Financial literacy program teaches youth about managing their money


COLUMBUS — New evidence shows that participation in Ohio State University Extension’s “Real Money, Real World” youth financial literacy program spurs young people to make significant changes in their spending, saving and educational habits.

The 2009 study surveyed 332 students from five counties who participated in the program, designed for students in grades six through 12, three months earlier.

Changes in habits

It found that 98 percent of the students made at least some changes in their spending habits; 96 percent changed their savings habits and 94 percent changed educational behaviors, such as working harder in school and discussing career interests with friends and family.

The survey combined multiple-choice and open-ended questions — a strategy that yielded in-depth information for the researchers.

Real Money, Real World is a six-lesson curriculum developed by OSU Extension to help middle and high school students become aware of the money-management skills they’ll need for the rest of their lives.

During the program, students assume the role of a 25-year-old adult. They choose or are assigned one of 108 occupations with a corresponding salary, and find out how many children they’re raising.

The lessons focus on basic finance principles, including how education and occupation affect income, how expenses and paycheck deductions add up and how to be smart in using checking accounts, savings and credit.


The program’s highlight is a real-life hour-long simulation.

The students start with their monthly income and visit various booths staffed by community volunteers and spend their income on housing, utilities, child care, transportation costs, insurance, phone and Internet access, groceries and other items typical in a family budget.

A 2007 evaluation of 3,500 Real Money, Real World participants revealed the program raised students’ awareness about financial matters, but until the current follow-up study, it was unclear if students actually adopted new behaviors as a result of the program.

Provides evidence

The current study provides that evidence, according to Lisa Sotak Bateson, a program assistant in the OSU Extension’s 4-H Workforce Preparation Initiative, and her adviser, Theresa Ferrari, an associate professor of Extension education in the Department of Human and Community Resource Development and an OSU Extension 4-H youth development specialist.

The survey, which was administered by OSU Extension educators who collaborated with classroom teachers in the program, asked students about 28 behaviors related to spending, saving or education.

Specifically, 80 percent of students reported changes in the extent to which they set aside money for the future, compare prices and repay money owed on time (such as repaying borrowed money or paying their parents for a portion of their cell phone bill).

Additional results included:

Spending behavior

Nearly one-third of the respondents reported changes in all nine spending-related behaviors the survey asked about, such as “I think more carefully about spending money,” and “I compare prices when shopping.”

Savings behavior

More than one-third reported changes in all nine savings-related behaviors, such as “I save for specific purchases” and “I try to only buy items I need.”

More than three-fourths of the students reported that they now understand the importance of saving money, and two-thirds indicated that they now save more money than they did before the program.

Educational behavior

More than one-third indicated changes in all 10 educational practice behaviors, such as “I have looked into colleges or other training options for after high school,” and “I do better in school.”

Students reported the largest increases in discussing their career interests with their family, researching different types of careers and making changes to their study habits.

Additional details

An executive summary of the report has additional details of the findings and is available at, under Documented Impact Resources.


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  1. This program sounds like a solid step in the right direction. I am more familiar with the financal literacy program sponsored by Junior Achievement. Of course, it could be argued that JA is the urban version of 4-H.

    The sad state of financial literacy may, in fact, be due to the decline in self-employment over the last 200 years. The America back then was heavily agricultural. Family farm = family business. Financial literacy was just part of growing up and avoiding losing the farm.

    Now that we’re becoming a nation of employees, we make stupider financial decisions because the risk isn’t as real.

    Great job OSU Extension and 4-H!

    Craig Everett
    (World of Finance Blog)


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