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Putting the Budget Last to Put Dreams First

Teacher: Dawanna Jones

School:   Memorial High School (Port Arthur, Texas)

Subjects:   Banking and Financial Services and Principles of Business Marketing and Finance

Grade Level:  10-12

State Financial Education Requirement:   A personal finance course is a requirement.

Years Teaching: 10

Why Personal Finance:  Dawanna says she didn’t grow up in a wealthy family so managing debt and building wealth became a desire of hers at an early age. Many of the financial mistakes people make happen because they don’t have the knowledge needed to make better choices. She wants her students to understand personal money management so that they can make the right financial choices when they are young so that when they are older they won’t have to worry as much about money. She also thinks that financial education should start as soon as they can talk; it’s a passion of hers to prepare her students for a better financial future.

Why Teaching:  The way Dawanna speaks about her students is reminiscent of a parent talking of her children. She says her students come to school looking for someone to show genuine concern for them and that she has even encountered students that believed no one loved them. She says people would be surprised by what some of her students have gone through. So, Dawanna says she may “not be able to help every kid in the world or even in Texas, but (she) knows those kids in (her) classroom know that (she) will teach them to the best of (her) ability. They will learn free from abuse. (She) wants the best for their future, and tries to give them all (she) can to help them have the life of their dreams.”

Resources:  Dawanna says she finds there are a lot of resources out there for business and finance and she pulls from multiple areas. Her favorites are from the National Endowment for Financial EducationFederal Reserve and Next Gen Personal Finance. She also attends conferences such as the National Educator Conference.

Her Story

One of Dawanna’s biggest projects is based on her philosophy on how life should work.

At the beginning of the semester, Dawanna has her students pick a career and research what it takes to get into that field. They then research the average starting pay – they basically, Dawanna says, research everything about the career. In addition, she won’t allow her students to take the top pay. She also won’t keep her students from any career they want to pursue – from astrophysics to zookeeper.

Then the class gets into taxes – she explains how federal income taxes work. Using the tax brackets she has her students estimate what they would pay in taxes based on the average starting salary for the career they choose.

As Dawanna said, now that her students know what they want to do with their life, they need to figure out how to achieve that dream, which involves more research. Her students look at what colleges and universities are best for their desired degree – not just where their family and friends have gone – and they estimate tuition costs. They also review the college’s history, and scholarships and degree plans.

Once the students have finished looking at colleges, they work on resumes and cover letters and conduct mock interviews.

Dawanna says once her students are “out of college,” the next step is “buying” a home, which means more research. She teaches them about credit. They learn the importance of building and maintaining good credit so they can purchase things like a home. Students learn about mortgages and interest rates. The students also get a “real-life” credit score based on the students’ behavior and grades. Those “credit scores” are then used to calculate the monthly payments on the home and vehicle that the students choose.

Next, the students move on to insurance – homeowners, renters, auto, life, medical and dental. To Dawanna, it is important to her that her students understand the importance and need for insurance, especially life insurance.

Dawanna says at this point they are near the end of the semester, but this is when they start the budget lesson – something she’s been criticized for. She’s been told that the students should do the budget lesson first before they make their home and auto purchases. However, by putting the budget lesson last, her students are able to apply a semester’s worth of research into their dreams and determine how they can achieve them.

After using their “salary” to pay their mortgage and auto loans, utilities, insurance, gas, groceries, cable, cell phone, clothing and other expenses, Dawanna said they quickly discover that dreams and reality don’t always mesh – sometimes compromises have to be made.

She says she “wants to show them what it takes to create their future.”
Dawanna also laughs – after putting their budgets together, her students will tell her they will get a cheap prepaid phone, or they won’t have internet and reallythey will only spend $20 on clothes and won’t hang out with friends.

Dawanna also says “when you think about it, most people, when they graduate, don’t start with a budget – most people make financial decisions in the moment and they don’t think long term – its why we have so many struggling with debt.”

By putting the budget last, she helps her students put their dreams and what it will take to reach them into perspective by thinking long term.