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In 2012, 25 percent of Americans had more credit card debt than they had in their emergency savings. With consumer spending fueling 70% of our nation’s economic growth, the need to consume commercial products has forever been a staple in American culture. As a society, we are constantly being bombarded with advertisements, all pulling us to spend money. With so much pressure to spend, how are we supposed to fight the debt that is overwhelming our country?
The answer lies in education. For the past six months I have worked with YWCA Maricopa County, expanding its Own It Financial Education program, which provides low-income women and families a free education teaching them how to become financially stable and independent. It has been amazing to see the impact financial literacy can have on a person, and just how crucial financial literacy is on the future of our young people.
One of the first classes I organized at the YW was for a group of young teenage mothers. These girls had found themselves alone, with no money, and now responsible for the care a young child, all by the age of 16. In other words, they were just trying to make it through the day. Throughout the class, we covered topics like budgeting, the differences between debit and credits cards, and finding money to save. It soon became clear how little these girls knew about money management: no one knew that a debit card was linked to a bank account; they had no concept of what would happen when they didn’t pay a credit card bill on time; they had no idea that putting money into a savings account would help them accumulate interest, but why would they? Where would they have learned about money management? By the end of the class, they were empowered; they were knowledgeable about what to do with their money, and they no longer feared financial responsibility.
Most people never receive any formal financial training. There are no courses in our public school systems that teach students how to use a credit card or budget their money. Moreover, many parents feel uncomfortable talking to their children about money, so where are young people supposed to go for information? We need to find a way to integrate financial literacy into our school systems, or at least make the resources to financial literacy known in our communities. Right now in Arizona, there is a bill being proposed that would mandate all students to receive some type of financial literacy education before graduating from high school. If it passes, our students could become the most financially savvy high school graduates in the country.
Learning to save and budget money isn’t something that comes naturally to most of us, but is rather a learned skill set. The YW and other financial education programs are crucial because these organizations understand the value of financial stability. Once we learn how money works and become educated, the big bad bank doesn’t seem so scary.
Kristen Coco is a recent graduate of Clemson University, who moved out to Arizona last November to work with the YW and expand its Own It Financial Education Program.
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Read Pat Lewis' "Research Friday: Financial literacy: Understanding money for today’s activities and tomorrow’s security."