Ask teenagers about money and they'll talk freely about spending
it -- on cars and clothes and CDs, dates and proms, snacks and
gifts. But ask them about saving it and the chorus of voices grows
As Michael McNeil, a senior at North Reading High School,
explains with a laugh, "When I got my paycheck I thought, Hmmm,
should I put this away? But then I thought, Naaah." One classmate
calls money "a revolving door." And Mark Scarfo, another senior,
says, "When you have a lot of money, say $800, you want to see if
you can get to $1,000. If you have $100, you just want to blow it."
This casual approach is one reason that, at 9:30 on a Wednesday
morning, Michael, Mark, and 13 other students in a financial
management class listen as Geoffrey Simons, a senior financial
adviser at American Express Financial Advisors in Wakefield, Mass.,
talks about the need to set goals and priorities.
"Most people don't have a plan - they just go ahead and buy,"
Mr. Simons explains. "The decisions you make have a big ripple
effect. The process is deciding what you really want, and then
making a plan for spending and saving."
To help students create a plan, Simons serves as a guest teacher
in this six-week "financial literacy" program, covering such topics
as income, stocks and bonds, credit, and the value of invested
money. He works with William Devin, the class's regular teacher,
who says, "We've got to let kids know what's happening out there.
The credit debt in this country is just unbelievable."
The unusual curriculum, developed by the National Endowment for
Financial Education in Denver, represents part of increasing
efforts by financial experts to teach students about money. Despite
their youth, their economic clout is impressive. Last year American
teenagers spent an estimated $103 billion, according to Teenage
Research Unlimited in Northbrook, Ill. Boys average $70 a week and
This month, as part of National Saving Month, Merrill Lynch
financial consultants are conducting "teach-ins" at schools across
the country to emphasize the importance of saving. And last month,
Money magazine published a special supplement, called Extra Money,
to help high school students stretch their incomes, invest wisely,
and borrow responsibly. In addition, Stein Roe Mutual Funds has
created a Young Investor Fund to teach a new generation about
investing. It offers stocks of particular interest to young people.
For Simons, talking about investing includes giving the class an
imaginary $10,000 to buy three stocks. Each week students chart
gains and losses. "It's a real eye-opener that they can invest."
Another eye-opener is seeing how much they spend. When he asks
students to track their expenses for two weeks, he tells them,
"You'll be surprised how much money goes through your hands every
day. It's an amazing amount."
Amazing indeed. During one five-day period this month, students'
spending ranged from a high of $222.98 for Anthony Perrotti, a
junior, to an impressive low of $19.45 for Emily Thomas, a
Anthony, who earns $10 an hour working for a construction
company and was chosen Business Student of the Month in March, says
he averages $100 a week on restaurant meals alone. By contrast,
Emily says, "If I go to college, I'll be totally responsible for
paying for it. That's a scary thought."
Other teenagers share her financial concerns. Nearly
three-quarters of students in a Money magazine poll say they worry
about money. A quarter fear they won't be able to afford college,
and 11 percent worry that they won't have enough money to raise a