Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

New finance program builds money skills in young students

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Your usual three little pigs, they're not.

Although most folks are familiar with the fairy tale, a few dozen elementary school students recently learned about a different trio of piglets.

Piggie$ Three is a reworking of the popular fable, which is part of a pilot program offered by Community Financial Counselling Services (CFCS).

The Winnipeg not-for-profit, no-fee agency helps individuals deal with financial problems and as part of Financial Literacy Month in November, one of its financial counsellors gave a series of presentations to students at Calvin Christian School's elementary campus.

The counsellor, Sally Massey-Wiebe, says the pilot program -- titled The Pig Tale$ Project -- is inspired by a financial literacy reading program that started in Atlantic Canada last year, in which children read a story called My Rows and Piles of Coins.

The story is about a boy in Africa who earns money helping his mother at the market so he can buy a bike.

Massey-Wiebe says she saw a need in Manitoba to promote financial literacy at an early age, too. But she wanted to take the concept further, developing her own rendition of the traditional story about hog homebuilders.

"My theory is that building on a known story about the Three Little Pigs with a very simple lesson might resonate in a way that could be part of their financial flashpoints that can be developed early on, yet they can carry that learning forward throughout their lives."

Instead of building homes, each piggy represents an aspect of basic financial management. One pig saves money, the other one gives money away and the last one likes to spend. But the spender is no impulse buyer. To quote directly from Massey-Wiebe's story: "Spend-it-Piggy is a careful guy who thinks and waits before he buys. Think, think, think before you go to the store, buying only what you need and not a whole lot more."

Massey-Wiebe says the story is simple by design so it has a lasting positive effect.

"The fact is we develop our perspectives on money at very early age -- probably far earlier than we have to make a lot of decisions about money -- so the earlier we can be exposed to what may be healthy ways of thinking about our finances, perhaps the better impact it will have on us down the road."

As a debt counsellor, Massey-Wiebe has seen her share of financial road hazards.

"I hear from so many of my adult clients comments like 'I never learned this at home,' or 'I never learned this at school,' so after hearing this often enough, you start to think 'How can we bring it (financial literacy) to younger people?' "

She's not alone. Providing children and teens with a little financial know-how is a hot topic. In the last few years, Canada's consumer watchdog -- the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada -- has launched its own program, The City, for middle and high school students.

But the federal government body's commissioner Ursula Menke has said financial literacy must start even earlier.

Despite the complexity surrounding money -- investing, RRSPs, taxes, etc. -- Massey-Wiebe says studies have shown children learn basic concepts very early. But how they learn about money varies.

The pilot may help shed light on just what children know about money, she says.

"Is it something they hear about in their homes, or something they're aware of themselves? Who knows?"

Mass media -- TV ads, specifically -- are likely a large influence, she says, adding she developed the program as a counterbalance to the pervasive messaging children see about consumption spending.

"Even from the consumer perspective, to consume in a way that isn't necessarily well thought out and rationally assessed as to the impact that it's going to have on you can have a very long-term detrimental effect on your life."

A teacher whose class participated in the pilot says the program's message is a welcome addition to the classroom because financial literacy often isn't part of the curriculum.

"Here, we'll tie money into story problems in math or tithing in Bible class, but it's actually good to isolate it as a skill and say 'You need to know how to save,' " Grade 5 teacher Sara Douma says.

"It's an important life skill."

Many students already understand the concepts well, she says. One student, for example, mentioned people should save for times when they don't have money, while another talked about saving in case something breaks and needs to be repaired.

Massey-Wiebe, who chose Calvin Christian because her children attend the school, says the program requires some fine-tuning and she hopes feedback from teachers and students will determine if content is too easy or difficult for 10- and 11-year-olds.

Principal Hank Vande Kraats says the school has always tried to emphasize to its students the need to give back to their community, but the pilot is another opportunity for them to become wise consumers at an early age.

"It's helping the kids to utilize better money that they've been gifted with," he says. "It's really about helping them learn the difference between a need and a want."

Kids count

What students had to say...

During the pilot presentation by Community Financial Counselling Services, Grade 5 students at Calvin Christian School learned how the Piggie$ Three spent 10 coins. One pig saved a coin, another shared a coin, and the third one spent the remaining eight very wisely. Here's what a few students had to say about money-minded hogs and finance in general:

 

Aidyn, 10: Aidyn likes to save his money in a bank account so he can buy video games. He has no favourite game in mind, so he keeps saving his Christmas and birthday money just in case he finds one he really wants.

Aidyn says he enjoyed the presentation, but he would manage his money a little differently from the pigs. "I think you should share, save and spend equally because then you can tithe and God likes it if you share your money."

 

Emily, 11: Emily says she always likes to learn about money.

"I like to learn about stuff that I should do in the future and just to become a wiser person." She saves her money in a bank account. Her allowance is directly deposited by her mom. "I'm saving for an iPod, a computer and university." She says she likes to save, but she respects the decisions of friends who prefer to spend their allowance. "People should save some for the future, but if you want to spend, it's your money."

 

Silvia, 10: Silvia says she especially liked to learn about saving money, something she didn't think much about before the presentation even though she has heard her parents talk about saving before. "You can save for a phone, an iPod and all those kinds of things," she says. Like all students who saw the presentation, she received a piggy bank. If she gets 10 coins, however, she plans to save a whole lot more than the pigs. "I actually think that maybe it should be eight to save because the more you spend, the fewer coins you have to save and share."

 

Gwyneth, 10: Gwyneth says she thinks the presentation will help her be more financially responsible. "Just learning how to save and not spend it all is a good thing to know before you get older and want to spend everything." She saves her money from birthdays and Christmas with a big goal in mind. "I'm saving my money in my piggy bank because my grandma told me when I save up $50, I can get an iPod," she says, adding her grandmother will pay the difference. Although she says she enjoys the saving part, she also knows balancing saving with the other two piggies is just as important. "The sharing part is really nice and saving money is good for something that you really want."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 8, 2012 B12

History

Updated on Saturday, December 8, 2012 at 11:59 AM CST: adds fact box

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