Reading & Math 1: Understanding Financial Illiteracy

Welcome to the first issue of 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.

We often speak about how illiteracy can be debilitating and scary. We talk about how adults can’t read street signs or labels on medication; or how they can’t understand a bank records or their monthly utility bill. Yes, those things have words, but they also have numbers.

In a recent study, the Jump$tart Coalition found that on average, high school seniors failed a basic exam testing financial literacy concepts, scoring an average of just 48 percent. It may amaze you to learn that significant numbers of college-aged people don’t understand how to compare credit card APRs (annual percentage rates), know how to set a budget, or even use a savings account.

Many kids find concepts of personal finance and economics daunting, confusing or downright scary. Just as dormant readers tell us “I don’t like to read,” kids intimidated by numbers tell us how they have don’t like math. In the same way you get kids in the habit of reading at an early age to give them a head start in school, you can get them involved in reading about money, saving, investing, and retirement. Here are a few suggestions on ways to start early:

  • Ask that your child’s school incorporate financial literacy topics into math and social studies classes.
  • Involve your child in extracurricular activities such as scouts clubs, which cover money management topics from time to time.
  • Take advantage of the array of free resources that are designed to help kids understand money management.

Last but not least, you can get more bang for your buck by selecting books with stories that introduce financial concepts. Whether you are reading with a toddler or a middle school student, there are books for all age groups that will not only improve your child’s reading habits but help them learn more about financial concepts as well.

Cady’s Two Cents

Here are some resources that offer basic information about money and finance …

Money Math: Lessons for Life – Free curriculum from the U.S. Treasury Department

Practical Money Skills: Free Lessons for Young Children – This site, sponsored by Visa, also has curriculum for teens and college-age students

Books to Share: 0 to 5
The Berenstain Bears’ Dollars and Sense by Jan and Stan Berenstain
The Berenstain Bears’ Trouble with Money by Jan and Stan Berenstain

Books to Share: 6 to 9
Can I Have Some Money Please? by Twyla Prindle and Randy Jennings
Where Is My Money? by Twyla Prindle and Randy Jennings

Books to Share: 10 and up
Invest Kids Series by Gillian Houghton
includes: Goods and Services, How to Balance a Checkbook, How Credit Cards Work, How Banks Work, Cash and ATMs, and Creating a Budget

Next edition: Helping kids understand money doesn’t grow on trees.

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.

Man with bag of money – image credit Johnny Automatic at

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