I’ve finally overcome my fear of speaking in public (though speaking in front of 1000 people at next month’s World Domination Summit may bring that fear back) and have actually found that I enjoy talking to various groups about money. I think the key is not to over-prepare.

In early May, for instance, I made a presentation for Adelante Mujeres, a group working to strengthen the local latina community. I spoke to about 25 immigrant women about budgeting, and listened to their financial concerns. (Their top worry? How to send their kids to college!) This was my first personal finance presentation in Spanish, and I loved it.

And last week, my young friend Ethan sent me email asking if I could speak to him and his classmates about personal finance. On Wednesday, I visited Memorial Elementary School in rural McMinnville to answer (and to ask) questions about money. It was a blast.

Mr. Widmer’s Class
Ethan’s teacher, Mr. Widmer, has recently become interested in personal finance. He’s read books like Rich Dad, Poor Dad and The Total Money Makeover and has been applying their lessons to his own life. He’s also been trying to teach some of these personal finance concepts to his class of fifth-graders.

For instance, the day before I spoke to his kids, the class did a debt simulation. From what I understand, here’s how it worked:

    • Mr. Widmer had small candies for “sale”. They were priced at one candy for 20 Pride Paws. (Throughout the year, the kids have been earning Pride Paws for good behavior. They’re sort of like the school currency and normally are redeemed for pencils, etc.)


    • If a student didn’t have enough Pride Paws to buy a piece of candy, she could write an IOU.


    • Students could take as much candy as they wanted, as long as they paid with Pride Paws or IOUs.


    • Not all of the children had the same number of Pride Paws. Some had many to start with (and were effectively rich) and some only had a few (and were effectively poor).


  • As the day progressed, Mr. Widmer asked the kids to pay for their candy. If they didn’t have the Pride Paws to do so, he “re-possessed” things, such as their chairs or clipboards.

Those are the basics, though I’m certain I’m missing lots of detail.

What’s interesting is that my young friend Ethan turned himself into a one-percenter. “I realized everyone was desperate,” he told me. He still had some Pride Paws left over, so he began trading them for things. He started by trading for pencils and erasers, but then he traded the pencils and erasers for toys. And even for $1.65. He parlayed his extra Pride Paws into a small fortune.

Note: Ethan’s story reminds me of the guy who traded one red paperclip for a house.


Fifth Graders


Questions FROM Me
When I visited Mr. Widmer’s class, I had half an hour to chat with the kids about money. I thought about preparing something, but as I mentioned earlier, I’m finding I do much better if I just go with the flow. I started by asking the kids some questions about their own financial lives.

First, I asked the class of 25 students how many of them received an allowance. About two-thirds of the class raised their hands.

Next, I asked how much their parents paid them. The going rate seems to be about $4-5 per week, though some kids are paid monthly. Colton, for instance, gets $20 per month, but there are conditions attached to it. “If I punch my brother or something, I get a dollar less,” he told me. Sounds reasonable.

And what are the kids saving for? Well, most of them are saving for college. Some kids have other long-term goals. For instance, Bella told me, “I’m saving for a car. My parents said I should save for a car before I save for college.” One girl told me she had saved money for a year so that she could buy her father’s old iPad from him.

Finally, I asked the kids if any of them had found ways to make extra money. I was surprised at how many said “yes”. Parker volunteered that he and his friend have started a lawn-mowing business. “We made business cards and put them in mailboxes around the neighborhood,” he said. “People call us and pay us five or ten dollars to mow their yard.” I love it!

Questions FOR Me
After I asked questions, it was their turn to pose questions to me. (On Friday, I shared the question Hannah asked me: “How much money do you have?“)

Some of the kids had prepared questions, and many were the same sorts of questions I get from adults at other events: How did you get out of debt? What books do you recommend? What’s the best way to save money?

One student asked me what I consider the most difficult question in all of personal finance. Nobody has a good answer to this: “If you’re in debt, how do you save money?” The obvious answer is to spend less than you earn and then use the extra money to pay off your debt and begin saving. That’s what I did, and that’s what many of you have done, as well.

What makes this question so difficult, though, are the extra factors that come into play. Like poverty. What if you’re poor and in debt. Then what? How do you save money if you don’t have any to start with and you’re digging deeper in the hole. This is a problem that’s plagued people for centuries, and the only answer seems to be: You still have to find a way to spend less than you earn. If your income is low, that means there’s only one thing you can do: Make more money.

Laura furthered the conversation by telling us about her own situation. “My family doesn’t have much money,” she said. “Both of my sisters need braces and we’re probably going to have to go into debt for them. What should we do?” I didn’t have an answer for her.

My favorite question of the day came from a quiet girl named Ashely. She came up to me after class and said, “Can I ask you a question?

“Sure,” I said.

“Is it okay to save for just no reason?”

“Of course!” I said.

“Good,” she said. “Because I have $100 or $200 saved and I don’t know what I’m going to do with it.”

Interlude: During the Q&A session, Alex raised his hand. When I called on him, he said, “This question’s for Mr. Widmer. Mr. Widmer, what made you start teaching? Was it for the money?” I chuckled because I don’t know any teachers who are doing it for the money. And Mr. Widmer isn’t either. “No, Alex,” he said. “I’m doing it because I love to teach.”


The Bottom Line
I don’t think my visit to Mr. Widmer’s fifth-grade class will produce any future millionaires. But I hope that the brief question-and-answer session at least gave them some food for thought.

At one point during our discussion, I tried to explain how interest on credit cards works. “Imagine you buy a piece of candy for twenty Pride Paws,” I said. “You don’t have twenty Pride Paws today, but you promise to pay that much later. Well, when you pay interest, you have to pay more than twenty Pride Paws. Maybe for each day you take to pay, you might owe two extra Pride Paws. So, if you take five days to pay, you might owe thirty Pride Paws instead of twenty, all for the same piece of candy.”

If even a few of them grasped that concept, I did my job.

Meanwhile, I think Mr. Widmer is to be commended. It’s outstanding that he’s teaching fifth-graders fundamental personal finance concepts. That’s a tough job. I’m not sure I could do it. But the kids really seemed to be enjoying the subject, and I’m willing to bet that they’ll all be better money managers in the future because their teacher spent a few hours getting them to think about how money works.

81 Replies to “Financial Education for Fifth Graders”

  1. Tom says:

    What a nice experience JD. I’m surprised that 5th graders are actively saving for college, in fact, that’s mindblowing.

    • guinness416 says:

      Yeah, the majority of them too, that’s interesting alright. I’m from a different culture, but when I was 11 I was saving for toys for my dog! They must hear a LOT from their parents about the cost and importance of college.

      Great post, JD, I am coming to WDS and can’t wait to see you speak!

    • Lisa says:

      I think that’s the reality for a lot of families… I remember my mom telling me in grade 2 that if I wanted to go to university, I should start saving money. My parents really encouraged me to put my money into bonds, and they would match what I was able to save (typically 100 or 200 a year, what with allowances and gift money). I opened my own RESP when I was 11. I think it probably helped that I have a sister that was 10 years older than me… which means she would have been in grade 12 when I was in grade 2, and facing the prospect of lots of student loans.

      • Sheryl says:

        I think the key here is that most of those kids probably aren’t coming up with college as a savings goal for themselves. Their parents have encouraged them to do it, which is great.

        It’s really awesome hearing about kids learning about personal finance at such a young age though!

    • TM @ Young and Thrifty says:

      I was a little surprised at the kids’ awareness of saving for university, but not a bit surprised that immigrant mothers were making it a top priority. This work ethic is an interesting thing to chart as people spend more time immersed in the North America culture.

      I had to chuckle about, “Teaching for the money.” As a teacher myself, I can guarantee it wasn’t for the cash. Fifth grade is a great grade to teach if you want inquisitive minds. I try to teach business in high school. I’m fairly certain that Mr. Weidman’s class now has more financial literacy in place that the vast majority of Canadian/American adults!

    • Carla says:

      That is very different from how I was raised (5th grade in 1988). The focus was more on supporting yourself and paying the bills when you become of age then the “luxury” of collage which was almost in the same category as world travel and luxury cars.

      I wonder how much is more social status vs. 24 years.

      • Carla says:

        Crap! Forgive the typo above!

      • Julie M. says:

        I was in 5th grade in 1990, so a similar timeframe, but in my family college was assumed. There were no fancy trips or expensive clothes or jewelry, but everyone had a college fund that was started when we were born. But I admit that my situation was unusual – not only did both of my parents go to college but 3 of my grandparents got 4-year degrees (including my grandmother who had to wait to apply until the university began to accept women!) and my other grandmother went to a junior college. Education was and still is seen in my family as the only way to succeed in life. I don’t know that I fully agree with that anymore, but growing up, college was never a choice, any more than junior high school was a choice.

  2. Lance@MoneyLife&More says:

    That’s great that you get to go talk to school kids. I helped teach Junior Achievement for 2 years at elementary school and the kids really enjoy learning about entrepreneurship and money in general. It is sad that they don’t get more of that knowledge when they are younger. I probably would have been the kid taking advantage of the other desperate kids with my extra pride paws πŸ™‚

    • Sara says:

      Learning about money as a kid is great! In elementary school we had “enrichment” programs, before or after regular school hours, for students who had high grades. One class I remember was about money management — I think I was in 3rd or 4th grade — and that’s where I learned how to balance a checkbook πŸ™‚

    • Kate says:

      Yes, Junior Achievement is a great way to help kids learn about these topics as well as to get to know what kids today know and don’t know. I think it’s safe to say that they’re a lot more aware then kids were in my day (80’s) but they are in need of basic skills education.

  3. Melissa says:

    That sounds like a fun day, even though 5th graders can be a tough crowd. πŸ™‚ I hope there are more and more financial education experiences for our school students. They need them.

    As a side note, my 8 year old son watches the PBS kids’ show Arthur, and I am surprised how often finances are covered including using credit cards and pay interest.

  4. TB at BlueCollarWorkman says:

    Did I read right that you did your first talk in spanish? I know you’ve been taking spanish and trying to learn…so great job getting up and talking in front of a group in spanish! (and teaching them at the same time!)

    • Annelise says:

      I also applaud JD’s language learning but I can’t help but feel that these immigrant women would have far better financial prospects if they learned English before learning about personal finance. It would open so many doors for them. Offering this information in Spanish, while well meaning, will only reinforce the “crutch” of their native language.

      • J.D. Roth says:

        All of the women in the group I spoke to were learning Spanish, Annelise. They all know they need to, and they’re doing it.

        Actually, that’s part of what made the talk fun. I had a sympathetic audience. They knew how tough it was for me to be making a presentation in Spanish because they know where their English skills are. In most cases, their skills in English were about like mine in Spanish. But together, we muddled through.

      • Leah says:

        @Annelise, have you ever learned a language fluently enough to understand academic subjects? It is quite difficult! Plenty of these women know some English, as JD said, but you get better benefits from teaching an important subject in their native language so they truly understand the ideas presented.

        It takes time for immigrants to assimilate into communities. Denigrating any attempts to improve themselves doesn’t help integration. If we waited to help people until they all spoke proper and fluent English, there’d be a lot of people in our country not getting the help they need to improve their lives and become contributing members to society.

        • Ely says:

          I would like this 50 times.

          As a linguistics student in Southern California, I did a lot of research in bilingualism and second language learning. Yes it would make many things easier for immigrants to speak English, but the fact is language learning is about the hardest thing they have to do! People are perfectly capable of contributing to society with only rudimentary English. Anyone who wants to make language learning a prerequisite for other kinds of learning & contribution is speaking from pure ignorance.

  5. Kim says:

    I smile as I think about the conversations around the dinner tables that evening, especially when the kids recount the repossessions! That part was priceless!

    I am so grateful for folks like yourself who are sharing their financial expertise with children both in and outside of school. These are such important life lessons!

  6. Crystal says:

    I think that it’s awesome you spoke to an elementary class. It would be great if every elementary school would have a similar class at least once.

    As for public speaking, I am now where you probably were before. The idea doesn’t terrify me, but it does make me nervous just to think about it. I’ll be speaking in one of the short sessions at FINCON12 and I am trying not to over-prepare and will monitor myself for nerves…I start talking in a higher pitch and way too fast when I get nervous…

    • SLCCOM says:

      Try joining Toastmasters to help with both nerves and public speaking skills. It is a great way to improve and meet a wide variety of people.

  7. Holly says:

    As the mother of a 5th grader, I found this post interesting and applaud the teacher. I’d love for my child’s teacher to do this.

    I don’t know about other kids, but my child (who works outside the home as a mother’s helper) is saving for college. It is not by choice, though. πŸ˜‰ I do like the idea of matching her deposits.

    • Tyler Karaszewski says:

      I’d imagine this is why many of these kids are “saving for college”. My parents did this to me as a kid, too.

      It was awful. For one thing, it made no appreciable difference in how much college costs, because the amounts involved for young children are so small. A year’s savings for a 10 year old will cover maybe one math textbook.

      But mainly, when it’s mandatory, it’s a tax, not savings. I got zero benefit from any “college savings” as a kid. My parents encouraged me to put money in the bank, but I soon realized they’d never let me take money out of the bank (because “college”), so I quickly stopped putting it in, and would rather fritter it away on things like candy and toys, because it was better than throwing it in a furnace, which is what the bank might as well have been.

      This didn’t put me off savings entirely though, but I did it out of view of my parents, because otherwise I would never be able to get the things I wanted. I remember asking my dad for a Nintendo. He didn’t want me to have one, because he thought video games were a waste of time, so he told me I could get one if I paid for it myself. So I saved $100 (in elementary school in the ’80s) and found a friend who would sell me his Nintendo used, with the games, for $100. When I told my dad, he said I couldn’t get it. I was devastated, I as angry at him for lying to me and causing me to put all that effort into saving $100.

      • PawPrint says:

        I’d be angry, too, and not trust my father’s words at all after that. I had a friend who wanted a horse (she lived in the Seattle area), and her parents said she could have one if she could buy it herself and take care of it, thinking, of course, no way. It took her a while, but she actually was able to buy a wild horse from the BLM auction and stable it at a barn a lengthy bikeride from her house, and she learned how to train it. She is one of those doggedly persistent people.

      • Bella says:

        What a great lesson in underestimating people (for your dad!). As a parent I realize that sometimes it’s easier to use a different excuse but I think you’re example really hits home why it’s so importatnt sometimes to be hoenst about your reasons.
        We didn’t have video games, or go out to eat a lot, or do a lot of thing because my parent’s said we couldn’t afford it – what they really meant was that it wasn’t in line with their values
        coupled with the fact that they didn’t want us to work during the school year (again not in line with their values – grades were number 1), I couldn’t wait to have my own money – and *spend* it on what *I* wanted –
        saving was a skill I had not encountered, so now imposed scarcity is the best way for me to be able to save

      • Ash (in US) says:

        I bet you learned a profound lesson, but not the one your parents wanted. :\ That really sucks.

      • Mac Hildebrand says:

        There must be a balance in teaching kids about money. I’m sorry you got one extreme! I think the best thing about the post was the explanation of debt with the “pride paws.”

        This way, you’re not micro-managing a child’s funds. It still belongs to them, but you teach them are consequences if you misuse it and great things can happen if you use it well.

        What do you plan to do with your kids?

        • Tyler Karaszewski says:

          I’m not really sure yet, my daughter is only nine months old. I won’t force her to save trivial amounts for college, nor make false promises based on assuming she’ll fail, though.

      • Glenn says:

        Tyler, thank you for sharing your experience. You made my day. I have read about so many people recommending forced saving/giving with children and you came up with the perfect description. It’s a tax, from an authoritarian figure.
        I take the opposite stance on money with my children. Their money is theirs to spend as they please. I have always found that most people learn from personal experience. What better way to learn that some things are a waste of money then to personally feel the regret. And what better time to make financial mistakes, then before you are out on your own.
        Enough of my rant.

    • David says:

      I found this idea of “saving for college” interesting as well. My parents took a similar approach, but with the opposite spin.

      I was encouraged to focus on grades #1. Every. Single. Time. I or one of my sisters got less than an A (even before high school!), my dad would lecture, ending with, “that’s money in your pocket”, referring to our ability to win scholarships.

      If I had a dollar every time I heard him utter that phrase, well, I would’ve had enough to pay for college without scholarships. πŸ™‚

      Looking back, I think this was a better approach than encouraging me to save money to pay for it myself (as Tyler points out, this is a hopeless endeavor). There are many wealthy alumni who are glad to fund scholarships for kids like me who worked hard, but couldn’t afford tuition at top schools. Better to focus your time and attention on meeting these people halfway.

      • Sue says:

        My dad said the same thing. Earning scholarships is the easiest money you’ll ever earn, and it pays you twice. Once, by being better qualified through knowledge, and twice, by actually paying your way through school. It also helps to be good at filling out application forms, which is a learned skill.

  8. bon says:

    I love that you did this JD, I’m very interested in increasing financial education for kids – would love to see a post with more resources on this (I know I’ve heard it mentioned throughout the years on GRS) – i.e. what is there to help kids now and how to volunteer as an adult.

  9. Esme says:

    If you want, I can connect you with one of the producers of the PBS tv show ‘BizKids’. It’s a kids/young peoples’ show about small businesses run by youth and also all aspects of money and personal finance. Check out the website http://www.bizkids.com. Perhaps a dialogue can be opened up…?

  10. Joe @ Retire By 40 says:

    It’s great to hear you are taking time to teach young kids about finance. I’m terrible with public speaking and I’m thinking about joining toastmasters. My wife joined a while back and it really helped her confidence.
    I would say put off the braces until later. It’s not a need right?

    • Kate says:

      There is a best time to have braces and those kids are probably in it. And, while for some people braces are a want, for others it is a need. Without knowing the full situation it’s hard to make a recommendation.

      As a dentist, watching people _not_ do things for their children is one of the hardest things to watch.

    • Betsy says:

      braces are not just about being ‘pretty’, for some it is medically necessary to eat and speak

      • Allyson says:

        And even if the braces aren’t completely medically necessary, sometimes the difference in self-esteem can be enormous, which can translate into a huge quality of life issue.

        • cc says:

          +1. having wild teeth is an unfortunate feature to be remembered by.

        • Bella says:

          +1 I hated having braces – but I really like my smile – it’s one of me best features now
          — “double decker”

      • Carla says:

        In some cases, it can also save/preserve your teeth depending on what the issue is.

    • SLCCOM says:

      Definitely join Toastmasters. You’ll also have a lot of fun.

    • MelodyO says:

      I just had to kick in my two cents on the braces issue. Of course for some kids it’s a need, but for most kids and/or their parents it’s a want. I was always so embarrassed by my crooked teeth growing up and beyond, and I finally got braces when I was 38 (got them off at 39 and a half). I’m extremely pleased with the results, but you know what? When I run into people I used to know, they have no memory of me having crooked teeth – not even close friends. I’m always shocked, I tell you. Shocked!

      I guess the moral is that people are way too busy worrying about their own problems to worry about yours. So yeah, I’d hold off on the braces until they’ve saved at least half unless their jaw is going to fall off its hinges or something. :0P

      • imelda says:

        And yet, it bothered you so much that, even decades older, you went ahead and paid for braces. Sure, in hindsight, you can realize that it doesn’t matter. But it’s funny that you’re dismissing all those years of suffering after a few years of being rid of it.

        My parents couldn’t afford braces for me (protruding teeth). Sometimes I’m happy with my smile, but other times, I’m embarrassed by it. And I hate the idea of being embarrassed by your own smile. It should be something you flash freely and eagerly, right?

        I think there’s also something to be said re: changing norms. In some circles, especially those of the upper- or upper-middle classes, it’s become the norm for people to have straight teeth. As people become more and more used to seeing straight teeth, the outliers will become more noticeable and frowned upon.

        • MelodyO says:

          Oops, there’s a little bit of assuming on your part there. I got braces to correct a jaw misalignment from a car accident I had years ago. And any suffering I endured over the years was self-inflicted. I dated, got jobs, lost jobs, got married, had kids…all with crooked teeth.

          Having said that, I didn’t tell the person not to ever get braces because they should just suck up whatever bad feelings their crooked teeth give them. I told them that in MY opinion, in the long run saving the money for braces first is advised over going into debt over it.

  11. PB @ Economically Humble says:

    Wow, this is really great. I totally want my kids to learn what I have learned… only not wait until they are in their 30s.

  12. john says:

    I have always felt the personal finance should be a required course in school at least once in elementary school, once in middle school, and ongoing throughout high school. It would be best if it could be incorporated some how throughout all schooling years. If not its the parents responsibility and not everyone is good with this. Growing up I watched my siblings struggle with keeping money, they blew it all, while I was a saver. I was the youngest and all my siblings were half-siblings from my parents ex-spouses and there was a decent age gap. I think I gained the experience of my parents who were wiser and in their 30’s when I was in elementary school and that made a difference. I still had my vices, such as comics and starwars stuff, but always saved the majority of my money from holidays, part-time jobs, etc., and was able to pay for most of my college in the early nineties. Since I was able to keep from making any major financial mistakes due to having a cash safety net, it made a big difference. Our family had limited income due to a number of issues but living beneath my means always made a huge difference. That being said, it would be harder to day as the price of college has sky-rocketed which I guess it makes it even more important that kids start younger and get an even more advance personal finance education.

  13. Karla says:

    WONDERFUL! I hope that you find more time to do that sort of thing. This is where it all starts is when you are young to appreciate money and to be familiar with “how it all works”. I so wish that I had had more experience with money and the responsibility of it at a young age. If I could turn the clock back I would have loved to have started saving at a young age for the future. I would be in such a different place by now.

  14. Michaela says:

    That little girl who decided to “save for no reason” could be a future millionaire. Probably one of the ones who doesn’t act like it but still!

  15. Lana Brown says:

    Thanks for such a great article. I am Mr.Widmer’s mother-in-law and I know how dedicated he is to the kids in his class. This is just another example of how invested he is in their futures. I couldn’t be more proud of him!! (PS My daughter Amy is also a 5-th grade teacher in McMinnville!!)


  16. Midwest Saver says:

    Hey JD- great post.
    I’ve been thinking for sometime that I’d like to start volunteering to help families learn personal finance, but I don’t think we have any programs locally for this.
    This post got me wondering: Wouldn’t it be great to find or form a group/organization of people that could go into schools and teach children about personal finance, much like you did?
    Do you know of any current programs or curriculum for this? I might do some investigation work into creating a group to do this locally. It would be a great way to give back to the community!
    Any thoughts?

    • jim says:

      Dave Ramsey has a course if you want to learn to be a financial instructor and they send people out to all kinds of high schools to teach this stuff.

  17. KSR says:

    Common sense would guide a person to believe that if 2/3 of the class are “earning” an allowance, that “learning” would be involved in what to do with the money. I know this isn’t happening all over the place but it should be and would be a perfect place to incorporate the 50/30/20. I don’t want/have kids but when I was one…my Dad, a government accountant/bean counter, had a different philosophy on the “earning and learning” of money. If I wanted those new Nike’s (am I making my age obvious?) I had to write a report on a topic of his choosing. As a result, I know too much about WWII.

  18. Quest says:

    Mr. Widmer, where were you when I was in fifth grade??! LOL Personal finance should be taught in schools, beginning just like this. The basics, taught in a simple but expandable manner so that ALL of the kids in the class can begin to grasp the concept of money management. Well done JD on providing some very useful info for the class ~ looks like they enjoyed it and that, as we all know, is the key to piquing kids’ interest in investigating further.

  19. Laura says:

    Kudos to Mr. Widmer! What an innovative way to teach not only personal finance but math skills as well – a very practical demonstration of why math is important. And yes, fifth graders are really cool: wonderfully inquisitive minds with enough brain development to begin grasping more complex and abstract ideas.

    I understand the need to encourage children to save for college, but I too wonder how practical that actually is. I could see it stressing out young children, who feel helpless when they realize their families have financial difficulties, and making them feel responsible for whether or not they even go to college.

    We’re in the very fortunate position that our son, if accepted into the college my husband works at, will have 4 years of tuition waived. Because of that, we focused on teaching him to save money for a future reason TBD – I pointed out that when he finishes college, he will need a “seed fund” to launch him onto the world, and that is what he is saving for. 20% of his allowance goes into this fund, and he will get it when he graduates college. It will be his to use as he sees fit: as a down payment on an apartment, moving expenses for a job, purchase of a cheap car, etc. – whatever he thinks he needs most at that point to start life as an independent adult.

    Incidentally, while he’s got relatively good sense with handling his allowance, he absolutely could not hold onto savings for long when it was just in a piggy bank in his room. Following on the principle that paying yourself first works best when you automate it, I now give him 80% of his allowance in cash ($8/week) and the remaining 20% ($2/week) is transferred from my checking account to his ING savings account. Occasionally we log in and I show him the growing balance.

    Re: the braces question, braces are not a want, they are a need. If debt is the only way to get them, then you get them. What I would recommend is for the girl’s parents to brainstorm and explore different possible ways to get the braces: work out a payment plan with the dentist (cheaper interest than a credit card), selling possessions, seeing if they can barter a skill such as computer/website/administrative work for some or all of the cost of the braces; taking a part-time job if available; asking relatives for small cash gifts (not loans) to be combined towards “Mary’s braces fund”; etc. If none of these or other ideas work, then you pull out the credit card and bite the bullet. But maybe they can at least defray the cost so they don’t need as much credit, plus just thinking of (and implementing) other strategies helps people see beyond the obvious.

    But yeah, sometimes if you’re broke, you’re broke. There really isn’t an easy answer beyond find a way to make more money, preferably a legal way.

    • Lisa says:

      Also, sometimes dental schools will provide work for a hugely reduced cost… not sure if braces fall into this or not, but it would be worth looking into.

      • Frances says:

        CWRU Dental School in Cleveland includes braces in their orthodontics program. I agree they should check the nearest big city dental school.

  20. Lura says:

    This is great– I have often felt that the financial education( and vocational but that is a different story ) is sorely lacking. I know I could have used it when I was a kid for sure, my parents provided no guidance, no savings, no college fund.. because we were poor. I am trying with my daughter, but it is hard to figure out where to focus, like a lot of parents on the comments we are all over the map with what is first, braces are done, but true a car comes before college… I am also wondering what solutions you came up with for paying for college for the women? Also, do you want to come to Seattle and talk to my daughters middle school next year?

  21. Paul says:

    This post REALLY resonated with me as I’ve started this dialogue with my own kids who are 6 and 4. What if all parents started these conversations early and had some fun while they’re at it? Any chance this could change the stress and anxiety associated with money?

    • Megan says:

      My kids are 4 and 2, and I’m interested to see how my attitude regarding money might impact them.

      I’ve known kids who grew up with hand-me-downs and garage sale finds and think that’s fine and a smart way for families to handle money. I also know a few adults who grew up with the hand-me-down stuff, too, and rebelled once they reached adulthood by only buying brand-new stuff. I’m interested to see how my kids will handle money when they are adults.

      • Paul says:

        Yep, it’s part of the reason I’m trying to get them involved while they’re so young. If I can create positive experiences for them now, I’m hoping it will build their confidence for the future.

      • Laura says:

        Speaking strictly from personal experience, it depends completely on the clothing bought second-hand. My son adores his “Neo” leather coat purchased from Goodwill for $25 and has learned that cool stuff can come from thrift stores. He also wore used baby clothes from a thrift store when he was an infant and young toddler, which of course he doesn’t remember, and that was fine since babies don’t care what they wear as long as it’s comfortable.

        OTOH, right when I hit my teens and entered 9th grade, my mother decided she couldn’t afford new clothes for me anymore and only bought clothes for me from garage sales, which meant I had to take whatever fit, regardless of what it looked like. To this day, I will never wear a pair of pants that are patterned or higher than my ankles after merciless teasing at school. And since my late teens, when I got a job and gained the ability to buy my own clothes, the vast majority of my clothes are purchased new. Some thrift store stuff is o.k. but never, ever a garage sale.

  22. Kathleen @ Frugal Portland says:

    Sounds like you had fun! What a great teacher, and worth the (long!) drive south.

  23. Charlotte@EverythingFinance says:

    Mr. Widmer deserves a big “At a Boy” for teaching his class about finance. I don’t think you can start too early. It would be great if every school had a class in elementary, middle and high school. Each giving more and more information. Maybe then by the time they graduate they would be better equipped to stay out of debt.

  24. imelda says:

    Add me to those wondering what you told the immigrant mothers!

    It’s particularly difficult for children who may have been brought over by their families illegally at a young age. As I understand it, they have no access whatsoever to subsidized loans or federal grants. Is this true? Did this come up at all in your discussion, JD? I would love to know if any suggestions were proposed.

  25. Tie the Money Knot says:

    I enjoyed this story of your day in a classroom. Great to see kids that age getting access to this type of dialogue, and it’s nice that you took the time to do this.

    My favorite line: β€œIs it okay to save for just no reason?”

    That’s a young person who’s doing things right already πŸ™‚

  26. Brent Pittman says:

    This is one of the best pieces I’ve read on this blog. Thanks for sharing and giving back in multiple languages.

  27. Curtis says:

    The 5th grade was a very good time for me as I had an exceptionally practical and self-sacrificing teacher who also loved to teach, Mr. Logan, San Martin, CA, 1971.

    He taught us how to balance a checkbook. I never forgot that first, practical eye-opening financial lesson. He was my first male teacher and he called us Mr. and Miss (which I thought was very cool). He had also constructed a private booth in the corner of the class where each week two students were rewarded with a day of privacy for exceptional conduct or activity. I could go on…he was creative and had a huge impact on me that I still fondly recall 40 years later. Thanks for letting me reminisce.

  28. amber says:

    I love that you are doing this JD! We need more of you everywhere. I worry about my neighborhood kids. There is such an emphasis on keeping them “children” whatever that means.
    Shortly after I moved in I approached a father to ask if his son could help mow my very small lawn while I was away. The shocked response I got was “He’s only 10!” I was too embarrassed to ask anyone else after that.

  29. Kris says:

    It’s so much fin talking with kids about money because its such a simple concept. Then when they get older and need car insurance, student loans, and the rest, then its not so much fun any more, for them or us parents!

  30. Ornella says:

    I thought the question asked by Ashley “is it ok to save for no reason?” is too cute. If only more people thought that way.

  31. financefitz says:

    Great article J.D. and kudos to this 5th grade teacher!

    As a 12th grade Personal Finance teacher in an inner-city school, I feel lucky to expose kids to personal finance topics before they head off into adulthood. I realize how important these skills are and the kids really appreciate learning these concepts. And, with some of the basics, I believe they will have a better chance of becoming not only first generation college students, but also first generation wealthy!

    With that said, it is often a challenge to get a non-traditional course implemented in a school, and to find qualified people to teach it. People should keep advocating to implement programs to help students and adults become financially literate.

    Thanks for sharing your light story with readers. And, keep it up Mr. Widmer.

  32. Eileen says:

    Thanks for including kids in this discussion. I am a longtime reader and I think the pieces about kids, families and financial education add a nice strand to GRS. Reflecting on how to discuss finances with kids can help all of us discuss money because I think it forces us to be clear, concise and to use practical examples.

  33. Jennifer says:

    This is so weird to read because I’ve been a GRS reader for a few years, and to start on this story and see names I recognize! I live in McMinnville and my daughter is at Memorial 5th grade (different class). Wish I had heard you were coming to visit – would’ve been fun to say hi and observe πŸ™‚

    Awesome for you to visit and for Mr. Widmer to share such topics with the kids. I definitely talk to my kids about money and choices and thought processes about how I spend it and save it. I am in good financial shape for the most part, but have some aggressive savings goals and plans. I talk a lot with them about delayed gratification and how I could buy X but then might not have money for Y that month. I love the pride paw/ interest example! I just showed my daughter this article and we talked through paying interest and why it is better to save up first; I have talked about this in the past with her too. Thanks for the help – hearing the same thing from various sources helps it to stick (hopefully).

  34. Jeff Ehrlich says:

    Great article – I think all elementary schools need to start teaching kids about budgeting their money and Mr.Widmer did a great job with his illustration. I taught High School for 30 years and they do not teach the basics of budgeting in school and this should be a part of the curriculum. Of all the videos we have done on our website the one I had the most fun with was Kid’s and Cookies, How to budget your money from a kid’s perspective. This was our neighbors across the street and I feel they got it.. http://www.debtfreesquad.com/spend-every-penny-budget/
    Love all your comments too..
    Debt Free Squad

  35. Big Lou says:

    Finance should be taught at all schools, and at every level of the education system. It’s crucial to success in life.

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