Nostalgia & Personal Finance

I want to take a few moments today and encourage you to think through the importance of cultivating strong financial capabilities in your students.

Right now, you might be thinking the picture above seems out of place. You might be right. However, this very scene helped to clarify just what I wanted to say in this space this month. That is my red handkerchief pictured. Well, it is mine now. Once upon a time it belonged to Cleadis Gragg Sr., or as I called him – Grandpa. For the past decade it has been in my back pocket whenever I go fishing or am spending the day maintaining my lawn or doing things around the house like restoring an old dresser or painting. This handkerchief is a connection to the past, to my past. This previous summer I lost it. One evening after mowing my 1.5+ acres I sat it down and it blew out of the yard without my realizing it. I did not know it was lost until the next time I went to get it before doing yard work. The rest of the summer I did not seek to replace it without anything new even, though a new one would cost about a dollar. It was much more about the memories than the actual piece of cloth. I considered it long gone. This previous weekend I was out for a nice six-and-a-half-mile morning run and I saw it. It was there in the grass just on the side of the major cross street beyond my neighborhood. When I first saw it, I thought there was no way it was my lost handkerchief, yet when I picked it up I knew it was. It is now in my closet in the clothes hamper waiting to be laundered and placed back in my dresser. There is a sense of joy in finding it. The past has come back in an unexpected way. Now consider another picture with implications of bygone days.

Those are unused checks from various bank accounts my wife had as a single adult. These pieces of paper are all younger in age of existence than my red handkerchief. They invoke a much different emotion though. Instead of nostalgic, they seem almost archaic. I have been using the same book of checks for almost 4 years and I remember times in college and just after when I would use almost all of one book in a single month of paying bills. I can even remember having deposit slips left over when running out of checks in a single book.

Times have changed though. I still pay most of my bills via checking, yet I only write a single check for one particular bill each month. My payments are largely through e-checks transactions because of lower processing fees, and the time it saves as I am not having to write out so much on each check. Has the way you teach banking and bank accounts changed though? Are you clinging to the past or are you embracing the present? Checking is, and more than likely will always be, a vital financial skill. Students still need to know the proper features of a check and how to fill one out correctly. Do they still need long arduous projects or packets drilling the basics of check writing into them? Probably not. They now need to know why e-checks are cheaper for the utility company to process than credit or even debit payments and why they are more secure. They also need to recognize the difference between a real check and a scam in their mailbox. These are skills for today.

It is imperative we keep this in mind. We need to remember what school is for. Are we still training students for the industrial jobs of the Gilded Age and the banks and savings & loans of that era, or are we preparing them for the present and the future? Your answer will inform whether you treat certain financial skills as I do my red handkerchief or the boxes of old checks I found in the garage. I encourage you to answer this question for yourself often. Your students deserve it.