Advice Teens Can Count on Financial Literacy Programs Teach High Schoolers to Develop a Plan for Spending Series: A Workbook from a Financial Literacy Class at North Reading (Mass.) High School. 3) as Part of the Course, Students (L. to R.) Michael McNeil, Mark Scarfo, and Laura Grant Discuss Teen Spending Habits, Which Often Omit Saving for the Future. PHOTOS BY R. NORMAN MATHENY - STAFF
Marilyn Gardner, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
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 quieter.
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 girls $64. 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 sophomore. 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 family. …