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Most of us go to the doctor and get our physical check-ups as we consider good health to be essential to our well-being. Yet when it comes to money we have been taught to remain silent. Kids have wood shop and home economics classes in high school but most high schools only have financial literacy education as a few weeks embedded into another class, if that. Just five states in the country scored an A on the 2015 National Report Card on State Efforts to Improve Financial Literacy in High Schools, a report produced by the Center for Financial Literacy, at Champlain College in Burlington, Vt.

In South Carolina we scored a B, meaning we have some form of financial literacy embedded into another course. This is alarming as we look at the consequences of our lack of education. Twenty percent of families with income below $50,000 spend half their net income on debt payments. Fifty-seven percent of divorced couples cited the reason for divorce as arguments over money. The most recent Federal Reserve study showed that 43% of U.S. families spent more than they earned. On average, Americans spend $1.22 for each dollar they earn. As we understand the facts about financial literacy we understand that it is imperative that we do more educate how to be financially fit for overall well-being.

In February of 2013 the SCACPA Piedmont Chapter Board decided that we wanted to do more for financial literacy so we decided to embark on an adventure with The Children’s Museum of the Upstate (TCMU). As part of this endeavor, I met Nancy Halverson, the CEO of TCMU and we began for formulate a plan to get an exhibit into TCMU that would ignite children’s ability to learn about money as well as an opportunity for CPA’s to tell our story. We did not want this exhibit to be all “bank” but rather an opportunity to teach the principle of money. We set off in search of the proper exhibit that would encourage young people to think about the CPA/Finance fields as well as learn about the concepts of financial literacy. We came upon the “Money Works” exhibit that includes a bank, a desk, a car, games and an imitation computer kids can play on.

The Money Works exhibit was placed next to the grocery store exhibit (“the market”) in hopes that children would interact by taking money from the bank to purchase groceries at the market next door. However, kids being kids, they would take the bananas from the grocery store and hold up the bank. Nancy and her team redirected the interactive platy to more positive activities which led to children working at the bank and interacting with the grocery store.

A big reason for our funding the exhibit was to ensure that financial literacy education would occur in the space. So once in place, we began meeting to figure out how to truly make this exhibit come to life and be continually educational, beyond the physical wall of the museum. This led to synergy with the Greenville County Human Relations Commission (GCHRC), creating the possibility for “Family” finances as GCHRC has a program for adults. The program with TCMU and GCHRC was then called “Finances for the family”. When all the sessions are attended and passed the golden carrot is the benefits from the IDA (Individual Development Account). The IDA accounts are matched savings accounts that help people with modest means to save towards the purchase of lifelong assets, such as a home.

The five class sessions are divided by age (for kids), while the adults work together as a group. After lessons, families participate in interactive simulations with Money Works as well as The Market. An independence assessment of the skills gained by the lessons learned by all the program participants is done by an outside party and has shown much success for this program. The participants who complete all five classes and do their homework receive a museum membership, savings bonds, and credit towards their IDA account.

During this same time, TCMU and SCACPA-Piedmont chapter have also sparked financial literacy growth through field trips with elementary school children who come to the museum for the “Show Me the Money” program. This program encourages the students to make smart choices about earning, spending and saving money.

The Piedmont Board of SCACPA and SCACPA have partnered together with TCMU to continue this outreach for the 2016 programs of Finances for the Family. This will allow our member CPA’s and our student SCACPA members to volunteer and be a part of this program as well as continue outstanding education that will allow members of the community a financial well-being.

As Benjamin Franklin said, “If you know how to spend less than you get you have the philosopher’s Stone.”

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