MAHOPAC, N.Y. - Personal finance expert Dave Ramsey, who hosts a syndicated radio show and podcast heard across the country, created Ramsey Education to address a concern he heard regularly when counseling adults on money issues: “I wish I had learned this in high school!” So, he created Foundations in Personal Finance, a turnkey school curriculum that teaches students the value of saving, spending and giving in order to guide them down the path of financial literacy.
Jackson Charitable Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Jackson National Life Insurance Co., recently gave $1 million to Ramsey Education to sponsor the Foundations in Personal Finance curriculum in 500 high schools across the country.
Mahopac High School, which has been teaching personal finance for seven years, received $5,000 of that grant money and used it to create an online platform for the course
“I’ve been teaching it for seven or eight years, but the digital platform is new this year,” said Erik Yost, an economics teacher at MHS. “In years past it was more textbooks and workbooks and it was more traditional. You got the materials as PDFs and printed it all out. Now, everything is via an online service where the kids can go at their own pace if needed. There are video segments, quizzes, and exams. We have about 90 students using it. One of my students was out sick for 12 days but was able to not fall behind because he could do all the work without missing a beat because he could sit at home and do it.”
Yost agrees with Ramsey—a high school course on personal finance is crucial and something that should have been introduced years ago. Yost covers a wide variety of topics throughout the course, which lasts half of the school year.
“We talk about savings as an epidemic problem in America,” he said. “We talk about things that affect savings like inflation, cost of living, even career choices. We talk about budgeting. We just did a project about budgeting. Many students don’t understand the resources that are out there that can help you budget. The unit today is about debt and we are talking about the FICO score.”
Yost said the course is all about the financial habits that will set students up for real-life experiences.
“We look at things like credit scores and a credit report,” he said. “We have a look at things like what potential savings over time is using a retirement calculator [and what happens when] you save a certain amount. Our kids don’t look 20 seconds down the road because of their smartphones. They look at right now. So, this class teaches that you need to be concerned about your money now. These are issues that are not going away.”
Yost said that in years past, teens often had afterschool or summer jobs and were forced to learn how to manage money on the fly. That’s all changed, he said, thus making the personal finance class even more crucial.
“You would be surprised at how many have not had a job because of affluenza. It has really impacted us,” he said. “Plus, because they raised the minimum wage, a lot of stores aren’t hiring but these kids have money from mommy and daddy. But I do have some hustlers and they work hard. They understand taxes and they pay attention because they understand the real-life implications.
“Back in the ’80s, I and my friends all had jobs,” Yost continued. “Now, kids would rather do an internship or take a college course because if you do the internship you get the experience and if you take the college course you get the credit. It’s the way our society is geared now.”
But Yost has evidence that the information he provides in the course is paying off. He’s met with past students who’ve shared their success stories and credited his class with being an inspiration.
“I have a ‘feel-good’ file of emails from kids saying, ‘Hey, I did this or that from your class.’ But the best reward is my former students who are now financial planners or who are doing great in business or the student who challenged herself to save $10,000 by the time she graduated high school. She became an entrepreneur and I just ran into her. She is taking her time to figure out what she wants to do. She’s saved enough money. That mindset is because of the habits she learned and ran with. She embodied the spirit of the class."
Even parents have noticed the impact the course is having on their kids, he said.
“The best reward is when I get a parent who says, ‘Your class is one of the classes I hear about when they talk about what they learned in school today.’ They say, ‘I don’t know what you are doing, but I’m learning something at my dinner table.’”
Yost said that identity theft is the next project they will take on in the class, looking at things such as spamming, robocalls and phishing.
He said he doesn’t use traditional methods to grade the class, putting more emphasis on the projects the students work on.
“I’ve tried to steer away from tests because I don’t want kids to think that that is the ultimate evaluator,” he said. “I can grade other things besides tests. I want the content to be more important than the grade.”
Yost said he knows the class is effective because of the comments from past students and from parents but noted that it’s hard to tell who’s getting it and who’s not while he’s in the middle of teaching it.
“But if I can have an impact on one kid, that’s a major accomplishment,” he said. “You have to give the kids a reason to come to school. I have taught just about every course at the high school. This class has reignited my passion for teaching.”
MHS senior John Ryan said he took the course because he wanted to be prepared for the real world once he graduates from college.
“I thought as a senior it was something important that I should do before going off to college. I only have a couple more years before I am on my own. I thought I should take this to learn what it’s like to be out in the real world,” he said. “I heard a lot about Mr. Yost being such a great teacher and helping kids. It is something that will definitely help us out in the long run. [It’s about] how not to end up broke on the sidewalk!”
Caitlin Andersen, also a senior, said her parents are fans of Dave Ramsey’s show, and she would listen to it along with them.
“My parents always listened to Dave Ramsey every time we got in the car. So, I always knew I had to be conscious of my personal finances but wasn’t sure how to,” she said. “I figured taking this class would benefit me.”
Andersen said she’s already accumulated $22,000 in college scholarships and credits the personal finance class with motivating her to seek them out.
“This class has been an inspiration for that,” she said. “If it wasn’t for this class, I probably would have still looked for scholarships, but not as hard. The class definitely motivated me.”
Danielle Robinson, executive director for Jackson Charitable Foundation, said teaching high schoolers about personal finance empowers them.
“Together with Ramsey Education, we are committed to supporting high school educators by helping them effectively teach the important subject of personal finance in the classroom,” she said. “Young people who understand how money works have the power to change generations, building stronger individuals, families, and communities.”