Exploring Personal Finance Choices
Exploring Personal Finance Choices was developed to address the recent financial crisis along with student retention critical to GED attainment. Michigan's Office of Adult Education contextualized reading, writing, and mathematics skills needed to pass the GED Test within the real-life context of personal finance with the goal of providing a themed course designed to help adult education students become better informed consumers of financial services while they improve the academic (GED) skills needed to function effectively in life, school, and the workplace.
This curriculum provides students with the tools to build healthy financial futures. The first four units are designed to empower students to take control of their financial lives. The first two of the units address the setting of goals and development of a working financial plan. Unit 3 focuses on various financial institutions and the services they provide. Unit 4 on managing your money helps provide the tools necessary to become a "saver" in our society. The last two units cover taxes and consumer protection issues.
The course was designed to be completed in about 60 hours. In addition to the teacher's guide, a supplemental student workbook with 36 scenarios is available here: http://maepd.org/resource/personal-finance
Note: The authors do not believe that this content is all a student will need in order to achieve complete GED skill attainment, but it will provide a good start.
Exploring Personal Finance Choices is designed for English-speaking adults in a pre-GED classroom setting. The materials can be adapted for use in a one-to-one setting; however, there is a significant amount of learning and brainstorming that happens in small groups.
This 60-hour financial literacy curriculum is packaged into two parts: a Teacher’s Guide, which includes over one hundred supplementary handouts with an answer key, and a Student Workbook, which features realistic scenarios of people faced with personal finance choices. There are six units: (1) Building Financial Responsibility; (2) Budgeting; (3) Using Financial Institutions; (4) Managing Money; (5) Taxes; and, (6) Consumer Protection; each with multiple lessons. Lessons feature vocabulary related to financial topics, specific pre-GED skills to be incorporated (e.g., analyzing cause and effect), a true-to-life financial scenario, and a Challenge Activity, which can be used in-class or as homework, but generally asks the student to apply what they’ve learned to their personal situation or to do further research. An instructor can choose to select individual lessons to supplement other resources they are already using or to narrow the number of scenarios they use to fit the number of classes they have available.
With the express purpose of empowering students to make prudent financial choices, Exploring Personal Finance Choices also incorporates targeted pre-GED skills into the curriculum. Each lesson combines these dual purposes of financial literacy and GED practice, sometimes more adeptly than other times. Naturally, a financial literacy curriculum is going to lend itself more readily to the practice of math skills; it is more of a stretch to integrate language arts so occasionally the GED practice activity is not relevant to the financial literacy content of the lesson.
The curriculum does walk a fine line between making the financial exercises meaningful and jeopardizing the confidentiality of the students. For instance, in Lesson 2.3, the Teacher’s Guide says to have students take the hand-out home and “check paystubs, deposits, and other income documents… [They should] complete the form with the accurate information and bring it with them to the next class (pages 19-21).” Ultimately, teachers will need to make decisions about when it is better to simulate financial data or to use the students' actual financial information.
Each lesson focuses on a real-life scenario which illustrates a financial literacy concept. The scenarios are well-written, believable, and artfully reinforce the issue at-hand. Students read them in class and then discuss the follow-up questions together. Adjacent to the scenario is a text box with vocabulary words. For example, in Lesson 5.2 on Income Tax Planning (pages 75-76), the scenario depicts Lorenzo trying to lower his tax bill and the correlative vocabulary words are “Internal Revenue Service,” “deduction refund,” and “dependent.” There is a glossary at the end of the Student Workbook that provides definitions for all of the vocabulary words.
The hand-outs – over 100 of them – are particularly strong and well-conceived. They include a fair amount of realia (e.g., a lease agreement, print advertisements, a W-4, and a 1040 tax form, etc.) to give students the hands-on practice they need with these familiar items. Other exceptional hand-outs include sheets for comparing credit card offers (Lesson 3.4) and determining credit card interest charges based on the average daily balance (Lesson 4.2). This curriculum does not shy away from more sophisticated financial concepts. Another plus, the handouts come with thorough instructions for the teacher about how to utilize them.
The various websites cited in the Challenge Activity segment are excellent resources, and, assuming the students have access to a computer, can greatly enrich their knowledge of personal finance. A couple of examples include: (1) In Lesson 3.9, students are directed to sites that show “how much house they can afford,” including a CNNMoney site and one created by Ginnie Mae (the Government National Mortgage Association) (page 48); (2) Lesson 4.8 suggests a website listing “Seven Life-Defining Financial Decisions,” hosted by the National Endowment for Financial Education (page 72); and (3) Lesson 6.4 recommends, “Who’s Calling?” the Federal Trade Commission’s website that provides information to consumers on how to avoid being the victim of telemarketing fraud (page 95).
Lessons of note include: Lesson 1.2–Setting Financial Goals; Lesson 1.4–Values, Wants, and Needs; Lesson 1.5–Discussing Financial Issues (this lesson provides a good perspective on discussing financial issues with partners that is not often included in financial literacy training); Lesson 2.2–Deductions: Where did the money go?; Lesson 3.4–Credit Cards (this lesson on credit cards is more in-depth than many other financial literacy resources); Lesson 3.7–Loans in an Instant! (this lesson provides an excellent breakdown for why 'payday loans' are not a good source of credit); Lesson 4.2–Managing Personal Debt (this lesson provides real-life scenarios on understanding what to do in the event of a job loss, reduced income, medical expenses, etc.); Lesson 6.3–Identity Theft; and Lesson 6.4–Scams (good points and guidance that is not always a part of financial literacy training).
Overall, this is an excellent resource. It is well organized and easy to use from a teacher’s perspective. From the student’s perspective, it is a detailed approach that does not underestimate their abilities or financial literacy needs and yet often makes this seemingly dry topic entertaining as well as educational.