Youth Financial Literacy: The Foundation of a Successful Financial Future

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” I’m sure we’ve all heard it before. The old saying simply describes how difficult it can be to change someone’s established behaviors. Want to learn to speak French at age 40? Good luck. Want to learn how to play the piano even though you’ve never touched a key? Good luck. 

Learning major skills such as speaking a foreign language or playing a musical instrument become more challenging as we age because those behaviors weren’t established in our brains when we were young. So when it comes to learning critical financial literacy skills, do we in the credit union industry just tell adults “good luck” and hope they figure it out? No. We make teaching financial literacy at a young age a priority. Here’s why…

A failing grade…

According to the National Financial Educators Council, the average score that children between the ages of 10 and 14 receive on the national financial literacy test is a 55%. That’s a failing grade – a big red “F” with a circle around it. 

Current financial education just isn’t cutting it…

FINRA’s Financial Capability in the United States 2016 report states that only 21% of respondents had participated in some sort of financial education, whether in school, college, or the workplace. Let’s be real, think about your own financial education experience in school. Crickets? That’s what I thought.

The earlier, the better…

Credit card debt, buying a car, paying rent on time… It can be daunting. But it all depends upon the basic concept of saving. Think about building a house; if the foundation is cracked, it won’t be long until the house falls to the ground. Same goes for finances, but in this scenario the foundation is understanding how to save. If you don’t know how to save, it won’t be long until you find yourself struggling to keep the light on.

Learning smart financial habits early is critical to financial success in the future. That’s where my project comes in. I’m transforming the way my credit union incentivizes its youth members for saving their money. 

Here’s how it went before…

Our youth members under the age of 13 were automatically placed into our Dollar Dog Kids Club program. When those youth members would stop by a branch to make a deposit, they would receive a plastic coin from the frontline staff. They would then need to collect those coins in order to receive prizes. However, there were a few issues that came with this. 

  1. The coins were small and would be very easy for children to lose track of. That means, children would rarely turn them in to actually collect a prize. 
  2. Frontline staff would often forget about the coins. They are at the forefront of our organization and have a lot to remember when helping members. This bit of info was easily lost. 
  3. We have several branches in General Mills locations. The employees there that are also our members aren’t usually bringing their kids to work so that they can make deposits.

How my project will help…

Our youth members will still be placed into our Dollar Dog Kids Club program, but we’re saying goodbye to the coins. Now, deposits are tracked electronically through our reporting system. Once these members reach their third, fifth, and tenth deposits of the year, they’ll automatically be sent a prize in the mail along with a card from Dollar Dog to keep saving.


Remember those issues I just mentioned? Well now…

  1. Children will actually get the incentives they deserve and I don’t have a stagnant stockpile of prizes. 
  2. It’s one less thing for frontline staff to remember when providing service to our members.
  3. We’re able to track not only in-person deposits, but also those made via mobile device or postal mail. 
  4. This project has just taken off, and I’m sure it will need some adjustments along the way. We’ll know it’s successful when we see an increase in deposits made by youth members (I’d love to see a 5% increase over youth deposits from the previous year). Join me on this journey to make financial literacy a priority so that we don’t end up having to teach old dogs new tricks. 

Brittany Martin