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An innovative peer teaching financial education program for kids

The Issue: How to develop a scalable peer teaching financial literacy program that’s fun and easy enough for kids to teach other kids.
Who: Amanda Christensen is an Extension Assistant Professor with Utah State University and a 4-H & Youth Programs Educator with Morgan County Extension.
utah state - peer teaching financial educationWhat: Christensen, Dave Francis, Zuri Garcia and Stacey MacArthur, Associate Professors at Utah State University Extension, created the Utah 4-H & Fidelity Investments Money Mentors Program, a unique peer-to-peer financial education curriculum for high school and junior high school students. The peer teaching project won the Fidelity Investments Financial Education Grant Challenge. The financial education challenge sought “innovative and engaging ideas that improve the financial literacy of high school students in low-income areas and that utilize Fidelity’s employee volunteers and financial knowledge.” Utah 4-H’s winning idea was selected from 73 entries submitted from 30 states. The program draws on 4-H’s “Teens Reaching Youth” model.

  • Seeking a model that scales easily, the financial education program relies on a train-the-trainer and peer education model.
  • “We train Fidelity volunteers on the curriculum. The Fidelity volunteers teach high-school-aged kids on the curriculum. And then the high school kids turn around and go back to their counties throughout the state and teach middle-school-aged kids. So it’s train-the-trainer to the ultimate degree,” says Christensen.
  • As a result, the peer teaching curriculum has to be simple and engaging. “Somebody who knows nothing about financial literacy education can teach it,” says Christensen.
  • In the first stage of the peer teaching program, a few dozen high school students were drawn from across the state and then trained by Fidelity Investments employees.
    • The training for the students happens during one weekend. Students get one day of training on how to teach (classroom management, etc.) and one day of training on the Money Mentors Curriculum.
    • High school students who are selected for the program do not need any prior financial knowledge or expertise.
    • The financial training is six lessons. The first lesson uses Money Habitudes cards.
    • The succeeding 1-hour lessons include: Creating a Spending Blueprint, Saving and sharing (philanthropy), Credit, Investing, and Investing in Yourself (human capital). Although designed to be taught as a series, each lesson can be taught as a standalone class too.
  • “We do Money Habitudes right off the bat. As a financial educator, I think it’s something that people need to address and be aware of before they ever start talking about investing or wise use of credit or creating a spending plan. They’ve got to know where they’re coming from and what their foundation is. So that’s the first lesson,” says Christensen.
    • The Money Habitudes lesson takes 20-30 minutes.
    • Using the Money Habitudes cards helps students understand their financial habits and attitudes but it also sets a fun, hands-on tone for the rest of the class and opens up dialogue about money in an easy way.
    • Before sorting the cards, students fill out a brief money values worksheet. After the activity they get a fake $100 bill and then label how they’d spend the money (perhaps breaking it up into $50, $30 and $20 sub-sections) based on their Money Habitudes.
  • Once trained, teens return to their communities with a mandate to then train at least 15 younger students on the 6-hour program over the next year. This may be in schools, camps or after-school programs like 4-H. High school students receive awards for reaching more kids.
  • High school students teach in a “TRY Team.” (TRY stands for “Teens Reaching Youth.”) Each team is made up of 2-4 teens and their adult coach. The coach is usually a local 4-H educator or teacher.
  • The goal of the peer teaching program is to easily multiply the number of instances of financial education as one team of high school students will teach dozens of other students. And, as younger students are taught finances, the older students continuously learn the material by teaching it, a common 4-H practice.

“Money Habitudes is the first actual activity in the first lesson. It’s an individual thing – each kid does it on their own – but we come together at the end of that activity and you have some automatic talking points. It’s the first day of the first lesson. Kids don’t know each other well, plus we’re talking about the difficult topic of money – and who knows what their financial situation is – but Money Habitudes gives them a comfortable foundation and puts them on even ground so they can talk about money. It gives them common ground,” says Christensen.