Friday, February 25, 2011

CGA Alberta Invests in Financial Literacy maybe it's not a huge surprise that accountants care about kids and money, but there's a big difference between caring about the financial literacy of high school students and taking action to improve it! The Certified General Accountants of Alberta have done just that by launching a brand new campaign this month called My Money $ My Future.

The goal of the campaign is to improve high school students' ability to manage their finances. Their initial focus is on grade twelve students in public and Catholic schools in Calgary and Edmonton. But, if all goes well, according to Jeff O'Rourke (CGA and My Money My Future task force member) this is only the beginning. Down the road there will be more resources made available that will reach students of different ages. That said, here is a quick summary of the resources that are available today.

My Money $ My Future Resources
Student Handbook. The Financial Literacy Student Handbook is 43 pages of straight financial talk aimed at teens who are on the verge of making financial decisions that could have hefty implications if not made wisely.

After a brief introduction to goal setting and the consequences of accumulating too much debt early in life, the book covers the following topics: budgeting, wealth building through saving, earning extra money and spending less, the cost of moving out, debt management, and paying for higher education. The print copy is available to teachers and school boards across Canada at $10 per copy. The book is also available in a web edition.

Online. Further reading and resources that cover the same topics as the handbook are available at the My Money $ My Future web site. There is also a Facebook page which you can find on the left side of the landing page of the main web site.

Guest Speakers. For Alberta schools, there is a team of CGA speakers available to do school visits and talk about the topics in the handbook. Contact information for bookings is provided at the end of this article.

My Money, My Future (My Economy)
When I spoke with Jeff O'Rourke about the outcomes that his organization is hoping for, he replied that helping students make informed decisions about their future and manage their debt can have a stabilizing effect on Canada's economy. I agree. I have often wondered if the financial crisis may have played out differently if the average person managed their lives from a higher level of financial literacy. And though higher financial literacy levels may not have prevented the 2008 crash, we may have gone into it with an even stronger Canadian economy.

We went on to talk about the impact that low financial literacy can have on young people as they set out to build their lives from scratch. Jeff, a former student finance manager who has seen first-hand the terrible financial situation that many university students get themselves into, said that sometimes a poorly managed student loan can mean that a graduate's dream of owning a home will be deferred for many years.

Another pitfall for students is credit. Credit card companies are famous for setting up booths in student union buildings. More than once, Jeff has seen students get their card and head to pub to treat their friends to an expensive night out only to realize later that the interest rate on that balance can be well over 20%. As he said, "It takes two seconds to spend but years to pay back."

I closed the interview by asking Jeff my now famous O'Leary question: What three things do you think we should teach Canadian kids about money? Here are Jeff's answers:
  1. Control your money. Don't let it control you.
  2. It takes a second to spend but years to pay back.
  3. It's not how much you make that matters; it's how much you spend.
For more information about the My Money $ My Future campaign or the CGA of Alberta or to order copies of the student handbook or book a speaker, please contact Magdalena Matracki at

Copyright 2011. Laura Thomas. All Rights Reserved.
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  1. One quick and simple tool that I have learned (and teach) is to take a small notebook and write down every penny you spend for the month.
    Do not pre-think every expenditure, just do what you normally do.
    This works for adults as well.
    Now carefully review your spending to determine where your money is going.
    It is almost guaranteed that you will be amazed at what you find.
    That $4.00 cup of coffee is one thing but daily it is a $120.
    Not packing a lunch for school or work and popping in to the local junk food establishment for a quick $5.00 "meal" may work for some but equates to $100.00 per month.

    Creating a budget works if you have a clue what you plan to spend money on and are very resolve in your decision.

    There is some great info in the handbook.

    The basic concept we need to (re)learn is to not spend more than we earn.

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