How One Teacher Is Transforming the Way Students Handle Money
10 Min Read | Sep 7, 2021
There’s no doubt about it––you work hard to give students the tools they need to win. But when you’re up against a $1.6 trillion student loan crisis in the U.S., it’s not easy to steer students against the culture and toward making smarter decisions with money.1
That’s exactly how Amanda Wilson, a high school teacher in Georgia, felt when it came to her students—until she remembered her own personal finance education. A course she took while she was in college completely changed the way she and her husband manage money. So, when Amanda discovered high school personal finance curriculum built on those same principles, she knew there was hope to make a positive difference in her students’ financial futures.
Keep reading to find out how Amanda, a teacher just like you, is transforming the way her students handle money and giving them confidence in their plans for the future. And learn how you can do it too!
Getting Firsthand Experience in Personal Finance Education
Amanda uses Ramsey Education’s Foundations in Personal Finance curriculum in the elective classes she teaches for 9th–12th graders at Bremen High School. This is her school’s ninth year using Foundations! Amazing, right? That’s a long time, so we wanted to ask her how it all started.
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Amanda says it all goes back to college when she went through Financial Peace University (FPU)—a proven personal finance plan that has helped millions of people pay off debt, save and invest for the future. As she tells it, that class sparked her love affair with Ramsey Solutions. (Aw, Ramsey Solutions loves you too, Amanda!)
A few years later, she took FPU again with her husband when they were newlyweds. By then, she was really familiar with the Ramsey principles, so when a colleague asked her what she thought about the idea of using the Foundations curriculum, Amanda said, “Oh my gosh––we have to get it. This is amazing.”
Introducing a Personal Finance Elective to Students
Fast-forward a few years, and now, taking and completing the Foundations curriculum is a graduation requirement at the private, 700-student high school––all thanks to Amanda’s dedication and support of the curriculum.
But making the class a graduation requirement wasn’t easy! She knew there was no way she could teach Foundations to every kid in the school, and Bremen High School didn’t have the money to hire extra teachers. Did Amanda let that stop her? Nope! She found a way for all the seniors to take the class online before graduation. That way, every single student could walk away with a solid financial education before heading on to college or the workforce. And we think that’s awesome.
Basic Money Steps Every Student Should Take
Since Amanda’s a total pro at teaching students our Foundations in Personal Finance curriculum, we asked her a few questions about her classroom experiences and how she approaches key principles like The Five Foundations with her students.
If you haven’t heard of them already, The Five Foundations are the basic steps every student should take in order to win with money:
- Save a $500 emergency fund.
- Get out (and stay out) of debt.
- Pay cash for your car.
- Pay cash for college.
- Build wealth and give.
Of the five, going to college debt-free is the hardest step for most of her students to take in. No surprise there, given the fact that student loan debt has reached $1.6 trillion in the U.S. alone!2
Teaching Students How to Avoid Student Loans
Really digging into the why behind the student loan crisis has made Amanda understand her students better so she could help them realize how important the fourth Foundation really is.
“I like to research the different generational characteristics,” she told us. “We [the millennials] were told: ‘You’re nobody if you don’t go to college and get your four-year degree!’ Our parents’ generation believed that you were on the up-and-up if your kid was going to college, and then we were told, ‘Everybody goes to college!’ So here we are, mid-30s, and most of us—I’m not, but most of us—are still paying off our student loans after 15 years of work.”
Amanda continued, “These teenagers grew up in the early 2000s, so they’re watching their parents struggle. They might’ve even lost a home in the recession, so they’re growing up debt-averse. They’re saying, ‘I don’t want to take out a car loan, and I don’t want credit cards, but my mom is telling me I still have to go to college.’ . . . These kids are stuck in this weird limbo where they don’t want to disappoint their parents, but they don’t know if they want to even go to college. But that’s all they’re hearing about, so they’re going to go to make their family happy, and they’re going to take out student loans.”
Amanda also tries to address the stigma around not going to college (it’s not for everyone, after all) or going the nontraditional route in order to avoid debt. Surprisingly enough, a lot of parents don’t like the idea of their kids not taking on student loan debt or credit card debt in order to have a certain lifestyle—because it’s so normal in our culture today!
“So, these kids are torn,” she explained. “And I can’t ever tell them to go against their parents—all I can give them is the information and let them educate themselves.”
Clearly, when we live in a toxic money culture, there’s going to be some pushback to doing things the healthy way––like cash flowing a degree or saving up in advance for something you want instead of putting it all on a credit card.
Empowering Students With the Concept of Saving Money
On the flip side, we also asked Amanda which of The Five Foundations she noticed her kids latching onto and getting excited about starting right away.
Her answer? “Definitely saving money. Just saving the $500.” She went on to explain that a lot of teens feel helpless and want their independence. They don’t want debt, but they don’t have their own money to manage. “And so once they start to earn and save that money, you see a big change in them,” she says. “They’re excited to just be an adult—because they face adult things all the time, but they’re not actually able to be independent.” Getting an emergency fund started is definitely a great way to feel like you’re taking control of your money, whether you’re 18 or 80!
Engaging Students With Real-Life Money Problems
We all know it can sometimes be hard to get even the most math-savvy teenagers to engage with personal finance, so how does Amanda do it? Examples from real life are a great place to start.
“Of course, there’s always stories,” Amanda laughs as she recalls a real scenario from her past that she often uses to talk about the idea of emotional spending. We won’t get into all the details, but let’s just say it involved trading in an already-paid-for truck and buying a brand-new Tacoma on a payment plan because she and her husband were so afraid their new baby wouldn’t be safe coming home from the hospital in the old truck. (Don’t worry, the baby was safe, and they later sold the Tacoma so they could cash flow a more affordable car.)
Amanda finds that teenagers really relate to the way emotions can tie into financial decisions. She says some teens choose a college that’s far away in another state because they want to escape things they don’t like about their hometown. “That’s emotion,” Amanda explains. “You don’t want to make decisions based on emotion when you’re dealing with money.” So true! Even adults struggle with that.
Playing “House” in the Classroom
Another way Amanda uses real-life scenarios to illustrate the concepts she teaches is with an activity she calls “Family Fridays.” (This isn’t in the curriculum, but it’s a fantastic bonus tip!) She gets the students into groups and assigns them roles––a mom, dad and two kids, for example. Then they have to create a family budget based on their levels of imaginary debt and income.
Halfway through the class period, she “delivers the mail,” which always contains some kind of unexpected event that could be either good or bad. Maybe it’s their tax refund, a medical bill, or a Christmas card full of cash that Grandma forgot to send on time. Whatever it is, the students have to fit that into their family’s monthly financial plan. The same groups stay together throughout the whole course, and they work through an entire calendar year of budgeting.
She’s even gotten the other faculty members involved: “I emailed and said, ‘Send me examples of money things that have happened to you––either positive or negative.’ And some of the stuff that I got back was hilarious! I was able to tell the kids, ‘This is real-life stuff from your faculty. Every scenario I’m giving you either happened to me, happened to somebody who works here, or happened to one of my friends on Facebook. This is real life.’” And guess what? The students loved it, and they really impressed Amanda with their creative budgeting skills.
Sharing How Students Are Winning With Money
Speaking of true stories, Amanda knows from experience that success stories from other students are another fantastic way to motivate high schoolers to stay on track with The Five Foundations.
One year, she had a student who started and ran his own lawn care business and was able to make $35K a year––while he was still in school! She also told us a story about a student who called her over the summer to say she had just paid cash for a car and a laptop, and still had $300 left to put in the bank. What a great example to give other teens to show them that this stuff really is possible!
Earning Trust From Students
When it comes to sharing pro tips with her fellow teachers, here’s Amanda’s first piece of advice: “Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know something. If something comes up, it’s such a great learning opportunity to say, ‘You know what? I have no idea––let’s check it out,’ and then go online and research it. Or say, ‘That’s a great question. I’ll write that down and have an answer for you by the weekend.’ Because I don’t know all the answers, but I have the resources to find the answers. And that builds more credibility with the students.”
Her second biggest tip is, “Don’t be afraid to ask questions.” She went on to explain that sometimes asking students personal questions is the best way to connect with them and understand what’s really going on at home, so you can give them hope for overcoming whatever problems their family’s struggling with (whether that’s finances or other life stuff). “That’s what Ramsey’s all about––giving hope. Don’t be afraid to make it personal, because it’s personal finance.”
We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. Thanks, Amanda, for bringing hope to so many students through Foundations in Personal Finance!
Ready to Transform the Way Your Students Handle Money?
If you’re like Amanda and want to give your students confidence when it comes to money, check out our Foundations in Personal Finance curriculum to see if it’s the right fit for your school.