Expanding your financial education efforts beyond the classroom walls and drawing relevant parallels from life, including pop culture, may help the lessons sink in.
"So many of the financial education courses focus so much on the theory and academia of it that kids just shut down," said Shay Olivarria, a credit union board member, speaker and author of 10 Things College Students Need to Know About Money-Small Changes Make a Big Difference.
"Instead of telling them about a bunch of terms, present the information from where they are at. Otherwise they'll just tune you out because they're thinking, 'You have no idea of the life I lead,' and that doesn't make them want to save."
She added that sometimes a simple play on words can make all the difference. For example, instead of emphasizing the importance of savings, she suggested letting students know they can get what they want by using personal finance. Another word to rethink is "budget." Olivarria prefers "spending plan."
"In my experience when you say 'budget,' it's one of those words like 'diet' that is dry, boring, stodgy and brings to mind something you know you should do, but a week later you're still just talking about it," said Olivarria. "Everyone's needs are different and there are some people who would rather have a new pair of boots rather than food. And at the end of the day we need to understand their everyday experience and develop a customized spending plan that works around that."
She said too many are quick to shun popular culture, but inspiration to do more with your personal finances can come from anywhere.
It certainly proved true for Horizon Credit Union Relationship Management Officer Josh Allison, who got the idea for financial field trips during his 90-minute commute to teach a financial literacy class at Moses Lake High School.
"As a result of a merger, we had a branch that was about 300 feet from the school, so we formed a partnership with the school," said Allison. "We had fun in the classroom and the students were really engaged. But as I was driving the 90 minutes back to our main office, I realized that all the trust we'd created through financial education left with me. I realized it was important to involve the branch because if the purpose of financial education is to build trust and deepen relationships, it can't start and end with one person in the classroom."
He said a financial field trip program has allowed the Spokane Valley, Wash.-based credit union to transfer the trust of the youth educator to the branch staff while bringing students out of the classroom into a hands-on learning laboratory: its branches.
"Students are building direct relationships with the people and place where they would need to go for future loan and membership questions," said Allison. "We're able to break down the intimidation factor that a financial institution presents, and they are so comfortable with the branch staff that often they just stop by to say hi or check their account."
Horizon CU offers a total of four field trips during the semester. Students are assigned scavenger hunt questions and rotate in small groups to each of the branch staff to find the answers. The student scavenger hunt assignments cover topics discussed in class, ranging from the difference between a credit union and bank to the five categories that make up a credit score. More than just becoming familiar with terminology, the students also go through practical experiences such as a mock loan process based on two different credit scores or calling area banks and credit unions including Horizon CU to rank them based on fees, products and services and credit card rates.
"They get to experience it themselves as they call around from the branch, and we tell them to test us as well. And every time the credit union came in with better rates, less fees and the students are asking us why wouldn't someone join a credit union," said Allison. "That they come to that conclusion on their own means much more than us telling them."
He said adding the field trip component has helped significantly deepen the students' learning experience. In fact, by the end of one semester students' average concept familiarity increased from 44% to 77%. There was also a jump from 38% to 80% in the category of monitoring and modifying a personal finance plan and 38% to 81% in using the decision-making process to create a financial plan category.
Olivarria added that incorporating personal gain and enterprise into financial education goes a long way in making a real connection that can be built on.
"Money is very personal, so you've got to create a sense of community. Take five minutes and have everyone share one thing about themselves you couldn't tell by looking at them," said Olivarria. "Students get lectured at all day, so do something unexpected like taking something going on in pop culture and relating it back to everyday life. If you can tie the reality of their personal finance back to say Twilight or Lebron James' decision to go sign with the Miami Heat, it's exciting and touches them where it matters. If you want them to see and apply the value in the lesson it has to be presented in a way that is accessible."