RACINE — Lilie Larson, 11, has noticed a change in her spending habits lately, particularly in that she’s less inclined to spend her money on a whim.
Instead, she’s been saving her money for future expenses, like souvenirs during her upcoming vacation to Florida — something she’s started since she and her classmates at St. Lucy’s School, 3035 Drexel Ave., began learning about financial literacy in school through a computer program called Banzai.
“I like it a lot because I want to do this kind of stuff when I grow up and I want to learn how to do it now so it’s easier,” Lilie said. “I like the fact that we’re learning real-world stuff now, so it’s not harder to learn and we have to learn it by ourselves when we’re older.”
She is one of about 90 middle school students at St. Lucy’s who are learning the basics of how to manage personal finances and a budget through the Educators Credit Union-sponsored program, according to Dave Cattoi, school technology coordinator.
“The value of it to them is that they’re learning that they can plan a budget, they can stick to a budget, and if they have to break their budget, they know how to manipulate (it),” he explained. “I’ve had parents tell me this is great to get these guys to do this, because now some of them do get an allowance and they know what to do with the allowance — they don’t run right to the mall.”
Banzai is a software program designed specifically to introduce children to financial dilemmas they will run into as adults and show them how manage their personal finances through this dilemma, according to an email from the company.
Educators Credit Union has been sponsoring the program in local schools in southeastern Wisconsin as a way to bolster members and the member-owned institution, explained Victor Frasher, high school branch program manager for Educators Credit Union.
“One of the things that we really find is that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” he said. “During the Great Recession, we really are finding that people are coming out of their high school education with not really a firm understanding of just the basic concepts of finance … If our members are financially safe and savvy, it just bodes that our financial institution is going to do better.”
A popular program
He said Educators Credit Union has received 192 orders for the program from teachers since December, reaching nearly 9,000 students.
That includes Case High School, 7345 Washington Ave., where the program has helped students connect personal finance to their everyday lives, explained teacher Keith Wartzenluft, who asserted that a financial literacy course should be a graduation requirement.
“Unfortunately, many of our families in Racine have seen hardship due to cutbacks at work, or the effects of poor planning/budgeting of money,” he said in an email. “If we can reach these students while they are in high school we may have a chance to save their financial future.”
At St. Lucy’s, sixth-grade students described how the program puts them through various financial scenarios and coaches them on which bank accounts to use to pay for routine expenses like rent and unforeseen events like car accidents.
“It just prepares me for the future and makes me feel more comfortable for the future,” said Charlie May, 12.
“You always hear people talking about how they don’t teach you life skills in high school and stuff, so it’s kind of fun to prepare yourself for like how much things might cost or what you should do with your money,” explained Nicola Duffy, 12.
Cattoi said his students are already showing signs that they are saving money and spending it more wisely in middle school, but he noted that the real benefits will come as students go into high school and life as adults.
“If they handle their money better, they’re going to do a lot better in school and a lot better in life,” he said.