Teaching Teens To Make Smart Money Choices


This article was sponsored by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual), Springfield, MA 01111-0001. www.MassMutual.com. All opinions are those of the author.

Earlier this week I had the privilege of attending Chicago’s FutureSmart event. This event, part of a series of events in cities across the country, was hosted by MassMutual in partnership with local NBA teams and actor/author Hill Harper to help bring financial education to middle school and high school students. Chicago’s event was held at the iconic United Center and, as I stood in the middle of the court waiting for students to fill the seats, I thought about my own money journey.

I had been raised in an upper middle class family in the Chicago suburbs and, for the most part, had a great childhood. But, while I had a good childhood, there was one thing that wasn’t really discussed as I was growing up and that was money.Yes, I was taught basic concepts like saving money, but it didn’t go beyond that. We could afford to attend sporting events, take vacations, and had all our needs and most of our wants taken care of. I saw my dad making the money and my mom spending it and it often seemed like money was unlimited. There was never a time when I heard “we can’t afford that” and, though as a kid that seemed great, I’d learn years later that things weren’t always as financially easy on my parents as it looked.

But before that giant money secret was learned I continued the patterns of spending I had seen modeled growing up and ruined my credit before I even turned 25. I was left with an empty bank account and nothing to show for it but a wardrobe filled with the latest fashions that would soon be out of date. My mindset about money had to change and I had to learn how to handle the little I had in a more mature way. It has taken almost a decade to shift my mindset and become a better steward of the money I make and I feel like talking about money growing up may have saved me from making some of these mistakes and given me the skills to handle money as a young adult. (Not to say my parents were to blame because they aren’t- I was an adult. However I think having more knowledge about financial issues may have been beneficial.)

Because of my history with money, I am an advocate of financial education for kids so when MassMutual asked me to partner with them it was an enthusiastic “yes!”. Though I believe financial education has to start in the home, just 43 percent of parents describe themselves as ‘well prepared’ for money conversations (and some might be struggling to make smart money choices themselves). That is why it is vital that schools and the community take a role in this teaching as well. By the time adolescents reach middle school, they have already developed the capacity to understand complex economic concepts, make financial judgments, and assign value to purchases and brands. Yet the majority of today’s schoolchildren are not receiving the personal finance education they need to navigate the modern financial world. According to MassMutual, only 1 in 4 millennials in the US can correctly answer basic financial wellness questions. This is a problem.

I love the FutureSmart program because it gets kids excited to learn financial concepts. Hill Harper (most well-known for his roles in CSI: NY and The Good Doctor) spent about an hour talking with students from Chicago Public Schools. I could immediately tell that he was passionate about teaching financial literacy to these kids. Along with sharing his story, teens were also given five money smart challenges which were: to learn about financial concepts, create a blueprint and plan their life, talk with their family about money, think before they spend, and to open a student savings account.

In addition to Harper, kids heard from Bill Wennington, a retired Bulls basketball player. The two talked about saving money and the importance of education. They also spoke about the many dreams of teens wanting to be ball players when they grow up and the realities of professional sports. To encourage continued education, they pointed out that most basketball players are bankrupt within five years of retiring and that the top CEOs in our country make a lot more than basketball players do.

Teens also enjoyed the antics of Benny the Bull, a DJ playing the hottest tracks, and performances from the IncrediBulls and the Bulls Flippers Trampoline Team. Learning about money was never this fun when I was younger!

What I love most of all about this FutureSmart program though, is that this wasn’t just a one time thing for these students. The FutureSmart program is continued in the classrooms for the rest of the year so the teens that attended the event can continue to learn money smart skills.

The program is bigger than just these live events, too. MassMutual has a goal to reach 2 million students and their families by 2020. Along with these live events they host, they offer FutureSmart classroom and digital curriculums along with the FutureSmart app for today’s busy student.The digital course is available for FREE to teachers and school staff and makes learning about money fun for youth.

You can learn more about the FutureSmart program here. If you have a middle school student I encourage you to talk to your child’s school about this program. Financial literacy is so important and this program makes it easy to teach kids money smart concepts!

Do you discuss money topics in your home?


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  1. Stacie says:

    I love this so much! Our kids need to be able to manage their money in a way that keeps them comfortable and secure when they leave home.

  2. Liz Mays says:

    Helping kids learn important financial concepts is such a good idea and I’m glad the FutureSmart program can help. Those lessons will go such a long way.

  3. Alicia says:

    This is a great post and should be shared by every parent reading honestly. I know I wish I knew about this when I was a teenager. It’s so important to teach young to save money and be good with money.

  4. Jeanette says:

    This really does look like a great program and it’s so important to be teaching our children the skills they need to have for later. Thanks for the heads up. I’ll be talking to my child’s school this week to see what they think about this!

  5. Milena says:

    yes! I know I was a bit of a mess when I had my first job and then hit college. I’m going to look into this for my kids.

  6. Amy Desrosiers says:

    Making time to teach our kids about smart money choices is key these days. My kids are already learning!

  7. Dawn Lopez says:

    I think teaching teens to manage money is an essential life skill. FutureSmart sounds like a perfect place to start especially with the financial education being presented in a teen-friendly way.

  8. I grew up with a banker, so I was balancing a checkbook by the age of 8. I am so thankful for it too! This is a great program for people who don’t have banking parents.

  9. Emily says:

    I think this is so important! I was not taught anything about money, growing up with a single teen Mom I knew we did not have a lot of it, but that is it. So once I became an adult I had a lot to learn, luckily I figured it out and am now teaching my kids better.

  10. Keikilani says:

    We need to have open conversations with our kids about real life. The school isn’t teaching about taxes and savings and debt. We need to teach them. Love this article.

  11. This is awesome! Such a great way to get kids interested about financial matters.

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