LifeSmarts alum a good reminder of need for financial literacy – National Consumers League

By Brandi Williams, LifeSmarts Program Assistant

On October 7, the National Consumers League held our 2010 Trumpeter Awards in Washington, DC, honoring Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, Kenneth Feinberg and Jean Ann Fox. Amongst these notables was LifeSmarts alum Tony Aronica of Washington state, who was invited by NCL to speak to the audience about how his experience in LifeSmarts helped prepare him for life after high school. Check out the LifeSmarts Facebook page for photos.

Tony’s remarks served as yet another reminder to me of the importance of consumer education and personal financial literacy for young adults. Personal finance is one of the core topics we cover in LifeSmarts, and it was exciting to hear from a past participant that those lessons had an impact on his future decisions. While policymakers and religious leaders debate topics like sex education and school prayer in the public arena, more and more young people are entering the realm of adulthood ill-equipped to deal with realities like understanding financial terms, choosing credit cards, workplace safety, and setting financial goals, because these topics aren’t flashy enough for public debate. In the meantime, parents making poor financial decisions continue to pass on bad habits to their children.

“Learning to be a steward of one’s personal finances, setting personal goals and preparing steps to achieve established goals is not intuitive, but a collection of learned skills,” Tony said passionately, receiving nods and murmurs of agreement from the audience as he summed up the necessity for programs like LifeSmarts that teach kids to be smart consumers able to advocate for themselves in the marketplace.

And he’s right.  Personal financial literacy is important for people of all ages, especially the 13 to 19-year-olds who are estimated to spend $200 billion annually. According to the National Council on Economic Education, in 2009 only 13 states required students to take a personal finance course in order to graduate.

This is why programs like LifeSmarts are so important to young people in helping to bridge the gap between economics lessons in class and making personal financial choices outside of the classroom. “Combining consumer awareness tips, household budgeting, personal fitness and nutritional information within a competitive team format meant that we were receiving knowledge that was largely unavailable in a standard academic experience,” Tony told the Trumpeter audience, adding “we were absorbing it in a way that was extremely helpful.”

It is so exciting to have the opportunity to interact with the young people who have benefitted from LifeSmarts.  And when I do, it is truly a pleasure. These young people are so enthusiastic, excited, and eager to soak up what LifeSmarts is teaching them, to master the skills to think independently and interact with the marketplace as informed consumers able to advocate for themselves and others.

When I have the chance to visit state LifeSmarts competitions in the winter, the comment I hear most often from adults is: “I wish this program was around when I was a kid.”

Well, it’s here now for our kids.