Teacher Dan Beettam tries to talk as much as possible about personal finance to his students at Valley Gardens Middle School in East Kildonan. For the most part, however, he can only serve up money-minded wisdom as part of his signature 'thoughts of the day' at the start of each class.
"About 15 times a year, I try to make the thought of the day money-related," says the math and social studies teacher.
Ideally, Beettam would make learning about money a larger part of the curriculum. But during his 25-year-stint teaching middle school, financial education has taken a back seat to other subjects despite the importance of money touching in our lives.
On Wednesday, learning about personal finance will be the focus of every class he teaches -- at least for the day. Beettam is one of about 90 Grade 7 teachers in Manitoba who have signed up to teach financially focused subjects on April 16 as part of the second annual Talk with Our Kids about Money Day (TWOKAM).
The Canadian Foundation for Economic Education, a non-profit organization promoting financial literacy among Canada's youth, is spearheading the drive. BMO is bankrolling the event, which began last year in Ontario and has expanded to Manitoba.
"It's pretty much a grassroots campaign to create some awareness for how important financial literacy is for young Canadians," says Paul Seipp, regional vice-president with BMO.
BMO funds the event but takes a hands-off approach to developing the content, which is produced by the foundation.
Despite several other initiatives to boost youth financial literacy -- Financial Consumer Agency of Canada's comprehensive educational resource The City -- the next generation of Canadians could use the additional boost, if today's adults are the measuring stick of the success of past financial literacy efforts.
Although many adult Canadians may be adept in managing money, a lot of statistical data indicate the opposite.
Consumer debt -- such as credit cards -- exceeds a record $500 billion, while mortgage debt, including home-equity lines of credit, hit $1.1 trillion recently. The average Canadian household owes more than $160 for every $100 of after-tax disposable income -- another all-time high.
Meanwhile, many Canadians are saving less. A recent BMO study found nearly one in five adults failed to save anything in 2013. Another BMO study from 2013 found boomers are about $400,000 short on average of having enough savings to retire.
For Beettam, these problems could be largely avoidable for future generations if we start educating children about money early. So a day set aside for financial literacy is welcome, he says.
"We are encouraged to learn the basics of many things that we will encounter later in life so that we can properly manage these affairs, but when it comes to money, there is no such teaching," he says.
"But the Canadian Foundation for Economic Education offers something a teacher can easily incorporate into the classroom."
Teachers who sign up for TWOKAM can log onto its website and download lessons that incorporate financial learning into most subjects.
"You can tweak them, of course, to make them your own, but the foundation obviously has spent some time with teachers trying to integrate financial learning with the outcome for all subjects," he says. "For example, you can click on a history link and get financial topics that are intertwined right with the outcome."
Co-ordinator for TWOKAM in Manitoba, Sally Massey-Wiebe says the website -- www.talkwithourkidsaboutmoney.com -- also offers ideas for parents.
"There are all sorts of ideas to get the conversation started from books you can read together or crafts like making a piggy bank," says Massey-Wiebe, who is a financial counsellor at Community Financial Counselling Services, which helps individuals facing financial difficulties.
"The school program is for Grade 7 students, but the home activities are aimed at kids of any age from really young to teenagers."
As a financial counsellor, Massey-Wiebe often sees the dire outcomes from a lack of financial literacy so events such as TWOKAM play an important role in raising awareness.
"One of the most common things I will hear from people who come in to talk to me is 'I never learned this at home' and 'I was never taught this at school.' "
Lessons about financial decision-making are often learned the hard way later in life because financial literacy is not taught on a consistent basis.
For parents, money can be a taboo subject -- as awkward as the 'birds and bees' discussion.
"In fact, it may be easier for them to talk about sex than it is to talk about money in some cases," Massey-Wiebe says.
To that end some of TWOKAM's promotional material aimed at parents begins with "Have you had the talk?' "
But many parents may not feel well-equipped to have the talk because they haven't had success with money themselves.
"You know it doesn't have to be a conversation about 'I'll tell you all the things I've done wrong about money,' " Massey-Wiebe says. "It's more a case of understanding that how we talk about money --or don't talk about it --ultimately influences our kids."
TWOKAM provides an opportunity to have a constructive discussion, she says.
Esther Tran is a Winnipeg mom who talks about the value of money often with her 12-year-old son Eric, but on Wednesday she will make an even more pointed effort.
She says any chance to drive home the importance of saving, budgeting and living within one's means is helpful pushback against the prevailing social norms that exalt consumption and spending money.
"For example, kids get so many gift cards for Subway, to movies and iTunes cards these days," says Tran, adding plastic -- gift cards and debit cards -- has largely replaced cash and obscures the true cost of paying for a need or a want.
A gambling-prevention consultant with Addictions Foundation of Manitoba, Tran has seen the dark side of this disconnect.
"There's a huge connection between not knowing the true value of money, and giving into all the temptations that are out there," she says. "It's just too easy to get credit and to follow the trend of spending on impulse."
With money generally at the root of everything we do, it's more important than ever for youth have a strong financial foundation. And that includes understanding those behavioural economic levers -- such as advertising -- compelling us to consumer goods and services often for pleasure, Massey-Wiebe says.
"Youth need to fully understand these incentives that can get us on a spending treadmill and how when something happens like a change in income, it can be very hard to adapt."
The teacher says failing to teach children adequately about finances can send them on a precarious path into adulthood where they may realize only too late the grievous financial missteps will take even longer to undo.
"People need to realize that money is the enabler to help them reach their goals," he says. "But regardless of how we feel philosophically about money, to not have very much of it also becomes very limiting in life."