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Kids and Money: How to Make Your Point in 4 Easy Steps

Teaching kids about money is challenging, especially when they are very young and haven't yet connected money to the things they consume everyday. The part of the brain needed to make that connection doesn't fully develop until after the teen years.

That's why board games and online games are so successful as teaching tools. "Well-designed games and simulations help learners contemplate future consequences," says Kathy Griffin, founder of MoneyU, which offers game-based online personal finance instruction.

Through games, kids can readily fast forward to see the outcome of, say, saving too little or not buying enough car insurance in a way that just won't register with a simple explanation. But spending hours playing The Game of Life or Financial Football isn't the only answer.

At the JumpStart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy National Educators Conference I met a pair of inventive and energetic personal finance teachers from an urban elementary school in Bridgeport, Ct. Tanesha Poyser and Trisha Sutherlan Rock said they have been getting great results teaching kids about money in a four-step process that reverse engineers what a successful life looks like.

The nitty gritty of balancing a checkbook or building a credit score means little to these kids. So the teachers ask their students aged 10 to 14 to envision:

· Their adult lifestyle Kids don't think much about what their life will like in 20 or 30 years. But when you ask them, they have plenty of ideas. Some dream of yachts; others simply see themselves in a nice house with children and a dog. They pretty much never envision living in poverty.

· Their career Once a child has described their adult life the teachers ask what kind of a job they think they need to live that lifestyle. This is where it can get interesting. The idea is to square their aspirations with their career choice. Most cops don't have summer homes, you might point out.
· Their education Most youngsters don't understand the connection between education and career. So once they understand that they need to be an engineer or computer scientist to drive a Mercedes it's easier to reinforce the need to study math and aspire to a college degree.

· Paying for their education This is the final piece of the puzzle. Try to explain how expensive college is by calculating and sharing how many days you must work each year to make enough to either pay for one year of college or to make a year's worth of payments on a student loan. Then you can introduce the concept of living within your means and saving for long-term goals.

I'd love to hear from other teachers with secrets for teaching personal finance in the classroom. Please comment here or email me at

Photo courtesy of Flickr user advwench.