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When did you start budgeting?

Better yet, who taught you how to budget?

For me, nobody taught me much about money so I had to teach myself what a budget was and how it could change my life.

But that didn’t happen until I was 26. You could say I was a little behind.

I made a lot of money mistakes in those first 25 years, and it put me in a desperate situation battling student loan debt. When I got married my wife and I had about $100,000 of total debt, which was mostly student loans.

I really wish I learned more about money as a kid. And it made me wonder, who is teaching kids about money?

As a society, we rely on schools to teach our kids about math, science, the arts, history, science, and a whole slew of other topics.

I also believe our schools play a huge role in teaching our kids how to be good, kind, and responsible human beings. That’s one of my goals as a teacher anyway.

So why is the ball getting dropped teaching kids about money? I don’t have a good answer for that, but I can tell you that kids are eager and ready to learn about money and how to manage it themselves.

Last year I started an adventure teaching my middle schoolers how to make a budget.

I had the privilege of teaching personal finance concepts to 24 thirteen and fourteen year olds and it was freaking fun! The cool thing is they were just as excited as I was to learn about money.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

Teenagers are More Ready to Learn About Money than You Think

I’m lucky that my school offers an elective each quarter where I get to choose what I teach.

It’s a 30 minute class three days a week and it’s an opportunity for students to explore an interest that doesn’t need to be academic related. The idea is to spark interest and curiosity for new things, and it’s awesome!

In the past, here are a few elective classes I’ve “taught”:

The amazing thing is I get to relate and build relationships with students on a whole new level doing something we both love. Plus, I can introduce them to something that can turn into a lifelong love and learning experience.

And now I get to teach kids about money. I call the class #Adulting.

For a little perspective, this is a class that students sign up for. I didn’t have to force them into learning about budgets, they SIGNED UP, willingly and excitedly.

I think that’s pretty darn cool. That tells me they are ready to learn how to be financially responsible and make the most of their money.

Before I officially decided on this elective, I wanted to test the waters to see if students would actually sign up. I didn’t want to be the teacher who only had 5 kids choose their elective. That’s no fun for anyone.

In one class, 12-14 students raised their hands and said they’d be interested in learning about budgets and personal finance. I was SHOCKED!

I wanted to know why, so I asked each of them. Here are some of their responses.

“I want to be responsible with money when I grow up and make good decisions.”

“I spend too much money.”

“Right now I spend any money that I get and I want to learn how not to do that.”

“I signed up so that I can manage my money better.”

“I signed up because I want to be able to make a budget for when I’m an adult.”

Straight from them, they are ready. It’s our job to teach kids about money, as parents, as teachers, and as a society.

A Lot of Kids are Already Earning Money

On the first day of class I asked how many of the actually make money doing something. Nearly all of them raised their hands. I was surprised once again.

None of them have actual “jobs” since most places can’t hire them until they turn 15. But there are still a bunch of things they do to earn money, even if it’s just household chores and receiving an allowance.

I had a class full of babysitters, lawn mowers, office cleaners, birthday money hoarders, and chore extraordinaires.

It was funny, I went around the room and asked each of them what they do to make money. One girl confidently said, “I clean offices at Strategic Advantages (name changed to protect the innocent).”

I was a little blown away. That sounded like a real job, so I asked her, “wow, that sounds really official. How’d you land that gig?”

It turns out it’s her dad’s office, but it sounded more professional if she didn’t say she worked for her dad.

Just another reason I love working with middle schoolers, they’re freaking hilarious.

Not every single student has a job, but even the ones who don’t are eager to get one so they can start making their own money. I can’t say the same for my middle school self. I just wanted to hang out with my friends and play sports.

My goal is to help them figure out how to manage their money, and introduce them to as many things personal finance as I can in 6-7 weeks.

Money is Important to Kids

Middle schoolers interact with money pretty often. I see a fair amount right at school, especially on field trips.

A couple months ago we brought the entire middle school skiing, snowboarding, and snow tubing at the local ski hill. The kids have a blast! They also spent a lot of money.

The concession stands don’t stand a chance! Kids hardly have their equipment checked out and are already in line buying candy, french fries, and entire pizzas. Basically, if they have money, they’re going to spend it.

My best guess is that this money came from their parents, and therefore the students don’t have any problem spending it. I mean, mom and dad are basically a walking wallet and cash cow right?

Students know money is important and can get them things that they want.

It might be a giant bag of hot cheetos, or it could be an expensive computer or guitar.

But teaching kids about money is more than that. We need to teach kids how to be smart with their money so they can avoid the mistakes we made, like piling up a bunch of debt.

Students Want to Make Smart, Informed Decisions with Their Money, They Just Don’t Know How

That’s where we come in. Any of us can make a huge difference in the lives of our kids, whether they’re teenagers or even younger.

As I mentioned, schools don’t do a great job of teaching kids about money. So if they don’t learn from you, they’re going to learn from someone else and society and the media kind of suck at teaching money skills.

The best thing I’ve learned from working with middle schoolers is to be open and honest with them.

When they start asking questions, answer them. It feeds their curiosity to learn more. It also helps them build a larger network of understanding.

Teaching Kids How to Make a Budget is Your Responsibility

Yes, it might be hard to share your budget or financial situation with your kids. It forces you to be vulnerable. But it’s such a great way to teach kids about money.

Share the good and the bad, the celebrations and the goof ups.

Including your kids in money conversations is a great way for them to learn how you manage money. They can learn from you and begin to form their own thoughts, opinions, and attitudes toward money.

When I was helping my students create their very own budgets, several of them beamed with excitement over their work, but also over what they could still learn.

These same students started wondering how their parents budget, or if their parents budget.

I encouraged them to start asking their parents about it. So if your kids start asking you questions, they might have been in my class, haha. 🙂

But seriously, don’t be afraid to open a dialogue with them. It could be some of the best lessons they ever learn.

If You’re Not Sure Where to Start, These Bloggers Are Already Making It Happen

My daughter is only a year old, and my middle schoolers aren’t my kids, even though I’m around them so much it feels like they are, haha.

So I reached out to people who do have kids for help.

DocG, at Diversifi.com, and his wife use a tactic of giving their kids a lump sum of money on January 1. That money is intended to last them the entire year.

The crazy thing is, their kids have figured out how to actually make their money last.

Their kids have learned all kinds of great money lessons along the way that many adults struggle with. Read about Kids on a Budget.

Mamafi$h Saves has great tips for teaching your kids about money as early as preschool. Her article has practical strategies, lingo to use with your kids, and sweet printables to make it more real.

If podcasts are more up your alley, Andy Hill from Marriage, Kids, and Money has a great interview with Bill @ FamZoo.

Bill and Andy chat about helping kids understand needs vs wants, encouraging savings habits from a young age, and teaching their kids how to be happy givers.

Bill created a family finance app with parent controlled prepaid cards for teens to spend money. It mimics a credit card or bank account, but is controlled by mom and dad.

It’s a really neat idea and there are rave reviews.

These are a few great ones, and will help you get started talking with your kids about money, at all ages. Teach them all you can, they’re ready for it.

Let Me Know in the Comments

What are you teaching kids about money? What do you do to help them become financially responsible?

Our budget and goals changed our lives. I hope it can change yours too.

What I Learned Teaching Middle Schoolers How to Make a Budget

Our budget and goals changed our lives and it can change yours too.

34 Responses

  1. Great stuff! I’m encouraged about the future of the personal finance community. What an awesome concept that your school offers. I wish I had had something like that when I was in school. Keep fighting the good fight!

    1. Thanks! I wish my school did too! As a teacher it’s probably my favorite part of the day! Every Tuesday is budget day so students take time to enter spending and income into the budget. Hopefully 6 weeks of doing this forms a habit!

  2. I do wish I had this kind of class as a teenager. I would have been so far ahead. Who knows what the future will bring economically. These kids will have a head start!

    Thanks for including my post!

    1. It would have been so beneficial! They will have a few extra tools in their toolbox that will hopefully make a difference and get them a good financial foundation!

  3. Hey Jamie! Thank you for sharing this story, and thank you for teaching kids about money! This is such valuable stuff, and yeah, kid’s want to learn about it. This is what education standards should be about: preparing kids for actual day to day life. Rock on.

    1. Thanks Brad! It’s been a blast and definitely needs to be taught. This week I had them fill out job applications and learn about what qualities make a good worker and how to interview.

  4. No kids here, but I think that you are providing a great service. Whether they realize it now or not, I’m sure that most of these kids will appreciate having this opportunity when they’re older.

    Also, sorry to be that guy, but you’ve got a “they’re/their” mixup in the paragraph about DocG’s family: “They’re kids have learned all kinds of great money lessons along the way…” I had a librarian and an English teacher for parents, what can I say?

    1. I think they will too. They seem to care more about this than making maps and learning about physical geography that’s for sure! And they’re legitimately curious and want to learn skills to use as an adult.

      And thank you for catching my error! I can’t believe I let this happen to me, haha. Consider it fixed!

  5. Great post, Jamie. I am not surprised that your students were interested in learning about budgeting. Money is fascinating for every age group. They will remember your lesson on budgeting forever. You planted a very important seed.

    1. Thanks Dave! It’s a lot of fun to talk with them and help feed their craving for financial knowledge. And hopefully working on their budget every week will stick with them once the school year is over!

  6. I started my son out in Jr High with a checking account & debit card. When he went to high school he got lunch money once a month (I was being paid once a month at the time). He could pack his lunch and save the money/spend it elsewhere. If he ran out of money before month, he was to pack his lunch. The month he ate breakfast and lunch at school and blew through his money in 10 days, he came to me saying he was out. I responded that he “was going to be packing lunch the rest f the month.”

    When he started driving, he got gas gift cards for gas to get to and from school and band activities.

    Second son now gets lunch $$ added to his account and his Dad gives him gas/spending $$ on a weekly basis. He has been asking me about budgeting and tracking. Just yesterday he and his Dad set up a new account and deposited Dad’s contribution to his College expenses. He will be managing it. I will give his a check for my contributions.

    1. That’s so cool! Those are really valuable lessons of the value of money and how to spend it wisely. And also knowing that a debit card isn’t a credit card and needs to have money in the account to work. I’ll be going over that with my students in a couple weeks.

      Thanks for sharing!

  7. Awesome stuff man!

    If only my high school offered any type of personal finance class while I was in school, I only imagine where I would be today. I had to learn it all on my own, and you hit the nail on the head.


    What teenager isn’t fascinated with money? It’s a topic that draws their attention quickly, so why not begin educating them about it then?

    I can only imagine if it was required to learn about the S&P 500 at 15 years old…

    1. Thanks Sean! I would’ve loved to learn this in school too! Maybe I wouldn’t have had so much student loan debt!

      I’m even more excited that after almost a month now, they are still really into learning more. Right now we’re learning about how to apply for a job since most will be old enough to do that this summer.

  8. “Straight from them, they are ready. It’s our job to teach them, as parents, as teachers, and as a society.”
    I am not a teacher by any stretch, but a couple of years ago I had an opportunity to deliver a 2-week course on money management to a couple of Grade 8 classes, for an organization called Junior Achievement. I was blown away by the kids level of engagement. They had so many great questions, and were full of ideas.
    Although the course material was very structured, each lesson became an open forum, with lots of conversation. As much as the kids learned however, I think the person who gained from the experience was me.

    Great post Jamie, definitely Rockstar Finance worthy. You’re students are fortunate to have you as a teacher!

    1. Thanks for the kind words! I’ve also found it hard to be really structured on lessons because they have so many questions. We end up on random tangents of really useful information and it creates really great questions and learning opportunities!

  9. This is really great and something that is a regular topic with my 7 year old twins. They get it, and want to get it. They like to feel “grown up” and make decisions or understand why I make the decisions I do. I remember growing up just being told “we don’t have money for that” and feeling like the conversation could go no farther. It’s taken me decades to teach myself personal finance so I hope being more open with my kids will help them down the line.

    1. Being open is so key. Even if “we don’t have money for that” it’s a great opportunity to explain what your money is going to and how you prioritize your spending. It teaches them to think more critically about money. That’s cool you’re starting so early with your kids!

  10. Does anyone know of a teenage debit card with very low or no fees monthly? Also, any podcasts directed towards kids and not adults about creating a positive money mindset?

    1. Hmmm…I’m not sure on this. I’d have to do some research. I know a couple of my students have checking accounts with debit cards but not sure the details of them.

  11. Great stuff, Jamie! It’s a topic I’ve written about often. I believe it’s a parentship between parents and schools to prepare kids/students for adult life. They need to work together because there are many parents who have no clue themselves about money. We need more teachers and parents like you to take the initiative to get involved and think outside the traditional educational models. Keep up the great work!

    1. I’ve been reading your posts and they are so good! And definitely a partnership. Parents can reinforce what schools teach and the other way around. But a basic financial education can put students so far ahead if they learn and put it into practice.

  12. That sounds like a really fun middle school – Harry Potter and Pokemon as classes? Real life lessons taught though something the kids can relate. Awesome!

    I can’t believe a 12-year old said “I spend too much money.” Clearly a frugal adult in the making!

    1. Haha no kidding, Frugal from a young age. It’s really fun to have the extra classes. I probably have more fun that’s the students!

  13. That’s a cool class. I have long been sad that there’s not enough education about personal finance in high schools.

    Do you worry that the kids who most need the class are those who would not volunteer?

    1. Definitely. And sadly I only get to teach it once this year, but next year I’ll teach it multiple times to reach more kids. And there are a lot of fun choices too, so even if a student wants to learn about money, they’d rather be in he gym playing basketball.

  14. Great post! My school is starting a financial literacy class at the high school, but there is not a whole lot of financial education going on at the lower levels. I’m interested in trying out a classroom economy next year where the students will earn a paycheck for doing classroom jobs and pay rent for their desks. Vanguard has a lot of great resources and materials for their My Classroom Economy program that can be used at any level.

    1. That’s amazing that your high school is offering financial ed! I’ve thought about doing something like that too, but never found a good framework. Thanks for the resource!

      And good luck next year! I’m interested to see how it goes and how your students respond!

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