Program Teaches Students Financial Lessons

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By Deanna C. White

Students in nearly 500 fifth and sixth grade classrooms across Ohio turned an imaginary trip to the dog park into an important lesson in financial education this fall when they played a round of the popular financial literacy board game FETCH!® sponsored by the Ohio Society of CPAs (OSCPA) and the Ohio CPA Foundation.

FETCH!, which stands for Financial Education Teaches Children Healthy Habits®, now in its third year, teaches students how to budget and spend wisely, avoid debt, and save for a rainy day to ensure a healthy financial future. 

The program is presented to students by Ohio CPAs and other volunteers. 

The board game FETCH! revolves around an imaginary dog park where teams of students take their new imaginary best friends. The students are then charged with determining how to meet the financial responsibilities associated with being a good pet owner. 

OSCPA volunteer Linda Zevnik, CPA, and her colleagues at Howard, Wershbale & Co. in Beachwood, Ohio, presented the game to fifth graders at Kenston Intermediate School in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. Zevnik said students had to account for the expenses of everyday pet ownership, like food, a leash, a collar, and dog bones. They also had to pay for grooming, vaccinations, and the unexpected, such as an emergency trip to the vet or the aftermath of a "skunk encounter."

Students earned money to buy pet essentials by teaching their pooches new tricks, passing obedience school, or hitting it big in a pet photo contest. They then honed their financial acumen as they tracked their expenses and earnings on a savings account register.

At the end of the game, Zevnik said, the team with all the required dog supplies and the most money in their savings account won the game and was declared "Top Dog." 

Kenston fifth grade teacher Stephanie Olup said FETCH!, and the lessons modeled by Zevnik and her colleagues, provided a concrete, child-friendly vehicle for students to begin learning about essential financial skills, such as balancing a checkbook, keeping a budget, and saving for emergencies.

They're skills, Olup believes, both educators and parents need to teach their children – especially in today's economy where personal debt is skyrocketing and the national debt continues to escalate.  

"Quite honestly, when we look at our world today, we can see how our money management skills have (disintegrated) over the years", Olup said. "This program teaches children to understand the importance of money, budgeting, and saving. It teaches them you can't live in a world of credit. It helps them realize 'I have to earn my own money to purchase the items I need.'"

Recent research backs her theory. 

According to OSCPA, in a survey released in 2012 by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, 56 percent of adults admit they don't have a budget. In addition, 39 percent carry credit card debt from month to month, and two in five say they're saving less than they were a year ago. 

In addition, according to OSCPA, a recent US survey commissioned by the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) found the majority of parents don't engage their children in significant conversations about money. Only 13 percent of parents have daily talks about finance with their children, while three in ten parents never or rarely talk to their children about finances.  

Zevnik said she hopes programs like FETCH! help remedy that oversight by serving as a springboard for financial discussions within the family.

"I can't imagine that a child wouldn't come home and talk about what they did in school that day after they've played a game like FETCH! . . . even if it's just a conversation in the grocery store", Zevnik said. "In one sense it's just a game and it's fun, but it also makes finance an everyday reality for children. Programs like this give parents a jump start on financial conversations and give the children a head start on understanding money and the importance of planning for the future."

FETCH! was created by OSCPA and its charitable affiliate, Ohio CPA Foundation, with guidance from elementary teachers and a curriculum developer. It includes a testing component to determine if students have gained a basic understanding of financial terms.

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