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Getting Students to Buy into the Importance of Personal Finance

Teacher:  Jeff Snyder

School:   Wayne Valley High School (Wayne, NJ)

Subjects:  Financial Literacy and Principles of Business

Grade Levels:  9th to 12th

Years Teaching:  12

Why Teaching: After being in the corporate world for 30 years, in 2007, when Jeff’s company was closing, his employees told him he “should get into teaching.” What they didn’t know is that the idea was in the back of his mind, but he wasn’t completely convinced. He thought, “what teen in his right mind would listen to me.” Famous “last” words. About the same time, his old high school coach called needing a new long-term sub, Jeff stepped up and stepped into his second career. But, truth be told, while all of these factors were in play, Jeff says his daughter Sherrilyn (pictured with him right) is the driving force behind his passion for being a teacher.

Jeff shared that in 2010 he felt like he wasn’t “making the impact in the classroom that (he) wanted” and thought about quitting, but Sherrilyn encouraged him to continue. She reminded him to keep striving and if he didn’t he would be filled with regret. Jeff said, “without her love and support, my career as a teacher would have been much shorter.”

Why Personal Finance:  With a business background, personal finance was a natural fit for Jeff. And, when New Jersey made financial literacy a graduation requirement, he was excited to teach what he considers a 21st century life skill class. Like many personal finance teachers, Jeff firmly believes it is a skill his students will use every day for the rest of their lives.

State Financial Education Requirement:  New Jersey has had a financial education requirement for years; however, in 2019, a new bill was passed that strengthened the law and expanded middle school requirements.

Resources: Jeff uses resources from Next Gen Personal Finance (NGPF), the Jump$tart Clearinghouse, MoneySKILL, Practical Money Skills, EverFi and case students from Columbia University. Additionally, he has attended the National Educator Conference.

His Story

Jeff says in the back of his mind every day is how can he get his students to buy into not only the importance of personal finance but that they can do it – even if they “suck” at math. Once they buy into it, he said they understand personal finance is a valuable life skill and are eager to learn.

One of Jeff’s key principles is the importance of budgeting. He tells his students that budgeting is the most important skill that will be critical for the next 30 to 40 years – and maybe even more so in retirement.

It’s on this belief that Jeff builds his class. One of Jeff’s (and his students’) favorite activities is Budgeting with Roommates. It’s a NGPF lesson, but he adds his own touches that give the lesson a real-world feeling.

The assignment puts students into a roommate scenario where they come up with a roommate agreement, find renters insurance, determine how to split the rent, and budget for food, utilities, etc. Once they’ve done that, Jeff throws his students a curveball and challenges them with scenarios such as a broken television set, roommates fighting and moving out – typically without paying their share of the rent or bills. With these scenarios, Jeff has his students redo their budgets and access what can be done to meet the new financial demands.

In another assignment, Gabby’s Budget, the class is asked to help a student who has gotten a $230 speeding ticket. The students’ job is to help her trim expenses so that she can at least cover the ticket. Jeff jokes that he requires his students to allow Gabby to eat that month – so the students have to trim expenses in other places.

While both lessons address cutting expenses to make up the difference, Jeff also focuses on saving for unexpected expenses like the ones he simulates in the budgeting lessons. Those assignments expand upon a pay yourself first he learned from his grandmother who encouraged him to save half of his allowance as a child. He says “it’s not what you make it’s what you keep that matters.”

For Jeff, he’s passionate about wanting his students to be prepared for real-life situations that come with a price tag – a broken cell phone, a speeding ticket, or an unexpected bill. He says by creating a rainy day fund in their budgeting exercises his students can weather any unexpected expense.

What’s most exciting for Jeff is that he knows his lessons are hitting home. Not only have his students “bought into” the importance of personal finance, but the students’ parents also are grateful the lessons are sinking in. Jeff said his students often take his lessons home and have conversations with their parents about savings, budgeting – and even taxes, which led one mom to share that Jeff made her daughter excited about taxes.

That must be a sign that his students “get it.”