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Lifestyle

January 30, 2013

FINANCE FOR KIDS: Why money matters

Monica Casters took a trip to the future a few weeks ago: Suddenly, the eighth-grader was 30 years old, married, with a child and working at a job that paid her $93,000 a year. This was no dream, but it wasn't real, either. She was visiting Junior Achievement Finance Park, an educational center in Fairfax, Va., where kids learn about managing money. Lessons about spending, saving and borrowing are becoming a regular part of classes, sometimes starting in elementary school.

Why do kids need to know about money?

"All kids see parents do with money is spend it," said Neale Godfrey, author of a book called "Money Doesn't Grow on Trees." But the amount of money you can spend isn't endless. "There really is such a thing as a budget," Godfrey said. (A budget is a plan that limits how much you spend on different things to fit the amount of money you have.)

Educators agree. School boards in Maryland and Virginia decided in the past three years that students must learn about money-related topics in school.

In Fairfax County Public Schools in Virgini, all eighth-graders take a half-day field trip to Finance Park after spending 20 hours in class talking about managing money.

On a recent visit, students from Carl Sandburg and Lanier middle schools were each given a card that told them how old they were, whether they were married or had children, and how much money they earned each year. Their task? Visit 18 pretend stores or offices and choose how much of their imaginary salary to spend at each place.

That meant some big decisions. A house with four bedrooms or a smaller one with a pool? A family car or a convertible? Movie channels or basic cable?

Students said that staying within their budget wasn't always easy.

"I went over my limit on clothes," admitted Monica, who attends Sandburg. "I've learned I can't have everything I want."

Kareem Homsi, a student at Lanier in Fairfax, ended up with more savings than his budget required by choosing a practical car.

"Maybe after that I can buy the convertible," Kareem said.

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