For such a capitalist country, the United States does a horrible job of preparing its youth for the reality of life, where success is highly based on financial achievement.
My financial education was pretty much void until I hit college, and even then, it was my own decisions that made it possible, as I proactively chose to attend undergraduate business school at NYU Stern. I was raised in the deep South, where jobs were hard to come by and many struggled to provide the basics for their families.
The education systems in many of the Southern states — my home state of Arkansas included — are well below the national average, making matters worse. But even the best of the best in America can’t compete on a global scale. In a 2009 study, the U.S. ranked 25th out of 34 peer countries in math and science.
If we can’t even get the basics right, how are we going to teach our children how to properly manage their finances, create sustainable businesses and stay out of debt?
One of my former NYU professors, Orly Sade, recently teamed up with award-winning writer and former BusinessWeek editor Ellen Neuborne, to co-author a book for tweens (ages 9-12) about finance and entrepreneurship.
Entitled, “How Ella Grew an Electric Guitar: A Girl’s First Adventure in Business,” the book is written from the voice of Ella, a sixth grader on a mission to buy a new guitar, in hopes of upgrading her band’s status and becoming a rock star.
Along the way, Ella learns about key business concepts, such as market research, competitive analysis, word-of-mouth marketing, guerilla marketing, costs, revenue, profits, loss, leadership, partnerships… and the list goes on. She also learns about the many types of financial products, including stocks, bonds and loans.
The authors manage to explain difficult financial and business concepts in a way that makes them easy to understand. Many of the lessons originate from wisdom imparted by Ella’s parents, who work in business and law. Ella adds her own creativity to the lessons, and with the help of her friends and family, she’s on her way to owning a brand new electric guitar.
Reading the story, I couldn’t help but wonder how my life might have turned out differently if I had been aware of these business and financial concepts earlier on.
Yes, I was taught to budget and save, but that took the form of me putting money in a bank account and spending it when I had saved enough for the product I was saving for. I wasn’t aware of the other financial products I could have employed, and I certainly didn’t understand what a stock was, even in high school.
Our nation has racked up $15 trillion in debt — obviously our leadership isn’t doing much better than we are as individuals.
And so, community, it is up to us to arm the next generation with a financial education. Sharing books like “How Ella Grew an Electric Guitar” with tweens is a good start.
What ideas do you have for increasing our children’s financial proficiency level? Share your ideas in the comments below.