Teaching young consumers how to invest wisely, complain effectively

CONSUMER FORUM

By Russ Van Arsdale, executive director Northeast CONTACT
Posted Jan. 11, 2015, at 7:36 a.m.

As consumers, we’re well advised to do our research before making major purchases. We’re also wise to educate ourselves on matters affecting our financial well-being.

Beyond these basics, it’s more challenging to find consensus on how much education is enough when it comes to financial literacy. Across the United States, several states require students to pass a one-semester course in financial literacy to graduate high school. Others require some sort of coursework in the smart handling of finances.

In Maine, there’s no across-the-board requirement. Instead, groups interested in financial savvy have organized programs to spur student inquiry into money matters. One of the best publicized efforts, called the Stock Market Game, has involved some 15 million students nationwide. The goal is to teach young people about global marketing and long-term saving and investment strategies through stock trading simulations.

Fort Fairfield Middle/High School ranked second in the nation last year, with student investments yielding a whopping 68.6 percent return. Marc Gendron, superintendent of schools in Fort Fairfield, says the town’s elementary team has “come in first or second every year in the state game for at least four years.”

While noting that it is a game, Gendron says it has real-life lessons.

“We teach our kids most of the time in life to avoid risk. This game teaches you to find as much risk as you can,” he said, adding that taking risks is essential to doing well in these national contests.

Another competition focusing broadly on consumer issues is called LifeSmarts. The contest kicked off last week for middle and high school students — Waynflete in Portland was last year’s Maine state champion. LifeSmarts offers free online tutorials, quizzes and other resources to teach a variety of consumer skills.

The LifeSmarts offerings include videocasts on a range of topics, from shopping online to buying a car to complaining effectively. One videocast focuses on scholarship scams and ways students can avoid them. To learn more, visit lifesmarts.org.

Another program is the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy. In Maine, organizers hold a conference in the spring on boosting financial literacy in schools. Maine’s Jump$tart Coalition recently was recognized as the State Coalition of the Year.

Perhaps the best-known program that’s not focused on contests is Junior Achievement. The program links volunteers who deliver the JA curriculum with students interested in learning about job creation, money management and entrepreneurship.

The Maine Department of Education has a list of Maine-based resources for boosting financial literacy. It also includes a number of Web-based sites. Visit maine.gov and search “financial literacy” to find the list. The Finance Authority of Maine, or FAME, maintains a website on financial assistance at famemaine.com/files/StaticPages/Education/Clearinghouse/Index.aspx.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer, ME 04412, visithttps://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

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