Finance — It's Personal

Personal financial literacy is a life skill — to create and manage budgets, to understand credit and debit, to invest in education and training and to interpret the daily news. 
Primary Disciplines 
Download Classroom Worksheets (PDF) 

Creating and keeping a budget. Differentiating debit cards from credit cards. Making one’s way through the maze of mobile phone plans and features. Trying to live in your community on minimum wage. Each of these is an aspect of financial literacy found in this month’s curriculum guide.


Early introduction to personal finance can alter attitudes toward spending and saving, change the dialogue about education and training, and expand understanding of markets and pricing. All 50 states and D.C. have economics academic content standards and 19 states require schools offer a course in personal finance, according to the Council for Economic Education.


Activities suggested in this guide move from counting coins to reading advertisements for real-world prices. Students also read articles from many sections of the newspaper, debate economic decisions, and compose an article, PSA or commentary after reading works by Washington Post personal finance reporter Michelle Singletary and other reporters.


November 2015

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Develop Vocabulary
Economics, Media Arts, Personal Finance, Reading
Use In the Know terms and definitions to help students develop their financial literacy vocabulary. The terms that are included are found in The Post articles that are reprinted or linked to this month’s curriculum guide. Encourage students to use them during discussion and in their writing.


Count Your Coins
Mathematics, Personal Finance
Introduce young students to the different U.S. coins and how their denominations are indicated in writing. Give younger students One to 25 Percent. This activity asks students to identify, differentiate and add coins. It is assumed that students have been introduced to percentage.


Develop a Budget
Economics, Mathematics, Personal Finance 
Teachers might begin this activity by asking students if they received an allowance how they would use it. Buy items they need? Buy something they want? Save to buy a gift or go to an event? Save for college?

The KidsPost article, “Why money matters: Kids learn about finance in school” informs students about financial literacy activities in local schools. Give students the article to read and discuss ideas that are presented. How does the idea of having four labeled jars correspond to their ideas for using an allowance? (See illustration on introduction page to You Can Count on It source guide.)


Give students the Monthly Income and Expense Log. Depending on the age of your students, either use their actual expenses or project to an age in high school when they would have more of these expenses.
• You might use a different color to record the expenses that must be paid monthly.
• Do they pay for lunch out of their allowance or is it provided daily (by parents or school)?
• Discuss which expenses are not necessary or may be lowered. For example, does the student need a car? May the student be covered under parents’ auto insurance policy?
• Discuss the importance of giving gifts to friends and family. May expenses be reduced by making a gift or providing a service?
• Discuss the importance of developing the habit of saving. How much would $5/week total at the end of a year? If put in a savings account at an interest rate of .08% what is the annual total?

 Create a budget using the anticipated income and expected expenses. What will it take to have a balanced budget each month? How might meeting one’s budget influence short-term and long-term goals?

Distinguish Debit From Credit
Economics, Journalism, Mathematics, Personal Finance
This suggested activity focuses on features of credit and debit cards that impact financial planning. Give students the activity sheet, A Debit Card or a Credit Card? Teachers may wish to bring a speaker into the classroom for students to interview. By the end of this activity, students should know:
• Debit cards make it easier to maintain a budget. You can only access available funds.
• Using a debit card is more like paying by cash, but you should be sure that a business is not charging you to draw funds from your account.
• Unpaid monthly balances on a credit card are charged interest. If a balance goes unpaid for several months, that sale price will be no bargain.
• You should compare different sources of credit cards. Not all cards are alike.

Think About Financial Literacy
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Live on Minimum Wage?
Career Education, Debate, Economics, Government, Mathematics, Personal Finance
Teachers could use recent media coverage of minimum wage, hourly-wage workers and salaried government and private sector workers. Discuss the differences that exist and are to be expected.

Focus on minimum wage earners. Give students Living on the Minimum Wage. To answer question #2, teachers might provide students with a worksheet such as the one provided by American Consumer Credit Counseling. To answer question #4 in the activity, teachers might give students help by sharing the April 2015 BLS Reports, Characteristics of Minimum Wage Workers, 2014. This will also give students some experience in using federal reports for research.


Teachers could ask students to enter the debate: Propose a minimum wage that is fair for workers living in your community. This activity could be done in groups, with each being prepared to support its position.


Students could be asked to make a more complete list of their needs. After they have identified needs in relation to wages, ask them to determine how much they would need to make in order to afford their list of needs.


To extend the discussion to the relation of wages and education, ask students to read
• November 5, 2015: “Why working-class whites are dying.”
• November 9, 2015: “Federal salaries lag behind private sector by 35 percent on average, pay council says”


Discussion would include
• Is it realistic to think that a high-school diploma is sufficient to support a single person? To support a couple? To support a family of four?
• What benefits and drawbacks are there to an hourly-wage versus salaried job?
• Should salary be tied to the community, state or region in which one lives?
• What is the relation of personal fulfillment to providing for financial needs? 


Does Higher Education = Higher Pay?
Career Education, Economics, Mathematics, Personal Finance
What is the market value of a worker’s skills and knowledge? Teachers may also tie this suggested activity to the relationship between person’s human capital and income potential.


 After students have done some research about the cost of attending a junior college or college of their choice, use an online calculator to determine the amount and frequency of saving that will meet their monetary need. Practical Money Skills ( has a number of easy-to-use calculators for this activity and others.


Teachers might introduce students to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics. Discuss the difference between “median hourly wage,” “mean hourly wage” and “annual mean wage.” From this starting point, they can find the relation of the level of education to income in a number of other data collections. Also conduct an e-Replica search to locate any recent articles on the topic.


Receive College Spending Advice
Career Education, Mathematics, Personal Finance
Discuss with students the opportunities that exist to get college credit while in high school.  In addition to taking Advanced Placement classes, high school students in many schools are taking advantage of dual-enrollment courses. On October 30, the Obama administration announced a new funding source.


Read and discuss the Metro section article “College funding heads to high school.”

View the video prepared by The Post’s Business section: “How to save and spend money at college.”


 After discussing the video, read Michelle Singletary’s Get There online column, “Is your college freshman packing the best financial tools for the fall? Discussion could include
• If teachers have not covered using credit and debit cards or establishing a credit score, this article could be stimulus for that lesson.
• Do students think their parents will give them a credit or a debit card to use?
• Have students look up a course they may take at a college. Find out the reading list for that course; find the books online to confirm the cost of books, if bought new.
• What are the pro and con of accepting a student-loan refund?


Write an Essay
English, Journalism, Personal Finance
Big Mama was Michelle Singletary’s grandmother. Her lessons are shared in Singletary’s columns. Big Mama is also representative of grandmothers who are taking care of their grandchildren and other young relatives.


Read “Grandparents who are raising children need more support.” Give students In Praise of …, a discussion guide and assignment sheet. After answering the suggested questions, have students annotate the essay to find the elements that Singletary has included. If teachers wish, instead of writing an essay, students could follow the structure to write a broadcast commentary or PSA. 


Read About Money

Save Now For Retirement
Government, Mathematics, Personal Finance, Social Studies
In “Teaching kids about 401(k)s” Post reporter Moriah Balingit relates that in personal finance courses students “learn about applying for college loans and the cost of higher education, something that is imminent for many of them. And they will learn about various kinds of retirement accounts, something long on the horizon but that many experts believe is a vital topic that many people put off until too late.”


In addition to introducing students to Roth IRAs and 401(k)s, teachers may introduce the new myRA that the U.S. Department of the Treasury has begun to encourage workers to begin saving for their retirement. Read the November 8, 2015, The Color of Money column, “Baby steps to saving for retirement.”


Is It a Phone Want or a Phone Need?
Economics, Mathematics, Personal Finance
What is the difference between a want and a need? Obviously, a “need” is something you must have or require to survive. A “want” is something you would like to have, but is not necessary for survival. Brainstorm a list of needs and a list of wants with students. When does the price tag on an item move it from a need to a want? For example, shoes versus $300 designer shoes, a $3 hamburger versus a $15 hamburger.

Do students think a cell phone is a want or a need? Why or why not?


Students might be surprised to learn that 49 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have programs to provide free cell phones to low income residents. Since 1985, the FCC has provided Lifeline, a discount on phone service for qualifying Americans in every state, territory, commonwealth and on Tribal lands. Discuss with students why the government provides these funds.


Ask students to write a short statement about the need/want aspects of cell phone ownership. If a segment of your school community would qualify for the Lifeline program, your students may prepare a PSA or article for student media.


Make Comparisons to Make a Purchase
Mathematics, Media Literacy, Personal Finance
In this suggested activity, students will use their media literacy, mathematical and personal finance skills in making purchase decisions. Since the mobile phone is an ubiquitous presence in the lives of students, it is used to present the many choices revolving around selecting a cell phone and a service provider, the impact of advertising on decision making, and the role of need versus want in selecting the model and plan.


Give students Cell Phone — Plan or Pain? Teachers may wish to select a provider to illustrate the steps to follow and the chart. This may also be a group activity with each group given a different service provider. Students within each group will still need to wrestle with the different features that are offered.


Three advertisements for mobile phone providers are provided to illustrate the varying approaches taken. Students need to be reminded that advertisers have the goal of selling their products and service. They are not PSAs. After using these ads, students might be asked to find more recent advertisements for current offers.


Conduct an e-Replica Search
Government, Journalism, Media Literacy, Personal Finance
Information about mobile phones and credit/debit cards may be found in more than one section of The Washington Post in print and online. The e-Replica activity, Acts, Bills and Credit | Post Columnists Start the Search is organized by the different sections where information has been presented.


Teachers might create six groups, each with a different article; therefore, a different angle on the topic. Ask each group to read, discuss and summarize its assigned article. Were they surprised by the information? Angered by any actions? Desiring more information?


Information is provided to conduct research on legislation related to the credit and debit cards, consumer credit protection and access to finance.


Use a Government Study
Economics, Government, Journalism, Media Arts, Social Studies
Two Washington Post writers base articles on the same Federal Reserve Board working paper, “Finance and Economics Discussion Series: Credit Scores and Committed Relationships.” Skim the report to get a sense of the study. 


Read, discuss and compare and contrast the two works by Post writers:

• WONK BLOG: “The one number that’s eerily good at predicting your success in love

By Ana Swanson        October 6, 2015

• GET THERE: “Are you two compatible? Check your credit scores."

By Michelle Singletary           October 9, 2015

How do both writers include data from the study? Do they have different purposes? Do they emphasize different aspects of the study?


Michelle Singletary in “Grandparents who are raising children need more support” similarly uses information from studies to support her theme.


Select a government agency that relates to some area of life in your community. Explore its website for recent reports and studies. Use the document to provide data or other information to write a print, online or broadcast news report, a column, commentary or blog.

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In The Know 

 Account An arrangement by which an organization accepts a customer’s financial assets and holds them on behalf of the customer at his or her discretion 
Active Account Income for which services have been performed. This includes wages, tips, salaries, commissions and income from businesses in which there is material participation.
Budget An estimation of the revenue and expenses over a specified future period of time. A balanced budget is achieved when expected revenue equals expenses.
Checking Account

A transactional deposit account held at a financial institution that allows for withdrawals and deposits. They are liquid because withdrawals are easily done through automated cash machines and electronic debits, among other methods.


Credit Borrowing capacity; a contractual agreement in which a borrower receives something of value now and agrees to repay the lender at some date in the future, generally with interest
Credit History Record of a consumer’s ability to repay debts and demonstrated responsibility in repaying debts 
Credit Score

Device to help lenders determine extent of a person’s credit risk; the higher the score, the more likely the person will pay debts as promised. The score is based on past history of borrowing, repaying and defaulting on debt. 

Electronic Benefits Card

Electronic Benefits Transfer, or EBT, is a system that allows financial aid recipients to buy goods with their federal and state welfare funds. Established following the overhaul of the old physical food stamp system, EBT allows users to swipe magnetic stripe cards at participating retailers in a process that closely resembles PIN debit payments. 

Electronic Funds Transfer Act

Federal law that protects consumers engaged in the transfer of funds through electronic methods. This includes the use of debit cards, automated teller machines and automatic withdrawals from a bank account. The act also provides a means of correcting transaction errors and limits the liability from any losses due to a lost or stolen card.

Income Money that an individual or business receives in exchange for providing a good or service or through investing capital 
Passive Income Earnings an individual derives from a rental property, limited partnership or other enterprise in which he or she is not materially involved
Revenue Amount of money that a company actually receives during a specific period
Savings Part of income that people choose to set aside for future uses
Savings Account A deposit account at a bank or other financial institution that provides principal security and a modest interest rate 
District of Columbia Public Schools Academic Content Standards 

The District of Columbia has adopted the Common Core State Standards in reading and mathematics. In addition, DCPS has adopted new learning standards in arts, health and physical education, science, social studies, technology and world languages.




Academic Content Standards may be found at

Maryland Academic Content Standards 

Personal Financial Literacy: Make informed, financially responsible decisions — Students will apply financial literacy reasoning in order to make informed, financially responsible decisions. (Standard 1)
• Explain attitudes, assumptions and patterns of behavior regarding money, saving, investing and work and how they affect personal consumer decisions (1.5.B)

Identify factors that affect personal financial decisions and actions (1.5.B.1)

Explain philanthropy, volunteer service and charities (1.5.B.2)


Personal Financial Literacy: Apply financial knowledge, attitudes and skills.
• Develop and apply financial literacy vocabulary. (1.5.C.1)
• Describe different ways in which consumers plan their purchasing decisions. (1.5.C.2)
• Identify personal financial goals. (1.5.C.3)


Economics: The student will examine regulatory agencies and their social, economic, and political impact on a country, a region or on/within a state.


English: The student will comprehend and interpret a variety of print, non-print and electronic texts, and other media (ECLG Standard 1) The student will
• Predict the contributions of text features (e.g., sidebars, time lines, charts, subheadings, diagrams, illustrations, photographs) to the meaning of the text
• Predict the development of topics, ideas, events, and/or themes that might logically occur in the text (ECLG 1.1.1)


The Maryland Voluntary State Curriculum Content Standards can be found online at 

Virginia Academic Content Standards 

Economics and Personal Finance: The student will demonstrate knowledge of planning for living and leisure expenses by
a)  comparing the costs and benefits of purchasing vs. leasing a vehicle;
b)  comparing the advantages and disadvantages of renting vs. purchasing a home;
c)  describing the process of renting housing;
d)  describing the process of purchasing a home;
e)  calculating the cost of utilities, services, maintenance, and other housing expenses; and
f)  evaluating discretionary spending decisions. (EPF.11)


Economics and Personal Finance: The student will demonstrate knowledge of banking transactions by
c) evaluating services and related costs associated with personal banking;
e) preparing all forms necessary for opening and maintaining a checking and a savings account;
f) reconciling bank statements
g) comparing costs and benefits of online and traditional banking. (EPF.12)



Economics and Personal Finance: The student will demonstrate knowledge of personal financial planning by
a)     identifying short-term and long-term personal financial goals;
d) developing a personal budget
f) explaining how economics influences a personal financial plan. (EPF.17)


English: The student will apply knowledge of word origins, derivations, and figurative language to extend vocabulary development in authentic texts. (Reading 9.3)

 Virginia, U.S. History: The student will demonstrate economic, social, cultural and political developments in recent decades and today (VUS.15)


Academic Content Standards may be found at

Common Core Standards 

Mathematical Practice. Link classroom mathematics and statistics to everyday life, work and decision-making. Use appropriate tools strategically. (CCSS.Math.Practice.MP5)

• Model savings account balance, bacterial colony, or investment growth.
• Relate population statistics to individual predictions


English Language Arts/Informational Text. Analyze the interactions between individuals, events, and ideas in a text (e.g., how ideas influence individuals or events, or how individuals influence ideas or events. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.7.3)


English Language Arts/Reading Informational Text. Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how an author uses rhetoric to advance that point of view or purpose. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.6)


English Language Arts/Anchor Standards, Integration of Knowledge and Ideas. Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7)



Common Core standards may be found at



National Standards for Financial Literacy

Earning Income: Students will understand that income for most people is determined by the market value of their labor, paid as wages and salaries. People who increase their income and job opportunities by choosing to acquire more education, work experience, and job skills. The decision to undertake an activity that increases income or job opportunities is affected by the unexpected benefits and costs of such an activity. Income also is obtained from other sources such as interest, rents, capital gains, dividends and profits.


Saving: Saving is the part of income that people choose to set aside for future uses. People save for different reasons during the course of their lives. People make different choices about how they save and how much they save. Time, interest rates, and inflation affect the value of savings.


National Standards for Financial Literacy, Council for Economic Education