Parents can learn a few lessons about teaching their children financial literacy from these school programs. By Janet Bodnar, Editor-at-Large April 27, 2010 Kids can be a tough audience when it comes to talking about money. But they can be motivated. I kicked off April, National Financial Literacy Month, with an upbeat column about a group of students who were excited about the topic, thanks to a hands-on program and a committed teacher. I’d like to wrap up the month on a similarly high note with observations about classes at a couple of other schools. At Walt Whitman High School, in Bethesda, Md., a young banker making a presentation about financial literacy connected with the kids by recounting his own financial ups and downs. At the low point, when he was broke and living out of his car, he invested five bucks in soap and a bucket and made $500 washing cars. That was enough to chip in rent for an apartment to share and use as a base to kick-start his job hunt. At Woodrow Wilson High School, in Washington, D.C., students were only “mildly amused” by prizes, such as chocolate coins and dollar bills, for participating in financial-literacy activities, reports my Kiplinger colleague Candice Jones, who sat in on a number of sessions. But they got “pretty rowdy” playing financial Jeopardy and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? At both high schools, the issue of identity theft was a hot-button topic. Despite these and other successful school programs, parents remain their children’s primary teachers when it comes to money issues. In a poll by TheMint.org, seven out of ten kids age 17 and younger said that their parents have the biggest influence on how they save and spend, far outpacing friends (16%), media and celebrities (14%), and teachers (1%). Advertisement In fact, Adrian Kimmok, the winner of the 2010 National Financial Literacy Poster Contest, sponsored by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, gave full marks to his parents (immigrants from Argentina) for stressing “the value of stretching a dollar, conserving money and making smart financial choices.” When Adrian, now an 11th grader at West High School, in Torrance, Cal., was in fifth grade, he tutored his second-grade neighbor for $3 an hour and used the money to buy his first computer. Worried that your own money habits don’t measure up, or that your kids will stump you with questions you can’t answer? Don’t fret. In my experience, kids are likely to stick to the basics. At Whitman, for example, they wanted to know the difference between savings and checking accounts, what “direct deposit” means and why you would pay with a credit card if you had cash in your account. If you’re sheepish about your spending or savings habits, now might be a good time to polish up your own financial-literacy skills (see 8 Fundamental Money Lessons). And, like Adrian, kids do get the point. One middle-school entry in the NFCC poster contest -- for which Candice was a judge -- featured a drawing of a store called “Toys R Useless.” Another declared soberly, “She went to the mall, so she didn’t go to college.” There were plenty of pictures of piggy banks (including one with five legs), but Candice’s personal favorite was a drawing of a squirrel eating dollar bills.