Georgia CPAs Take Financial Literacy Lessons to the Schools

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By Deanna C. White

They may not have to pay their own cell phone bill, work a part-time job, or even begin thinking about that hazy concept called retirement that their parents are always worrying about, but eighth grade students across the state of Georgia got a leg up on basic concepts of financial literacy during the Georgia Society of CPAs' (GSCPA) inaugural Financial Literacy Student Outreach initiative.

During the four-day outreach initiative, fifty-eight GSCPA members visited middle school classrooms where they taught basic financial literacy concepts, such as saving, investing, and budgeting, to more than 2,500 eighth-graders. The GSCPA initiative was created in conjunction with the Georgia Department of Education in an effort to jump-start the financial learning so desperately needed by American children today, said Walt Bryde, CPA, CGMA, chair of the GSCPA Financial Literacy Task Force

"The GSCPA members who participated in this program were all united in their desire to educate young Georgians about the importance of financial literacy", said Bryde. "The greatest thing we can do for the next generation is to educate them and prepare them for a financially sound future." 

Nikelle A. Klareich, manager of Foundation and Student Initiatives for GSCPA, said, "Financial literacy is important at any age, but we felt it was especially important for students to start learning about financial literacy when they are young, before they are responsible for making their own financial decisions. We want them to make smart choices and avoid so many of the mistakes we see all too commonly today; mistakes like credit card debt and not establishing savings."

The GSCPA curriculum offered a two-pronged approach: one presentation focused on saving and investing, while the other focused on budgeting. Teachers chose which curriculum CPAs would present to their classes. 

GSCPA members who focused on saving and investing discussed how to save money for future expenses like college tuition or buying a home, types of loans and investments, compound interest, and the perils of credit card debt.

GSCPA members who presented on budgeting discussed how to create a budget and pay for real-world expenses relatable to any eighth-grader, such as cell phones or clothing. They also underscored the importance of generating income to pay for those expenses. "We want students to understand that money is not 'just there.' They need to earn money before they can spend money", Klareich said.

Kameelah Chase, an award-winning business/technology education instructor at Sutton Middle School in Atlanta, Georgia, believes it is critical that formalized financial literacy education is part of every school's curriculum. "Teaching about financial literacy education can be a taboo topic. However, what the students learn early about spending and saving can stay with them for a lifetime", Chase said. "This generation is going to help rebuild and sustain our economy, and the implementation of financial literacy in the school curriculum is one of the best gifts that we can give to our students as educators."

Chase said her students were definitely engaged by the volunteers who presented, and particularly related to their use of concrete, real-world scenarios. Credit cards versus debit cards ranked as the hottest topic in her classroom. 

Volunteer presenter Cromwell Baun, CFA, CFP, CIMA, and member of the GSCPA Financial Literacy Task Force, agreed students were enthralled by discussions of different types of payment vehicles (i.e., cash, credit, and debit), especially when he walked them through an example of how compounding interest would impact an iPhone purchase. "It was an eye-opener for them to see how much more an item costs if they were to finance it", Braun said. "With technology changing rapidly, they realized that not only would the phone cost them more, but by the time they paid for it in full, the phone would be outdated. And no eighth-grader wants yesterday's technology!"

Chase's students themselves back the rave reviews, saying they especially enjoyed learning about money management from financial professionals. 

"The presentation was informative about the necessary life skills needed to save, budget, and invest", student Clara Hunter said. "Now, I understand how to save and manage my money without ever needing to borrow money or be in debt." 

Eighth-grader Harrison Newton touted the fact the lessons "came from real people who work in the financial industry." 

About the Georgia Society of CPAs: 

GSCPA is the premier professional organization for CPAs in the state of Georgia. With almost 14,000 members throughout the state, the purpose of GSCPA is to achieve excellence by providing superior advocacy, leadership, service, lifelong learning, and personal and professional development opportunities. For more information, visit the GSCPA website

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