This post originally appeared on BudgetTracker in November 2012.
When it comes to talking about money, students can come from a variety of different backgrounds. One student might have parents who are very open about earnings and budgeting, while another student has never seen a balanced checkbook.
Despite being a very important subject, it is often the case that middle school students have not received a lot of personal finance instruction at home beyond “study hard so you can get a job”!
One of the best services you can provide for your students is to show them how to talk about money productively and politely to give them the tools to have discussions without making others uncomfortable. Here are a few tips for helping students talk about money in middle school:
Ask about habits, not about numbers
Most people shy away from talking about money because real numbers can create uncomfortable situations, especially when money is tight. Think of it this way: do you really want your child to know your annual income, and then to discuss that with other students?
Emphasize with students that instead of asking “How much do you make,” it is better to ask questions like, “What do you think is important to spend money on?”
By focusing on money habits and the “why” behind one’s spending, you can encourage a rich discussion instead of a superficial (and possibly uncomfortable) talk about wealth.
Focus on the Future
Another important discussion tactic is to talk about the future rather than the present or the past. Instead of looking at mistakes or current struggles, ask questions about the best way to use money in the future, like planning to buy a car, a house, or to pay for college.
Having a real, physical goal (instead of reflecting on a bad purchase or a financial dry spell) means the discussion will be positive and hopeful.
Use personal writing to encourage quiet students
In the case of a shy learner, personal writing can be a huge boon for many students. Here are a few writing prompts that could encourage a middle school student to engage in a personal finance discussion:
- If you found $5 in your pocket, what would you do with it?
- If you wanted to save $100, how would you do it?
- What do you think is the most confusing thing about money? What do you think makes the most sense about money?
For more ideas, check out the Practical Money Skills website, which offers free personal finance curriculum for teens and highlights ways to use discussion and personal writing to learn personal finance. And don’t forget the useful applications of the BudgetTracker program in the classroom, like using discussion boards and creative prompts to keep the conversation flowing!