Figuring Out Finance

We chat to Marilyn Pinto, Founder & Managing Director, Kids Finance Initiative, about why teaching children financial literacy is crucial.

If there is one class Marilyn Pinto, Founder & Managing Director of the Kids Finance Initiative, wishes she had taken when she was growing up, it is a course on financial literacy. “It’s still not available to kids in the current education system, and I’ve seen the effects of not knowing this skill through expensive mistakes I have made. Anybody can benefit from having learned this when they were younger.”

She also has two children who haven’t been formally taught financial literacy and 2.5 years ago, she decided to do something about it and the Kids Finance Initiative was born. Each course runs over four weeks for two hours every Saturday. Marilyn initially ran the course over eight weeks, but it was challenging for kids to commit to so many weeks in a row.

Courses are also run by age group, with one group catering to seven to 11-year-olds and the other is aimed at kids between 12 and 18. While the older kids might learn accounts or business studies at school, it’s not personal finance — they don’t have an awareness of why they need to save or how to do that. They can go on to do a three-year degree in banking and finance and not study one hour of personal finance. They’ll be equipped to handle company balance sheets and cash flow, but when it comes to their own finances, they’re left on their own to figure it out.

Marilyn says the first step to teaching children about financial literacy is that they must realise it’s not just about money. Financial literacy is primarily about character, responsibility, delayed gratification, and impulse control, aspects that are tied to every aspect of the curriculum.

“We go beyond piggy banks and allowances and we delve into the psychology of money. Our first class covers understanding their mindset behind money, because we believe everything starts and ends at mindset. If you have the correct mindset you can understand the material better. We want the students to develop a good money mindset, then we go on to why it’s important to save. Financial literacy is a skill they will be tested on every day of their adult life,” says Marilyn.

She adds that students are taught why it’s important to budget and they are given budgeting exercises. They learn how to make wise spending decisions and what to base those decisions on. All the lessons are age appropriate and are engaging, and the kids intuitively grasp what they are being taught. They don’t have to wait until they graduate from college to use what they learned, they can put what they learn into practice right away.

That’s not to imply that at the end of four weeks students will be completely financially savvy, but they will be more aware of finances, appreciate that money has value, and know how to be more mindful about their spending decisions. The kids really take to the lessons because it’s a novelty for them with a lot of relevant topics that perhaps many of their parents don’t discuss with them, and they come away feeling empowered.

Marilyn offers a follow-up course in investing for the older students because they will be eligible to take that next step with their finances in a few years, and the topic piques their curiosity. The younger age group has the option of returning for an entrepreneurship course where they learn how to develop an entrepreneurial mindset, critical thinking, and problem-solving abilities to equip them to manage several problems. Everybody can benefit from having an entrepreneurial mindset.

“The reason why many kids want to start a business is because they think it means wearing shorts and not wearing a tie, not having to work from nine to five, going on holiday whenever they want to. We teach them the essence of being an entrepreneur and one of the key aspects to being an entrepreneur is being able to handle your finances,” says Marilyn.

Marilyn says the feedback on the course from the students is very positive because the course is interactive and provides experiential methods of learning. “All the children have a chance to speak and engage and we have a lot of group activities which deepens their learning. The kids won’t learn the coursework by listening; they will learn by talking, by doing, and by discussing with their peers.”

The teachers who deliver the programme are highly qualified; they either have postgraduate degrees in business, or finance, or education, or multiple degrees in some cases. In addition to being qualified, they are trained to build relationships with the students because Marilyn believes that if the students don’t like the teacher, they won’t be interested in the course work. The teachers spend a lot of time in class, getting to know the kids and building a relationship of trust, so they love coming to class.