Financial Resources

Money $marts

DATE | 07/22/19
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Member Benefits supports financial education for all ages, so we’re helping high school students get a head start with a new game for the classroom. It’s never too early—or too late—to build your financial knowledge.

Money. It’s ubiquitous. At every turn we are either working to make it or spend it.

Like it or not, money plays a big role in everyone’s life story. How much of it we have or don’t have impacts where and how we live. But it’s not just the amount of money we garner that matters, it’s how we manage what we have—our financial decisions. And our decisions are tied to our financial knowledge.

Financial IQ=financial health

April is Financial Literacy Month and a good time to take an inventory of your financial knowledge and money management skills. Regardless of your age or circumstance or how fiscally savvy you think you are, there is always something new to learn about finances, especially in this ever changing world.

Plus, research shows a strong correlation between our financial IQ and our financial health. For instance, people with a high degree of financial literacy are more likely to plan for retirement—and those who plan for retirement have more than double the wealth of those who don’t. Conversely, people who have a lower degree of financial literacy tend to borrow more, accumulate less wealth, and pay more in fees related to financial products. They are less likely to invest, more likely to experience difficulty with debt, and less likely to know the terms of their mortgages and other loans.

Boosting your knowledge as an adult requires some time and effort, but Member Benefits is here to help. We provide financial seminars around the state, and we promote financial literacy every day in all that we do. We believe that having the information needed to make sound financial decisions can mean the difference between being in control of your money or being controlled by it. So whether members call us on the phone, meet with one of our consultants, or attend a seminar, our approach is always “educate first.” (See tips on how to Freshen Up Your Financial Knowledge.)

Improving financial literacy is why we developed our Don’t Be Jack™ learning game a few years back—it offers a fun and interactive way for Wisconsin educators to learn about financial concepts specific to them. Not only has it been popular, but it has also proved to be effective in changing financial behaviors. Because what good is knowledge if it isn’t applied?

A game with purpose

A 2014 study administered by the University of Wisconsin Center for Financial Security (CFS) found that Member Benefits’ Don’t Be Jack game positively impacted the financial behavior of those who played it. Don’t Be Jack participants were more likely to engage in a variety of positive financial behaviors than nonparticipants. For example, participants were more likely to have set a financial goal—which is one of the central precursors to behavior change—than nonparticipants. Players were also more likely to have estimated their retirement savings needs and to have met with a financial advisor in the past year. And lastly, they were much more likely to purchase an umbrella policy (additional liability insurance) to help protect their assets.

Don’t Be Jack was so well received that educators started requesting a student version. With the expert help of Erich Utrie (Jefferson Middle School) and Julie Woletz (UW-Whitewater), we now have the Don’t Be Jack™ High School Edition. The game content was written to meet the current Wisconsin Academic Standards for Personal Financial Literacy for Grades 9–12, and it’s available at no cost to Wisconsin public educators.

The high school game allows students to apply financial literacy concepts to real life situations and shows them how their decisions can affect their finances now and in the future. It’s also extremely flexible—teachers can modify game play to accommodate their classroom needs.

The student test run

Recently, the game was played with students at La Follette High School in Madison during an accounting class. The students worked as teams to build a budget that consisted of fixed expenses, like rent and student loans, and discretionary expenses, like entertainment, saving, insurance, and gym memberships. All teams had the same net monthly income to work with and the same fixed expenses with one exception—they needed to decide how much auto insurance coverage they should have and then apply the premium. The discussions around this budgeting process were interesting and collaborative.

After their budgets were set, game play began. Teams rolled the die to move around the electronic game board. Depending on where they landed, a card was drawn with a financial question or scenario. Correct answers advanced them along the board. Incorrect answers moved them back.

Special events were triggered throughout play. For instance, Round Three triggered a $60 per month pay raise which each team incorporated into their budget. Round Five is called Accidents Happen. Each team rolled a die, and the number they rolled represented something unexpected that had varying degrees of financial implications. The scenarios ranged from a hail storm to a catastrophic accident. Students seemed truly surprised at the impact these “accidents” could have on their finances now and into the future if they hadn’t made certain choices when first creating their budget.

Bringing the concepts home

While the typical board game is won by getting around the board before your opponents, the real winner of Don’t Be Jack is revealed when each team’s retirement savings contributions are reported and plugged into a compound interest calculator at This dynamic calculator showed what players’ savings decisions during the game could mean when they reached age 65. There was quite a spread in the results. One team hadn’t allocated any money to savings, leaving them with no personal savings at age 65, while another team saved enough to have over $1.1 million dollars at age 65.

The students appeared awestruck at the result of the calculation, just like adult players have done when they see the power of compounding. It was an impressionable exercise—and one they are not likely to soon forget.

Accessing the game for your classroom

If you are a Wisconsin public school educator interested in using Don’t Be Jack in your classroom, visit the Don’t Be Jack™ High School Edition page. Register and, once confirmed, you will be able to access all game materials including the teachers guide, game cards, electronic game board, student packet materials, and more. Once you’ve registered for the game, you’ll receive notification of any updates to materials or teaching aids. There is also a limited quantity of preprinted game kits available on a first come basis, so sign up soon.8

Of note: Wisconsin schools are in the midst of the their first full school year implementing components of Wisconsin Act 94 that require school districts to adopt academic standards for financial literacy and incorporate instruction into the curriculum for grades kindergarten through 12.

Why teach kids about money?

It’s never too early for parents to start teaching kids about money. In fact, research from the University of Michigan (UM) of 5–10 year olds (and their parents) seems to show that what you learn and the choices you make, even at the earliest age, may be indicators of your financial future. The 2018 study found that children as young as 5 had distinct emotional reactions to spending and saving that translated into real-life spending behavior.

UM researchers used a spendthrift-tightwad scale designed for children. The children were aligned to the scale based on their responses to questions about saving and spending. Children identified as tightwads had a stronger negative emotional response to spending than those who fell into the spendthrift category. Spendthrift children were far more likely than tightwads to spend money on an item—even if they didn’t love it. This proved out in real life when each child was given a dollar to either spend or save.

Interestingly, their attitudes toward spending or saving didn’t match that of their parents—who completed an adult version of the tightwad-spendthrift scale.

The results may be related in part to the fact that parents said they felt that children should start learning about money at age 12, which implies that there is little or no intentional home-schooling about money prior to that age. Considering this study indicated that early spending behavior might foreshadow financial decisions later in life, parents may want to consider teaching kids about money much earlier than previously thought.

Teaching children earlier, getting them involved in managing their money, and understanding the family finances may also allay some of the contradictions between parent and teen expectations about money uncovered by a Junior Achievement survey from 2018. For instance, there seemed to be a disconnect when it comes to paying for college. Forty-eight percent of teens think their parents will help pay for college, while only 16% of parents report plans to pay for tuition or other expenses.

There also appeared to be a misconception about how much financial knowledge parents are sharing with their teens—90% of parents say their children are learning from them, yet 34% of teens say their parents do not discuss money with them. In addition, parents of teens may be surprised to learn that only half of them cite becoming financially independent from parents as one of their future goals.

One explanation for why parents don’t actively teach their children about money may be that they lack confidence. The 2018 National Confidence Poll showed the Financial Confidence Index (FCI) at 57.8 on a 100-point scale, indicating that American money habits reflect low-to-moderate financial confidence. Just another reason to take some time to raise your financial literacy. It’ll be good for you—and your children.

8 tips for teaching kids about money

Teaching young children about money doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are 8 smart (and easy) ways to help introduce younger children to money.

Play games
Playing board games such as Monopoly® and Life® is an enjoyable way for kids to learn about money.

Take your child shopping
Make your next trip to the grocery store a fun learning activity. Let your child help you find items and track costs, and include them in the decision process when making selections.

Give an allowance
By grade school, kids are able to do chores around the house. This helps them learn responsibility and how to manage their own money.

Encourage saving and giving
Give your child three different savings containers—one for saving, one for spending, and one for donating to a charity. Decide together how to divide up the allowance between the three jars. Glass jars or clear containers give your child an easy view of their progress.

Take it to the bank
Take your child to the bank with money from their savings jar. Open an account and explain why putting money in the bank is a good idea.

Show them the value
Let your child take some money out of their spending jar to go shopping and help them understand what they can get with the amount they chose to bring. This also gives them hands-on experience with transactions.

Explain plastic
Younger children may think that money comes out of ATM machines or that you simply pay for things with a credit card. Help them understand how these actually work.

Set a good example
Children are like little sponges. They are watching and taking in everything—including how we adults handle money.