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Financial Literacy

Meet Our Featured Teacher, Amanda!

Meet Our Featured Teacher, Amanda!

There’s no doubt about it––we love our Foundations in Personal Finance teachers! We can’t stop singing their praises from the rooftops because of all the hard work they do to give students the tools they need to win with money. That’s why every edition of the Foundations in Personal Finance Newsletter will feature a different teacher who’s totally killing it in the classroom. We hope their stories inspire you just as much as they inspire us!

This month, we got to chat with Amanda Wilson of Bremen High School in Georgia. She uses the Foundations in Personal Finance curriculum in the elective classes she teaches for 9th–12th graders, and 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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The way she tells it, the Financial Peace University (FPU) class she took while she was in college was what 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 the Foundations curriculum, Amanda said, “Oh my gosh––we have to get it. This is amazing.”

Fast-forward a few years, and now taking and completing the Foundations curriculum is a graduation requirement at the 700-student high school––thanks to Amanda’s dedication and support of the curriculum.

But making the class a graduation requirement was no easy task! She knew that 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 have the opportunity to be financially literate before heading on to college or the workforce. And we think that’s awesome.

Since Amanda’s a total pro at teaching students about The Five Foundations, we asked her a few questions about her classroom experiences and how she approaches those topics with her students.

We know you probably have them memorized by now, but just in case you need a refresher, The Five Foundations are the basic steps every student should take in order to win with money.

The Five Foundations:

  1. Save a $500 emergency fund.

  2. Get out of debt.

  3. Pay cash for your car.

  4. Pay cash for college.

  5. Build wealth and give.

One thing we wanted to know was which of the Foundations was the hardest for students to relate to, and how she was able to overcome that. As it turns out, going to college debt-free is the hardest for most of her students to take in. No surprise there, given the fact that there’s a $1.6 trillion student loan crisis in the U.S. right now!1

Really digging into the mentality behind the student loan crisis has given Amanda the ability to understand her students better and help them connect with the concept of the fourth Foundation. “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.”

She 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’s also been trying 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 that mindset is 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. And that leads into our next questions for Amanda: Which of The Five Foundations have you noticed the kids latching onto the most? Which one do you think they’re most excited to start trying 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!

But we all know that sometimes it can 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 illustrate 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. “When you’re trying to choose your college,” she explains, “you might be saying, ‘I want to get out of town...I want to go as far away as I can.’ That’s emotion. You don’t want to make decisions based on emotion when you’re dealing with money.” So true! Even adults struggle with that.

Another way Amanda uses real-life scenarios to illustrate the concepts she teaches is with an activity that she calls “Family Fridays.” (This isn’t in the curriculum, you guys, so take note! This is 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.

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!

Since Amanda clearly has a lot of wisdom to share when it comes to teaching Foundations, we asked her if she had any other pro tips for her fellow teachers. Her 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 the students personal questions is the best way to connect with them and understand what’s really going on at home, and then give them hope for overcoming whatever problems (financial or otherwise) their family’s struggling with. “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! Want more classroom tips for teaching The Five Foundations? Read more here.

Ramsey Solutions

About the author

Ramsey Solutions

Ramsey Solutions has been committed to helping people regain control of their money, build wealth, grow their leadership skills, and enhance their lives through personal development since 1992. Millions of people have used our financial advice through 22 books (including 12 national bestsellers) published by Ramsey Press, as well as two syndicated radio shows and 10 podcasts, which have over 17 million weekly listeners. Learn More.

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