Reading & Math: Kids, Finance, and Money

Welcome to Reading &  Math. We created the series to help clarify how learning to read and developing math skills can be partners in helping our kids become successful, confident people.

When Cady North contacted me in mid-August, little did I realize how hot the topic financial literacy had become … it was the front page article in Sunday’s Washington Post Business Section: For the Young Set to Learn about Saving … Begins at Home. Does that sound familiar? “Learning to read begins at home, years before kids enter school.” (innumerable studies).

I guess it only makes sense given where the economy is. So without further ado, here is part 2 of our periodic series Reading Plus.

The signs of financial illiteracy begin to show themselves when kids are quite young. At one point in our lives, we believed that money grew on trees. Most of us quickly learned that wasn’t the case … but some of us didn’t. As we can see by the number of news stories about kids and debt, incredible numbers of college-aged kids are amassing incredible credit card debt by living outside their means.

According to the 2007 Charles Schwab Teens and Money survey, 50% or less of high school kids feel knowledgeable about writing a check, using a debit card, or making a budget.  Even more startling, less than 30% of high school kids are knowledgeable about what a credit score is or how to pay for college.

The problems arising from a lack of financial literacy compound themselves exponentially overtime, and have very grave consequences. Those same financially illiterate teens may, when they become adults, enter into risky adjustable rate mortgages. Now they are taking on the debt of home ownership without fully understanding the terms and conditions. They’ll be paying high interest rates on a house they cannot afford. Have you heard that story recently?

According to a 2009 study by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), one quarter of Americans (60 million people) are “unbanked” or “underbanked.”  Individuals who are unbanked do not have a checking or savings account.  In comparison, individuals who are underbanked may have a checking or savings account but occasionally rely on non-bank alternative financial services such as payday loans, non-bank check cashing services, or rent-to-own agreements.

These numbers show that a significant portion of the population is not actively saving for emergencies, large purchases, or retirement.  The good news is that financial education can turn around these startling statistics. One of the easy ways to get your kids to think about budgeting and saving is to engage them in casual conversations about money, drawing on real-life activities or situations. That helps keep it from sounding like a lecture.  The goal is to find simple ways to teach children how to think about money, saving, and budgeting and help them make responsible decisions over time.    For example …

  • When you have your oil changed you can talk about the cost of maintaining a car and the importance of having extra savings on hand to pay for unexpected repairs.
  • When your child sees an ad in the paper for a new game you can talk about the cost of new toys and provide some scenarios about spending within a budget or comparing prices.
  • When you watch TV you can ask your kids to describe the jobs/careers of the characters and ask them about how they think the characters maintain the lifestyle portrayed in the show.

With any luck, once you get them in the habit of looking a little more carefully at situations, they’ll start asking you – and themselves – more questions.

Cady’s Two Cents

Here are some resources that offer basic information about money and finance … provides fun financial literacy activities for kids and teens as well as helpful guidance for teachers and parents.

The Family Economics and Financial Education project at the University of Arizona offers lesson plans available on a variety of financial topics.

MoneySKILL® is a free, interactive, reality-based online curriculum aimed at educating high school students to make informed financial decisions. Registration required.

money book for kidsBooks to share: 0 to 5
The Purse by Kathy Caple

The Kids’ Money Book: Earning * Saving * Spending * Investing * Donating by Jamie Kyle McGillian


money book for kidsBooks to Share: 6 to 9
Do I Need It? or Do I Want It?: Making Budget Choices by Jennifer S. Larson

What Can You Do with Money?: Earning, Spending, and Saving by Jennifer S. Larson

money book for preteensBooks to Share: 10 and up
Budgeting Tips for Kids (Robbie Readers) by Tamra Orr

The New Totally Awesome Money Book for Kids by Arthur Bochner and Rose Bochner

Share Your Two Cents:

Are there any challenges you’ve encountered when talking with your kids about money and budgeting?

Do you have any successful techniques you’d like to share with readers?

Next edition:  Incorporating Financial Concepts into everyday Literacy.

Cady North, the project director and author for this series, is a business and finance professional sharing time between Washington, DC, and Charlottesville, VA. She has nine years in the public policy arena helping educate members of Congress and State Legislatures on various issues. Cady [cadynorth [at] gmail [dot] com] is passionate about improving financial literacy in both students and adults.

* Children’s book titles link to, with whom the Reading Tub has an affiliate relationship. Purchases made through the links can earn income for the Reading Tub. The link is for your convenience and does not require a purchase.

*Stylized numeral two created by Horse50 and is available on
* Man with bag of money – image credit Johnny Automatic at