Youth learn financial literacy outside the classroom

As schools across Ontario begin to roll out financial literacy curriculum this September, there are some students who have already had a head start on the topic.

The Student Leadership & Youth Empowerment (SLYE) Network is a Toronto-based non-profit that connects youth to different resources in their community. The organization runs a number of workshops on topics relevant to youth, such as employment, volunteering, and most recently, financial literacy.

Samantha Khalil, Project Coordinator at SLYE, was keen to introduce a financial literacy seminar. She had heard about Money Matters, a free financial literacy program offered by ABC Life Literacy Canada with support from founding sponsor TD Bank, through a colleague.

Khalil signed up to run all four sessions – Spending Plans, Banking Basics, Borrowing Money, and RESPs and Other Ways to Save – as one-hour online workshops over a four-week period.

Seventeen-year-old Jennifer* was quick to sign up for the program. As a recent high school graduate about to enter university, she thought that financial literacy would be a helpful skill as she embarked on an expensive four-year undergrad degree.

“I think that financial literacy is really important because I’m going into university and it’s a big investment,” says Jennifer, who will begin studying at York University in just a few weeks. “For people who don’t have parents helping them with tuition, it’s important to be able to budget for now and for the future. Money is a big part of our life, and a big cause of stress. I want to know how to manage my money so that I’m not always stressed about not having enough.”

Jennifer says financial literacy wasn’t taught in school but thinks it should be. She explained that teachers would make mention about savings accounts and other financial tools, but never provided enough information so that students felt like they knew they were making the right choices.

“It doesn’t take a lot of time to teach financial literacy – even just a few hours will provide a lot of helpful information. It’s so essential and it should definitely be taught in school.”

The majority of students that took part in the workshops were in high school, and the ages ranged from 13 to 24, making it a diverse group. But even if some of the concepts were beyond the levels of the younger participants, it was still beneficial.

“Youth still absorb a lot of information, even if they can’t implement anything they learned,” says Khalil. “It was interesting to see youth asking about how to open an account. It’s knowledge for their future.”

Khalil continued to explain that the workshops did a great job answering basic questions for first-time banking customers, and that other case studies went further in depth to speak to the older participants. She thought that the RESP and Other Ways to Saves workshop was especially valuable, as not a lot of people knew about the savings vehicles available to them. By knowing how they can save for their future faster, they’re now equipped with the knowledge and confidence to go into a bank and ask to open a RESP or a TFSA.

Jennifer was also a fan of the savings workshop, as well as the one on borrowing.

“Eventually one day I want to buy a house, so knowing what loans and options are available to me is good. In the media, they always say borrowing money is bad, so it was important to realize that borrowing money isn’t always bad, especially if you’re borrowing in order to buy something like a house. It’s a good investment,” she says.

The workshop series was facilitated by a TD Bank volunteer, something which Khalil found very valuable as a project coordinator. Anyone who runs the Money Matters program has the option to bring in a TD volunteer to help facilitate.

“The TD Bank volunteer tutor was very knowledgeable and helpful. It added great value by having someone who knows about these things inside and out. They were so accommodating and easy to work with,” said Khalil.

Jennifer echoed the same sentiments.

“It was so great having a TD rep there because we were able to ask a knowledgeable professional a lot of questions. Before, I had asked my bank when I could get a credit card, and their answer was very vague. Now, having this knowledge helps my confidence in going in and asking for what I need.”

Jennifer recommends the program to other youth, particularly those who don’t have someone at home to talk to about money. As a first-generation Canadian and child of Chinese immigrants, Jennifer says she rarely spoke about money at home.

“For my parents, English isn’t their strength, so I didn’t have the opportunity to learn about financial literacy from them. I always had to learn on my own.”

Thanks to the program, Jennifer is now able to help her parents with their finances. She says that since the program ended, she’s started asking her parents about their savings accounts and whether or not they’re getting a good enough interest rate.

The business major is hoping to get into the consulting field and has some advice for her fellow teens when it comes to personal finance.

“Talk to older people that know about this topic,” she says. “While it might seem daunting to ask people about money, you shouldn’t feel bad about asking simple questions. By asking them why they made their own financial decisions, you’ll become more confident in making your own decisions.”

Money Matters is a free financial literacy program available to community organizations across Canada. To learn more or to book a workshop, visit www.abcmoneymatters.ca.

*not her real name