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Today's Family Magazine

Fostering financial independence

By Nina Polien Light

Teenagers may not be as short-sighted as adults believe.  In addition to obsessing about tomorrow’s chemistry test or scoring tickets to the hottest concert, many young adults are contemplating their future financial well-being.

According to the 2018 JA Teens and Personal Finance Survey, 54% of teens surveyed fret they will be unable to afford college, 49% fear they won’t be able to afford a home, 41% worry about not having enough savings for an emergency and 42% agonize about lacking skills to manage money.  Although 72% of respondents say they seek financial advice from their parents or guardians, 95% insist they would welcome personal finance classes at school.

The national study, which surveyed 1,000 13- to 18-year-olds not enrolled in college, was commissioned by Junior Achievement USA and AIG.

Locally, Junior Achievement of Greater Cleveland is working to allay teenagers’ concerns by connecting volunteers from the business and general communities with schools across Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake and Lorain counties.

“Volunteers go into classrooms throughout the region to teach the Junior Achievement curriculum, which is focused on three pillars: career readiness, financial literacy and entrepreneurship,” says Jessica Walters, development and operations director for JA of Greater Cleveland.  “Lessons are geared to K-12 students and include hands-on games and activities as well as discussions around topics such as understanding career options, what taxes are and how to make a budget.  These add on to and supplement the traditional classroom curriculum.”

During the 2017-2018 school year, 1,205 JA of Greater Cleveland volunteers worked with 32,363 students in the four-county area.  Since establishing a local presence just over 75 years ago, the organization has served more than one million students.

JA of Greater Cleveland empowers students outside of the classroom, as well.  The organization is working with an all-girls school and the Cleveland Indians on a job-shadow program to educate young women on sports-related career opportunities.

Still, Walters says, teaching financial responsibility should begin at home.  She offers nine tips for parents and guardians:

1. Be open about money.  Youngsters needn’t know their parents’ salaries or how much the mortgage costs, but they should be aware the family must live within a budget and sometimes choices must be made.  When appropriate, include children in the decision-making process.

2. Set expectations.  Tell kids what you are willing to bankroll and what they must pay for on their own.

3. Chat about different jobs.  If children show interest in a particular field, ask them what they think the salary is for that job.  Conversations can be as simple as, “Do you think a doctor or a plumber makes more money?”

4. Simulate work by linking allowance with chores.  “Helping kids understand the payout comes from some amount of effort, especially when they’re too young for real employment, can be a great way to get them used to putting in effort to get a ‘paycheck,’” Walters says.

5. Encourage older children to get a job—whether it’s cutting grass, shoveling snow, babysitting or, when they’re old enough, working at a local business.

6. Once they’re earning income, help children create a budget. Discuss the importance of setting aside money for spending and saving. Setting long-term goals can be difficult for kids who are used to instant gratification.

7. Discuss the importance of giving.  “Everybody has a nonprofit that hits the heartstrings, so finding that for your family and encouraging your child to budget money for charity is a great learning tool,” Walters says.

8. Teach kids about the stock market.  Walters knows parents who allow their children to invest $100 in a stock of their choice each year.  If the stock grows, the kids keep the gain in investment.

9. Talk about credit cards, especially how interest works.  “Not having that conversation is why kids at the beginning of college get into trouble,” Walters explains.  “It’s so easy for them to get in over their heads because they don’t understand the risks and they start off adulthood in a bad financial place.”

For more information about Junior Achievement of Cleveland, visit or call 216-861-8080.