By: Jennifer Myers
May 25, 2010
LOWELL -- In 2002, more young adults filed for bankruptcy than graduated from college. Colleges say they lose more students to credit-card debt than to academic failure.
"In my job, I run into so many adults whose lives are messed up because they don't know the basics of finance," said Steve Hartel, a finance executive with Trilogy Financial Services in Woburn. "No one should lose their opportunity for an education because they don't know how to manage their money. We can create a lot more financially knowledgeable adults if we can reach them when they are younger."
For eight weeks, Hartel has been doing just that. He's been teaching a dozen third-graders at the McAuliffe Elementary School the basics of money using the "Money Savvy Kids" curriculum.
Topics include where money comes from; the benefits of saving, investing and donating; how to set and meet long- and short-term goals; and that an ATM is not a "magic money machine."
Students also learned important terms such as "withdraw," "deposit," "entrepreneur," "stockbroker" and "stock certificate."
Hartel held the final session recently in the school's library in the form of a "Family Money Press Conference," where students question their parents and teachers about their first jobs and what they did with the money they earned.
"What was your first job?" third-grader Jessica Pace asked teacher MaryAnn Nochnuk.
Nochnuk said she was a cashier at the Demoulas Supermarket in Tewksbury after school on Mondays and Thursdays and all day on Saturdays. She was 16 and earned about $2 an hour, much of which she put away to pay for her $200 annual tuition at Lowell State College.
"My dad thought that if I saved up for school myself, I would be more invested in my education," she said.
Pace then asked her for advice about money and spending.
"You need to think about what you really want and what you really need," Nochnuk said. "It is really fun to set some money aside in the bank and watch it grow."
Having completed the seminar, students went home with the "Money Savvy" pig, a piggy bank designed with four slots labeled spend, save, invest and donate.
Hartel told parents that while kids spend $172 billion a year, only 26 percent of 13- to 21-year-olds surveyed said their parents had taught them about managing money. And one in three high-school seniors has at least one credit card.
Hartel said many parents either feel ill-equipped to teach their children about money, or feel their kids are too young to learn about the subject. He suggests starting out by explaining how much rent costs, how much the family spent on groceries for the week or how much certain jobs pay, to give kids some perspective of the value of a dollar.
"It is very interesting to see Lindsay get a sense of how hard we work for our money," said Anacelis Febo-Miranda, whose daughter was in the class. "She always thought money was so easy to come by, and now I think she is thinking a little differently."
Febo-Miranda said Lindsay spent a week using her financial vocabulary words and recently held a yard sale with her cousin to start earning money toward her short-term goal -- an iPod Touch.
Lindsay said her long-term goals include college, a laptop computer and a hot pink convertible. But she said the most important thing she learned from the class was a humanitarian lesson.
"I learned that it is good to donate to people when they need help, because someday it may be us that needs help," she said. "I am just happy to help people and put aside some of my money to do that."
Hartel, who lives in Andover, said his boss, Trilogy Regional Vice President Tom Elkins, encourages all employees to get into their communities and volunteer, both in an effort to do good and to network and bring in new clients.
Hartel teaches gun-safety classes at the Andover Sportsmen's Club and sex education at his church. But he had been looking for a way to "pay it forward" and use his financial skills to help people since his 6-year-old daughter, Jill, died of Leukemia 15 years ago.
Elkins told Hartel that Trilogy's Denver office conducted financial-literacy classes for kids that were so successful, the Colorado state Legislature passed a bill in 2008 mandating such classes in all public schools.
Hartel then approached one of his clients, McAuliffe Principal Jason DiCarlo, and the course was born.
"It was a great opportunity to bring the community into the school and really educate the full child," said DiCarlo. "It deals with an important subject that is not touched upon in the standard curriculum."
Hartel said his company is in discussions for brokering a deal with "Wealth Quest for Teens," a financial-literacy video seminar for teens that stars teens. The goal is to be able offer access to the video, developed by Jill Suskind, of Andover, a teacher in the Malden schools, to parents who attend a financial seminar hosted by Trilogy.
"I don't think we will ever reach enough people to put the next generation of financial planners out of business," he said. "But it is a start."