Money and finances are an integral part of our society and how it functions — which is why it’s so important for students to develop financial literacy skills. Financial literacy is the ability to understand basic financial concepts and apply those skills in one’s own life, like creating and managing a household budget, opening a bank account, saving for big purchases, or paying off debt.
The earlier students can start learning financial literacy, the better. Especially since research has shown that financial literacy classes can help students make better financial decisions later in life. Here we’ll provide practical suggestions and activities to help educators teach financial literacy to elementary, middle school, and high school students. While you might find these lessons and activities particularly useful during Financial Literacy Month in April, financial literacy is a topic that can — and should — be incorporated into the curriculum all year long.
Financial Literacy Activities for Elementary Students
Teaching financial literacy to elementary students can be a challenge, especially since they’re not at the age where they’re likely to be managing money just yet. That said, kids will use money skills their whole lives, so they’re never too young to start learning basic financial skills. Here are a handful of lesson plans and activities that are perfect for younger students.
Introduce the concept of money
As parents or educators, it’s essential to introduce students to the general concept of money and why it’s important. The first step on the road to financial literacy, after all, is understanding why we have money, where it comes from, and what it can be used for.
One way to help kids grasp how money works is to teach them about the concepts of goods and services. Goods are things that we buy to keep or use, like groceries. Services are things that are done for us, like buying a meal at a restaurant. You can show the class a series of pictures and have them decide whether or not the image shows a thing or a service being performed. This helps kids understand that there are different ways to spend money.
Goods and Services Worksheets and Sorts including Producers and Consumers by Lindsay Keegan
Teach them how to identify and interact with money.
After introducing the basic concept of money, you can move on to teaching students how to identify coins and bills, how to count money, and how to interact with and use money in the real world. There are some simple strategies and activities that you can use to teach these important life skills.
For instance, you use play money to teach kids how to identify bills and coins by name and value. (Sorting games are a great way to practice this!). Once kids are familiar with bills and coins, you can teach them how to count money with simple exercises, like counting change or making small purchases at a class store with play money.
Grade 2 Money – Identifying & Counting Money with US & Canadian Money to $5 by Proud to be Primary
How Much Does It Cost? Work Task Box Activity FREEBIE by Adulting Made Easy aka SpedAdulting
Cover the basics of saving and spending.
There are lots of ways to use money, some more responsible than others. Which is why it’s crucial for students to understand from an early age that being responsible with money often means making choices about how much to spend on their wants and needs, how much to save for the future, and how much to give away to charity or worthy causes. Providing early guidance to kids around how to be thoughtful with their finances encourages students to develop good money management habits later on in life.
As part of teaching students the importance of planning and saving, provide a list of items or scenarios and have students categorize them as either a “need” or a “want.” This can help teach students the difference between essential expenses (needs) and discretionary spending (wants).
Needs and Wants Sort Activities by Nikki and Nacho
Financial Literacy Activities for Middle School Students
By the time students reach middle school, they’ve likely been exposed to financial concepts, either at home or at school. But while most middle schoolers have a basic understanding of money, they might not necessarily know how to use money in the real world. Here are some ideas for engaging financial literacy lessons and activities that are designed to help students develop personal finance skills.
Have students practice creating a budget with real-life scenarios.
Middle school is the perfect time to start teaching students about budgeting. At this age, many students are either starting to have or are on the cusp of taking on more financial responsibility. So, it’s important for them to understand how to make smart choices in terms of managing their day-to-day expenses, and prioritizing their needs and wants.
Once they understand the basic components of a personal budget, you can challenge students to create budgets for hypothetical scenarios involving income, expenses, and financial goals. For example, you could ask them to plan a budget for a new phone, a dream vacation, or a fictional character’s monthly expenses.
Personal Financial Literacy TEKS Unit | Budgeting, Tax, and Interest Notes by Maneuvering the Middle
Planning a Dream Vacation – A Financial Literacy Activity (Print + Digital) by STEAM Vault
Teach students the skills for becoming smart shoppers.
In middle school, students are starting to become independent consumers, and learning how to make smart purchasing decisions will ultimately help them manage their money more effectively. You can teach students how to make good choices with their money in the future with activities that show them how to compare prices, calculate sales tax, analyze sales and discounts, and look at product reviews.
To underscore these concepts, you can have students research a gadget they’re interested in purchasing. As part of the activity, have them read customer reviews and compare prices from different stores or online retailers, before asking them to make a recommendation to the class, based on their research.
Discounts and Sales Tax Financial Literacy Task Cards: Digital and Print by Couple of Teachers
Financial Literacy Activities for High School Students
High school students are on the cusp of adulthood, and financial decisions become increasingly relevant. Teaching financial literacy at this stage prepares them to navigate college expenses, part-time jobs, and other financial responsibilities. The lessons they learn in high school can help them make informed decisions, avoid common pitfalls (like overspending and credit card debt), and set them up for a more secure financial future.
Encourage research around college costs and what jobs actually pay.
In high school, students are at the point where they’re starting to think about college and explore different career options. As part of this, they should also take some time to explore how career decisions can affect their earning potential and income over their lifetime. For example, ask students to list some jobs they think they’d like to do someday. Then, have them research what the average salaries for those jobs are and see if those salary ranges are impacted based on where they plan to live.
Personal Finance Project with Job Planning, Budgeting, and Financial Choices by Noodle Nook
Financial Literacy Bulletin Board | FASFA by College Counselor Studio
Build an understanding of banking basics.
Introducing students to banking basics can demystify the world of financial institutions and help them make informed decisions about their money. When high school students graduate and go out into the real world, they’ll need to open bank accounts, and be able to navigate interest rates, savings, loans, and retirement accounts.
As part of teaching students about banking basics, you can have them compare the
features and costs of opening up a checking account and a debit card offered by different financial institutions. Going through this exercise will help learn how financial institutions work, how to use them, the different products they offer, and how to manage their own account portfolio.
Financial Literacy Comparing Checking Accounts Savings Accounts and CDs by the Family and Consumer Science Classroom
Retirement Accounts IRAs Pensions Social Security Financial Literacy Lesson by The Unraveled Teacher
Teaching financial literacy to students is a valuable investment in their future. By starting early and providing age-appropriate education and experiences, educators can empower children to make informed financial decisions, manage their money wisely, and ultimately, be better set up to achieve financial success.
Discover financial literacy activities for elementary, middle school, and high school students on TPT.