Financial education is sorely lacking in the U.S., with only seventeen states currently requiring a course in personal finance to graduate from high school.
The SIFMA Foundation Capitol Hill Challenge™ is a national program that helps teens learn about investing and increase their awareness of government and fiscal responsibility.
On a personal level, parents and anyone with influence over young people can take practical steps to help increase financial literacy.
April is Financial Literacy month and I have a question for you: If you had a $100,000 to invest—no strings attached—what would you do? Bet it all on a single stock? Focus on short-term gain? Look for long-term growth?
These are the very issues that teenagers across the country will grapple with as they participate in the 40th annual Stock Market Game and the 15th annual Capitol Hill Challenge™. Sponsored by the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA) Foundation with the support of Charles Schwab Foundation, the program matches students, teachers and schools competing in the Stock Market Game with Members of Congress in their respective district or state to promote financial capability and fiscal awareness.
To me, the Challenge is a phenomenal program on several levels. First, of course, it provides young people hands-on investing experience. But it also gives them the opportunity to interact with policymakers in Washington, an incredibly powerful experience for any teen. On top of that, the program encourages the participating members of Congress to get involved and become advocates for financial education, an essential if as a society we’re going to adequately prepare our kids to succeed in an increasingly complex financial world.
Why it's so important
Sadly, teens in the U.S. generally don't receive the education they need to manage their finances. According to the Council for Economic Education’s 2018 Survey of the States, only seventeen states require high school students to take a course in personal finance. Unfortunately, the remaining states offer little to no formal financial instruction.
To me, that's really scary. Where do our kids learn the practicalities—and intricacies—of budgeting, managing credit and debt, and saving and investing? As parents, a lot of that financial education falls squarely on our shoulders. And while I always encourage teaching kids money basics early, with the financial complexities young people face today—from managing student loans to struggling to afford a home in increasingly high priced markets to funding our own retirements—we need to create more real-world opportunities to raise economically aware and financially confident kids.
How the Challenge can help
Teaching kids about investing presents particular obstacles because unless they have hands-on experience, how do we get them to understand the real power of investing? A 2016 Bankrate report found that while millennials are good savers, only 1 in 3 invest in the stock market because they're very concerned about risk. They'd rather put their money someplace safer.
That may sound smart in theory, but in reality if young people don't invest in stocks, they can risk losing out in a big way. According to data provided by the Schwab Center for Financial Research, a dollar put in cash investments in 1926 would have been worth only $21 in 2017. That same dollar invested in large-cap stocks for that period of time would have grown to $7,388. Had it been invested in small-cap stocks, it jumps to $22,997! Yes, stocks carry more risk, but historically they've outperformed other asset classes.
For young people to truly understand this, they need to experience it. This is where the Stock Market Game and Capitol Hill Challenge come in. Teams of junior high and high school students are given a hypothetical $100,000 and taught how to invest it for growth. In the process, they gain a fundamental understanding of investing and how to make their money work for them. Not only that, they get to interact with the Member of Congress they're paired with to get insight into larger fiscal concerns. Since the program's inception in 2004, more than 103,000 students across the country have participated.
To me, it's an exciting and essential opportunity. And it's not limited to schools that officially participate. Kids can play the Stock Market Game on their own with the supervision of someone 18 or older. You can get the details at www.stockmarketgame.org/expstudent.html.
What you can do
Financial education can take many forms. If you have a young person in your life, the first thing I suggest is being open about money. Show a teen how much it costs to run a household, how bills get paid and how to balance a checkbook. Teach them about online banking and bill pay. Next, whether it's through an allowance or a part-time job, give kids a chance to control and manage their own money. And let them learn from their mistakes. Open a savings account for your children early on and help them understand goals and how to save for them. Talk about the future and show them how you're saving for retirement.
There are so many practical—and relatively easy—ways to help our kids become more financially aware, many of which can be found on SchwabMoneywise.com. And finally, why not explore the Stock Market Game with your teen? Whatever your own level of investing experience, it could be a great mutual learning experience!
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