For 14-year-old Kendahl Andresen, financial literacy started with a gasp over one of the most mundane of items: groceries.
“You don’t really think much at my age about how much groceries cost,” Andresen says. “It really adds up!”
Andresen is reflecting on what she learned last year in eighth grade at Prairie Winds Middle School in Mankato, Minnesota, as part of a Junior Achievement program called JA Finance Park. The class helps students learn personal money management skills and budgeting in order to prepare them for life in the “real world.”
Andresen, who started ninth grade at Mankato East High School this fall, says she learned a tremendous amount about good financial management through JA Finance Park. This experiential program introduces middle and high school students to personal finance and career explorations through classroom instruction complemented by a day-long hands-on simulation where students apply learned concepts in a life-like community. As part of the simulation, students receive a life scenario assigning them a job, a family situation (children, spouse), and income. They also learn the cost of “needs” (child care) and “wants” (cable television). Students then build on these realistic scenarios to explore how to budget their money and work toward bigger goals. Students also learn to define wants versus needs, and weigh financial options such as buying a house versus renting.
“You had to learn about financing, banking, finding careers, credit and all of that,” Andresen says. “In my life situation, I worked at a bank and was single, so I could afford quite a bit of stuff compared to my tablemate, who was a single dad working at a grocery store.”
JA Finance Park is the most recent experience Andresen has had with Junior Achievement, but she says it builds on skills she learned from Junior Achievement in earlier years. In elementary school she participated in JA classes that offered an introduction to personal finance, career options and information on starting a business. In sixth grade, she participated in JA BizTown, a day-long experiential learning program that allows students to hold jobs in various businesses.
Andresen came away from her JA Finance Park experience with a number of valuable life lessons, like how to take out a loan, how fast recurrent bills add up, and the benefits and risks of having a credit card. “I got to live a different life based on income. It made me really think about money and how I’m spending it.”