you save for a down payment when you’re struggling to pay the bills?

Gary Rabbior, the president of the Canadian Foundation for Economic Education, says financial literacy is an essential skill and just as important as any other subject.

Rabbior knows what he’s talking about. He has been promoting financial literacy longer than millennials have been alive. And it’s been a long road even to get to where we are today.

“Having done this myself since 1978, it was always hard to find someone who didn’t say ‘Wow, that’s great! I wish someone had taught me about that when I was in school.’”

That’s not to say financial literacy hasn’t been on the radar of educators. But there has often been little action to go with the talk, until recently.

“What’s happening now in different ways is this kind of education is becoming a priority.”

Evidence of this shift can be found in initiatives such as Talk With Our Kids About Money day, which is April 20.

The nationwide campaign encourages financial literacy in the classroom and at home. It is one of many efforts to help the young attain money sense before they’re set adrift as adults into a complicated world where credit is widely available and investing in the stock market is necessary to build an adequate nest egg.

Learning about money will be a central part of middle school teacher Nick Onischuk’s lesson plan this April 20.

“We’re going to take more of an entrepreneur angle: taking on risk and seeing what they can do out there in the future to create their own money,” says Onischuk who teaches at New Era School in Brandon. “We’re going to look at business plans and see if they can take it somewhere.”

While teachers and parents across Canada will offer money mentorship to the generations of tomorrow, Talk With Our Kids About Money day will in many ways be just like another day in the classroom for Onischuk.

He tries to weave financial literacy into the curriculum. It’s great fodder for teaching mathematics, language arts and social studies.

Often, discussions about money are the hook that grabs his students’ attention leading them toward other educational outcomes.

“Because they know money is something that affects their daily lives — it’s real to them — they become very engaged,” he says, adding financial literacy helps him boost general literacy and numeracy outcomes.

“All of a sudden, I’ve got a kid who didn’t want to read and he’s reading a book about how to save.”

Onischuk knows from his experience as a student himself how learning about money can serve as a springboard for other learning.

“I got into financial literacy because when I was really young I was a really crummy reader and didn’t read anything until my parents gave me The Wealthy Barber, and that turned out to be the first book I ever finished,” he says.

“It hooked me on reading, and to this day, those are the books I like to read when I have downtime.”

Learning about money early is essential to well-being later in life, Rabbior says.

“Alberta is including financial literacy in its health and well-being category because it’s very much part of how you live a healthy life.”

Given the challenges, the sooner they learn about credit, saving and investing, the better their lives will be.

Yet, financial literacy is about more than the almighty dollar. Good financial education is largely about learning to strike a balance in how we live and understanding the consequences of our actions.

“The most powerful aspects of financial education are those that equip people to make decisions that make them feel in control,” Rabbior says. “In fact, teaching them they can achieve a goal they set is probably the most powerful financial lesson one can aspire to instil in kids.”

It’s a life skill that goes beyond money management.

“It makes them confident enough to ask questions, to get information, to create a plan for the future and to believe in themselves,” he adds.

This is not to say financial education is the end-all educational outcome.

“History is important. Science is important. However, we don’t use those things every day,” Onischuk says. “But when it comes to money — it doesn’t matter if you make $12 an hour or $120,000 a year, you’re going to use that knowledge every day.”

Indeed, it’s a useful tool for young adults in the age of credit lines, multiple credit cards and precarious employment options.

“The baby boomers were like ‘I’m going to give my kids everything,’ and our generation is like ‘Wow, we can’t give our kids everything we’ve had,’” says Kunderman, who runs her business while taking care of her 11-month-old son.

“That’s a hard thing to explore as a parent.”

It’s also why she believes financial literacy is fundamental to a well-rounded education.

“It should certainly be taught in school more than it is now,” Kunderman says. “It’s hugely valuable.”

By: Joel Schlesinger, Winnipeg Free Press

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