Improving financial literacy of foster students

Photo courtesy of Sophie Finke

It is easy to take for granted financial literacy and wellness, but for many of those in the United States foster system, financial skills and knowledge fall by the wayside. In order to combat the one-size-fits-all model that is currently used to educate youth about the financial system and proper preparation for the future, a team in the Grand Challenges program set out to rethink the way money management is presented.

In January 2017, the team, comprised of Achintya Arora, Sophie Finke, Tyler Harper, Molly Grace Niemczyk, Jermiah Russell and Garrett Smiley launched FLiP with the goal of changing the way finances are taught.

By replacing the standard lecture model of education with a hands-on competition, the team hoped to give students a more direct avenue through which to learn and then apply newly learned skills.

“Instead of standing in front of a room and telling these students what they should be doing, we let them learn for themselves,” said Sophie Finke, second-year EE and head of communications for FLiP. “By encouraging a little rivalry and good-natured competition, we deliberately place the students in a new and challenging environment to push their limits and make them think on their feet.”

The competition itself consists of several rounds including banking, investing, credit and loans. For each round, participants are split into teams of six, including a Tech student volunteer to help facilitate discussion, and given scenarios to which they must find solutions. The scenarios are founded in real-life situations and the decisions effect the financial future of the team.

Finke saw the investing round of the most recent competition as being particularly effective at sparking fascination among the participants.

“Many of the foster students came to the competition without much knowledge of the stock market; some did not even know what it was,” Finke said. “However, during this round, we heard students debating what kinds of stocks would be the best investment for the future.  It was so rewarding to hear this lively debate from a group of youth known to be lacking in basic financial knowledge.”

To cap off the competition, the students were tasked with thinking of a “side hustle,” a potentially profitable business which combined the individual passions of each student with their newly honed financial skills. The excitement expressed by the teams took the organizers by surprise and even inspired a slight change
of plans.

“Some foster kids got so creative and excited by this idea that they decided to act out their new product or even make a jingle about it,” Finke said. “Not only was it exciting to see the students laughing and having fun, it was touching to see that we were able to inspire these foster youths to think outside the box and have fun with the idea of creating a
new business.”

Going into the competition the FLiP team had two goals, as Finke explained: “In addition to imparting basic financial understanding on the students attending, our other primary and equally important goal was for them to have fun.  We realized if they actually enjoyed themselves during the competition, they would be more likely to be interested in money management in the future.”

The results of the event, namely the enjoyment of the participants and the tangible skills they learned, were astonishing and showed that both goals were met.

“Throughout the day of our competition last December, we heard them laughing and genuinely enjoying themselves,” Finke said. “A few of them even came up to the team to thank us after, and they’re high school students!”

These successes mark the first of what are sure to be many for the FLiP team, and have caught the eye of groups such as the Orange Duffel Bag Initiative and Stash, with whom the team is currently partnered.

The next competition will be held at Tech on April 7th and is already full. Furthermore, the team is currently in the process of establishing a charter at Tech and will work with UGA to charter an organization next fall.

By abandoning the classic model of financial education, FLiP has started the process of changing the way foster children see finances, while also inspiring continued motivation toward achieving greater financial literacy among foster youth.

For those wishing to become involved, the FLiP team is currently seeking volunteers to help with the coming competition.

Additionally, those seeking a greater level of contribution are highly encouraged to apply for the executive board and become part of the effort.