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Continued: Tackling finance with fun

  • Article by: KARA MCGUIRE , Star Tribune
  • Last update: September 6, 2008 - 6:11 PM
As I watched a room full of well-dressed Republicans eating hotdogs loaded with all the fixings, it dawned on me: We need financial education that's less like spinach and more like hotdogs.

Let me explain. Everyone in that room knew that a buffet of spinach would have been healthier than a bunch of hot dogs. But you didn't see a pile of greens next to the chip bowl.

Same with financial literacy. We know we could use the help. Look at how few of us save and how much debt we carry. Just about any test of financial know-how has many Americans earning a failing grade.

But hand us a textbook or invite us to a workplace seminar about money matters, and chances are most of us won't crack open the book or bother to show up.

Maybe if we expected learning about spending, saving and investing to be fun, we'd eat it up.

So how do we make financial education as appetizing as hot dogs? That was the focus of two events held during the Republican National Convention.

The hotdogs were served during a rousing game of Financial Football, part of Visa's "Practical Money Skills for Life" curriculum. The online game, which can also be played on your cell phone, combines the rules of the NFL with financial questions of varying difficulty on topics from taxes to credit to loans. Answer questions correctly to move down the field and score.

At the event, two teams, made up of Young Republican National Federation members and College Republican National Committee members, answered nearly every question right. I guess they learned it in school or in the school of hard knocks.

Cris Carter, former Vikings All-Pro wide receiver, was there to "coach" the teams. He signed up with Visa to promote Financial Football at both the Republican and Democratic conventions and the Super Bowl. Growing up in a family of seven on welfare, Carter said he didn't learn much about money as a kid except that there wasn't much of it to go around.

"An interactive game ... is a great idea from Visa. It's in [kids'] sweet spot," Carter said.

"If we did the textbook version, kids just wouldn't be engaged," said Jason Alderman, Visa's director of financial education. "By taking the core messages and wrapping them in something engaging and entertaining, you can break through."

The game, now in its fourth "season," is designed for high school and college kids, and comes with a classroom curriculum that anyone can download. Sixteen states have partnerships with Visa to distribute copies to every high school. Minnesota is not one of the states, but teachers can play the game and download the curriculum for free online.

After the Financial Football game ended in a tie, I headed to a forum held by the business group the Savings Coalition of America, which addressed teaching kids about money as well as financial education in the workplace.

Gary Knell, president and CEO of Sesame Workshop, highlighted "Talking Cents,'' a program designed to teach children 2 to 5 years old concepts such as counting, value, patience and entrepreneurship. The hope is that if young people are introduced to money concepts early, they will avoid some of the mistakes we've all made.

Panelist and Wayzata High School teacher Candy Lee shared her stories about the Stock Market Game, which gets her students so excited that they come into class eager to check their stock portfolios. Adults can play online; the fall session costs $20, the yearlong session is $30. Register at www.stockmarketgame.org .

The award for the panelist with the quirkiest money tools went to SecurePath, a St. Paul-based division of life insurance company Transamerica. It created the "Annuity Dating Game'' and the "Social Security Opera" to get employees' attention about retirement income, a topic that is dull, daunting and often overlooked. Although some of the opera's lyrics are groan-inducing, you've got to give these guys credit for livening up the nuts-and-bolts of Social Security.

Some zany financial literacy learning tools will become touchdowns while others will sail out of bounds. But the only way to beat financial illiteracy is to get people in the game. Anything is worth a try.

Share your recipe for financial literacy with Kara McGuire • 612-673-7293 or kara@startribune.com.

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