by: Dionne Nicholls
The past few years have been transformational for us at Financially CLEAN, the non-profit financial literacy youth program born out of our desire to give the next generation the head start we did not have. My name is Dionne Nicholls, a former Fashion Executive, and my partner Shaun Lynda, a former Wall Streeter and small business owner both turned Social Entrepreneurs, have taught our 12-week course at over 30 schools in the New York area, which has afforded us not only the platform to spread our message of financial freedom and the creation of generation wealth but also the ability to connect directly with and empower youth.
In the past couple of years, we’ve seen exponential growth of our non-profit and brand and it’s been quite exciting for us all. But we’ve only been able to hit these new heights due to our efforts to reach people in new, creative ways beyond the classroom using our ‘straight-talk’, strategic approach. Our hit podcast “Two Black Guys with Good Credit”, a show about personal finance, to our surprise, has received several accolades and tons of spin-off opportunities, and we boil it down to finding the winning combo of making personal finance “cool”. By delivering the message in such a way that is relatable, informative and entertaining, it allows us to resonate with such a wide demographic worldwide.
The same goes for the e-book series we recently launched, where we’re making powerful financial tools accessible to where kids are most –on their phones and mobile devices. In our College Playbook, we pare down concepts that could be intimidating for most, and make it enticing for college and high school students to want to start learning and playing to win the financial game before graduation rather than later.We’ve now educated over 1100 students in our time running the program and with that, we’ve learned a few things about how people learn as well as the dangers of setting limits on ourselves.
Here are four lessons we’ve learned educating students, particularly those underserved, about financial literacy:
1) They are hungry to learn
Often times, financial literacy is seen as an extension of everyone’s most hated subject, math. One automatically thinks dry and boring. What we’ve noticed is that this stigma is not only wrong but it does a disservice to young eager minds that are excited to learn but may need things taught to them in a format they can understand. In addition, we’ve seen how to truly tap into their minds by not dumbing down things too much. Teaching early financial literacy is this tricky balancing act. It does not mean just saving your money and being extra conservative. It’s about understanding how money works and charting the best course for your financial future. By challenging our students to understand concepts on a higher, more strategic level, instead of doing the inverse (not trusting them to understand) we’ve found that they’ve risen to the occasion and even surprised us with their depth of knowledge and interest.
2) The importance of breaking down taboos
One of the most interesting observations we’ve had during our 12-week course usually occurs when the parents come in to observe the class with their children. We frequently see them taking notes and they tend to become quite engaged with the classes alongside their children over time. The parents begin to ask questions and participate in the activities. What we love is that by creating safe spaces to talk about personal finance, it tends to spill over into the home and, conversations that were previously non-existent, now dominate the dinner table. If parents open up about how they budget and how the family finances work, it can only benefit them all. We’ve found that a family that does their finances together thrives together!
3) Prevention is better than cure
This saying goes for all non-profits. If you are in an industry where your main goal is to solve a problem perhaps you may be better served to prevent the problem from even existing in the first place. For us, this means teaching 9th graders about using credit cards responsibly, the importance of building credit and owning property before they are even allowed to legally do so. We believe in preparation and if we can ensure that our students can start their financial futures on the right foot at 18, we see no reason to delay that approach, especially when one comes from such poverty that they don’t even realize there is a way out. Studies show that high school students who receive personal finance education are able to manage money better because, they have fewer maxed out credit cards, higher savings, do more comparison shopping and pay debts on time. They achieve a significantly higher net worth by the time they reach between the ages of 30-49. (Edutopia 2012)
4) Diversify your reach and make it relatable
There is something to be said when you hear the same life-changing information from someone other than your parents or a banker behind a desk in a suit. Don’t be surprised if the next time you see us, Financially CLEAN will be taking its program on the road! But it’s all the different parts working in unison, with the same goal of spreading the message of early financial literacy in an authentic way that continues to open up doors to further our mission get our young people “Living Financially CLEAN!”
To get involved, visit us at Financially CLEAN.