Teens can take financial knowledge a long way - Catholic Courier
Sophomore Ellen Walsh (left) uses play money during a lesson in Mary Cannon's personal-finance class at Our Lady of Mercy High School Feb. 23. Cannon teaches decision-making, budgeting, banking and how to build a strong credit score. Sophomore Ellen Walsh (left) uses play money during a lesson in Mary Cannon's personal-finance class at Our Lady of Mercy High School Feb. 23. Cannon teaches decision-making, budgeting, banking and how to build a strong credit score.

Teens can take financial knowledge a long way

Mary Cannon believes that a little financial knowledge can go a long way, especially when that knowledge is acquired in high school.

Cannon, head of the business department at Brighton’s Mercy High school, has developed a personal-finance class that teaches such skills as decision-making, budgeting, banking and building a strong credit score. During the 2009-10 school year, more than 60 students elected to take the class, making it one of Mercy’s most popular offerings.

"Students have told me that they want to take the class because it’s so highly relevant to their lives. They walk away with tools that are directly applicable (to their lives)," Cannon said.

She observed that students aren’t the only ones benefitting from the knowledge they gain, however..

"Parents send me e-mails saying, ‘Thanks so much, Jenna told us (something she learned in class), and we weren’t aware," she said. "The students don’t just keep the information for themselves; they share it with friends and family."

Such multigenerational interest in honing financial skills illustrates a point made by Kari Smoker, program chair of Women Helping Girls, a program that helps Rochester City School District girls in grades 7-12 develop life skills. Smoker noted that economic problems are not limited to teens only.

"There is an epidemic, a chronic problem, of people (of all ages) living above their means," she observed. "Teens and college students often measure their wealth by what they have, when really wealth is what you have minus what you owe. Sometimes we think someone is rich because they have a Rolex or a nice car, but what we don’t know is that they might have $20,000 in credit card debt."

Alison LeChase, youth minister at Rochester’s Peace of Christ Parish, said that from her personal experience as a wage-earning youth she knows it’s a good thing for teens to learn financial skills as early as possible. That’s why she recently provided the young people of her parish an opportunity to learn ways to stave off financial woes now and in the future.

LeChase recently arranged for Judge John Ninfo, a Rochester bankruptcy judge and founder of the national Credit Abuse Resistance Education program, to speak to the parish’s youth group. During his presentation, Ninfo underscored the value of learning credit skills in high school, and offered advice about budgeting, credit and saving.

"If you have a better understanding of how (finances) will affect you, you take more time to make the right choices," LeChase observed.

And making wise financial choices not only affects the teens themselves but also the larger community, according to a 2007 U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops statement directed specifically to teens.

In "Stewardship and Teenagers: The Challenge of Being a Disciple," the bishops noted that everything teens have is from God and is meant to share, and encouraged teens to practice stewardship and to share their time, talents and treasure.

"Being a disciple means sharing without counting the cost. Being a disciple means sharing even when we least feel like it, when we least can afford to do it," according to the statement. "Part of your allowance or paycheck can help your parish provide more services for its community. Decide to give a certain percentage of money at your parish each week. As you live with this decision, you will grow into a lifelong habit of generosity."

Finance courses can help teens learn about such morality-based spending, Cannon pointed out. At Mercy, for example, each student is given a hypothetical $100,000 and a card indicating many different ways the money can be spent.

"At Mercy, high values are placed on service, and on caring for others. Students see that (through budgeting) they can make decisions based on personal values," Cannon said. "We give the students the information, and then let them make their own choices. (With this course), students are better prepared to make decisions over the next five to 10 years."

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