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Money $ense for Students

Monday, November 2, 2015 - 09:00
Students with Teacher

How financial literacy promotes health & well-being

When it comes to managing money, making good decisions doesn’t always come naturally—especially in a society where opportunities for instant gratification abound, and purchases can be made with the click of a mouse or the swipe of a credit card.

In fact, by the end of this year, it has been projected that the average Canadian consumer’s total non-mortgage debt will hit an all-time high of $28,853. When you couple Canadians’ tendency to carry debt with

increased living costs, it’s clear to see that teaching students to become financially literate should be a priority. This is especially evident when we take into consideration that personal finances are closely linked to overall health and well-being.

What does money have to do with health?

While it may be true that money can’t buy you happiness (or good health), knowing how to manage money can help people lead healthy, productive lives and steer clear of a number of high-risk behaviours related to stress and a lack of self-care.

We know that many factors contribute to healthy living. These include eating well; daily physical activity; managing stress; and avoiding cigarettes, drug use and the overconsumption of alcohol. However, equally important to our health are factors like having enough money to buy healthy food and other necessities; education, housing, supportive family and friends, and a safe community. These factors are sometimes collectively referred to as ‘the social determinants of health.’

And while some things that affect our health cannot be changed (for example, our genetic background), the social determinants of health arise from the interaction between a person and the society they live in and can be altered if, as a society, we are willing to take action. One key way we can work to create more equal access to the conditions that lead to better health is to teach financial literacy in Ontario schools.

Defining financial literacy?

Financial literacy is defined as having the knowledge and skills needed to make responsible economic and financial decisions with competence and confidence. Regardless of backgrounds, individuals who have a solid understanding of financial basics are more likely to be able to navigate today’s complex financial world.

“If you’re talking about primary students,” says Moyah Walker, a special education resource teacher at Burrows Hall Jr. P.S. in Scarborough, “financial literacy means understanding what money is—its purpose and value. We talk about understanding the difference between needs and wants and how, if we need something, we have to develop a plan to get it.”

“We also look at the world of advertising,” adds her colleague, Carmen Oliveira, a grade 5–6 teacher at the same school. “What’s being sold, who is trying to sell it to them, how the commercial makes them feel... whether that’s a healthy thing or not.” According to the Ontario Ministry of Education, these types of lessons should begin in grade four .

Moving into the secondary grades, lessons around finances evolve to include planning for future events such as looking for a job, saving for university or making major purchases like cars or electronics. “We don’t just look at the present,” says Oliveira, “but also how one decision in the present can impact the future.”

This includes important discussions about credit cards and online banking/purchasing. “The transition from secondary education to tertiary education is a challenging time for most students and it is most often the time in which students begin to establish their credit history,” says Walker. “Learning how to use a credit card properly prior to this transition will equip students with the skills needed to make smart decisions in regards to credit card usage. If not, they will undoubtedly experience the anxiety, stresses and depression associated with being financially irresponsible.”

Financial Literacy is linked to the living skills.

While there are obvious ties between financial literacy and subject areas like math, social studies and even the language curriculum (through explorations of the media), the topic is also closely linked to the living skills taught through the Health and Physical Education (H&PE) curriculum.

The learning expectations in the H&PE curriculum are organized into three distinct but related strands–Active Living, Movement Competence and Healthy Living. A further set of expectations is then linked to all three strands. These are the “living skills”—the personal, interpersonal, and critical and creative thinking skills that help students learn to set goals, solve problems and consider how their actions affect others.

Not only can educators link lessons on financial literacy to setting personal goals (like saving and budgeting), they can also discuss how people who make better financial decisions tend to have less stress, essentially decreasing risk of various health conditions. “Teaching financial literacy also leads to more knowledgeable and compassionate citizens,” Oliveira points out. “For example, we look at things like where products come from, how they’re made and how that makes an impact on the other side of the world. I teach students that every time they use money they’re voting... on the type of food they’ll have access to, on how the products are made....”

When teaching financial literacy, look for resources that can help you reach all students.

“Almost 50 per cent of Canadians struggle with financial tasks—which is alarming since it should be considered a foundation towards setting the stage for Canada’s ability to compete in the global economy,” says Valérie Picher, Director of Community Relations for TD Bank Group. If you count yourself among the 50% who struggle with finances, the task of teaching students to become financially literate may feel daunting.

What’s more, even for an educator who feels confident managing money, teaching financial literacy can still have its challenges. Programs that teach financial education need to be sensitive to the diverse socio-economic and cultural backgrounds of students and should also involve differentiated instructional strategies to meet the learning needs of diverse students.

Thankfully, inclusive resources are available to educators if they just know where to look. Trusted resources include the financial literacy section on the Ministry of Education’s EduGains website and Inspire Financial Literacy (a site produced by the Ontario Teachers' Federation that is aimed at educators and includes lessons, videos, interactive games, assessment tools and quizzes).

Ophea also has Wallet Wellness—a free, bilingual resource that connects financial literacy to the Grade 4–8 H&PE curriculum. Wallet Wellness has just released new videos to support students and educators. Four student conversation starter videos allow students to explore practical situations where students use critical thinking skills to make financial choices and decisions that affect overall well-being. Three new professional learning videos provide educators with further knowledge and linkages between financial literacy and the elementary H&PE curriculum. The videos are a valuable addition to the easy-to-use activity cards, and Facilitator’s Guide, which focus on specific financial literacy concepts and skills connected to Healthy Living topics, including: healthy eating and substance use, abuse and related behaviours. The resource builds upon the research presented in the Ontario Working Group on Financial Literacy’s document A Sound Investment: Financial Literacy Education in Ontario Schools, 2010.

“We believe that this resource is a significant step forward in providing children and youth with a strong understanding of financial basics in order to successfully navigate today’s complex financial world,” says Chris Markham, Executive Director and CEO, Ophea. “The resource also addresses overall expectations from the H&PE Curriculum that include students making connections to health and well-being, and also learning how their choices and behaviours affect their own and others’ health and well-being.”

Financially-savvy students can build stronger families, stronger communities and a stronger Ontario.

“When I was an adolescent, my father gave me an allowance of a $100 for the month to take care of all my expenses apart from shelter and food,” recalls Walker. “He also expected me to put aside $20 in savings. I thought I was golden... but when it was done, it was done. The first month, I went on a youthful shopping spree and I'd forgotten to purchase my bus tickets. I had to walk to school for the rest of the month. I learned fast.”

As adults, we sometimes falsely believe that it’s kinder to shield children from financial realities and the consequences of failing to budget properly; however, these kinds of conversations and experiences are not only appropriate—they’re essential if we want to help students learn to manage their money, lead healthy lives and grow into responsible contributing members of society.

“Maya Angelou once said ‘When you know better, you do better.’ I often share that quote with my students,” says Oliveira. “When you know how to make good financial decisions, it impacts your well-being in the short and long-term.” In the short-term, students learn the benefits of planning, budgeting and saving. In the long-term, it empowers them to become citizens who have the resources they need to take care of their bodies, minds and relationships—something which, over time, will contribute to the strength of our society as a whole.

 “We want to inspire young people to own their futures, to achieve financial independence and to be comfortable with financial literacy throughout their lives,” concludes Picher. 

What’s the best way to achieve this goal, as educators?  First (if we aren’t already) we must get comfortable with the fundamentals of finance ourselves. Then we need to start having honest, fact-filled conversations about money with our students, teaching them how to prepare and plan for bright (and healthy) financial futures.

[ii] The Ontario Working Group on Financial Literacy, 2010