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Financial literacy not part of the curriculum here

Submitted by on Thursday, 17 July 2008 No Comment

It’s not often I get to play the sage parent. The chance arose today, though, when a co-worker mentioned his 5-year-old’s obsession with his credit card.

“”You think that’s bad, wait until he goes to school,”" I said. “”They pay for their lunches with debit cards.”"

“”Debit cards? You’re kidding!”" the astounded father gasped as 16 eyes riveted on me. Make that 14 — one woman has a teen-ager, so she knew the drill.

“”Yep. My kid came home from kindergarten last week really impressed with the set-up. He was thrilled they gave him milk he didn’t have to pay for.”"

All of which reminded me that I had promised a fuddy-duddy rant about how cow juice on credit deprives kids of a chance to learn money realities.

Here it is, as promised:

What in the name of IndyMac is going on here? In a day when study after study shows that barely half the high school graduates can balance a checkbook, why are we pushing plastic on kids who can’t even make change?

I’ll be the first to confess that I’m firmly under the spell of every financial convenience modern society offers: Online banking, direct deposit, debit-card dependency. I barely see my money, and that’s not just because it costs half my paycheck to gas up and the other half to buy milk.

And being a with-it high-tech type gal, part of me loves being able to jump online, add money to Big Guy’s milk account and be done with it. I’ll get an email reminder when the balance starts running low, allowing me to make another “”look ma, no hands!”" deposit.

It’s quick, it’s easy and no one has to remember anything, as long as the email reminders show up every few months.

Contrast that to The Way It Was When I Was a Kid, roughly 3.6 million years ago.

Mom would take money from her wallet — yes, unlike debit-addicted me, Mom kept money in her wallet — and give it to me. I would go to the school office and buy a lunch ticket or purchase milk to go with my bag lunch. If I lost my money or forgot it, too bad. OK, not really. My first-grade teacher lived across the street, so she always had my back. But not before she lectured me about responsibility.

Today, Big Guy’s learning that cash grows on computers and it’s mom’s job to remember to feed the beast. If the balance is low, the Milk Lady nags him. He has no role in the transaction other than to consume and nag me.

This spring, the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy reported that the Class of 2008 correctly answered only 48.3 percent of the questions on in its biannual survey. That’s a decline over even the Class of 2006.

Wonder how many of those kids charged their chocolate milk.

I try, I really do. The guys get an allowance and know the difference between money to save and money to buy toys. They pilfer my purse and hoard their dollars until they have enough to deposit in a real bank.

So when they’re 18 and still can’t balance their checkbooks — not that checkbooks will exist in 13 years — I’m going to blame it all on the Milk Lady and her computer. I gave it a shot, but the system worked against me.

Copyright 2008 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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