Family Finance: The ABCs of Financial Literacy

ElmoEven a Muppet knows how to get money.

“The best way is to earn it, by working at a job!” said Grover, the perpetually 6-year-old monster, during a recent break in filming on the set of “Sesame Street” in New York. “I have a number of jobs myself! I work at Charlie’s Restaurant!” he said, referring to one of his recurring skits on the venerable kids’ show.

Earning money is one of the financial fundamentals focused on in “For Me, for You, for Later,” a new project featuring Grover, Elmo, Cookie Monster and their Muppet pals.

Using videos, games and activities, the project aims to explain concepts related to making choices about money in a way that pre-school children can understand. It starts with having the kids use three jars to hold money for spending, saving and sharing, with the intent of teaching them the importance of making thoughtful financial decisions.

In one segment, Elmo wanders Sesame Street with his own dollar, trying to decide what to buy. Flowers? An ice cream cone? How about a “Stupendous Ball!” that plays music and lights up when it bounces?

Settling on the shiny ball, Elmo finds out it costs $5. “I don’t have $5, I only have $1!” he cries.

Elmo learns that he has to work to earn the rest. He saves what he earns in his jar until he reaches his goal ? but then is confronted with another choice about sharing some of his money before he makes a purchase.

In other videos, Cookie Monster learns about waiting ? a key element in understanding saving ? and a little boy uses the money in his “sharing” jar to buy cans of cat food for kittens in a shelter. The program also includes hands-on activities designed to teach kids various concepts, such as one focused on value that links Muppets with their favorite things; think Ernie and his rubber ducky.

Kits with DVDs and printed materials are available at branches of PNC Bank, which funded the program. The videos and other items can also be found online at and .

In September, episodes of “Sesame Street” will feature portions of the curriculum, marking the first time the show has ventured beyond counting and identifying money to address the elements that help individuals make sound financial choices.

The Muppets have been involved in other initiatives over the years. Healthy living, literacy, multicultural understanding and science basics are among the topics they’ve targeted. Financial literacy is seen as a good fit for the show’s educational mission.

“This came forth as one issue that we can make a big impact on,” said Gary E. Knell, the president and CEO of Sesame Workshop. If the program can help young children understand the fundamentals of how to handle money, they’ll take those concepts into adolescence and adulthood. “We think this is right in the wheelhouse of what Sesame Street is all about.”

Some of the lessons might benefit the parents, too.

Sunny days have been the exception when it comes to finances for many adults in the past few years, as past missteps like saving too little for emergencies and running up credit card balances contributed to hard times.

Studies find that one of the reasons so many grown-ups make such mistakes is that they don’t understand basic financial concepts. Without guidance, they may pass on unproductive habits to their kids, or just avoid the issue altogether.

“When it comes to money issues, people are hesitant to teach their kids about something they feel insecure about,” said Beth Kobliner, a personal finance expert who appears in some of the videos, and was among the advisers for the project. The materials and videos are designed to help parents become comfortable with the topics along with their kids.

That’s one of the key benefits, said PNC Financial Group CEO Jim Rohr. “When the children are learning, frequently there is an adult right there with them. It’s a way to get financial education into the marketplace.”

Sesame Street is not alone in trying to address financial literacy on a level that children can understand. There are websites, books and lessons for parents and kids available through a number of private organizations, and curriculum guides for schools abound.

But money education in schools is still limited ? 26 states don’t require any personal finance lessons and just four mandate a dedicated class, according to the JumpStart Foundation for Financial Literacy. The rest of the states incorporate some instruction into other classes, mainly as a high school graduation requirement.

Only four states require the subject be addressed in elementary school, despite research showing that teaching basic concepts like saving at an early age has an impact.

“Introducing topics while kids are forming behaviors and attitudes is a good building block,” said Laura Levine, JumpStart’s executive director and another adviser to the Sesame Street project. “We’re not teaching them to balance their portfolios.”

Source: The Associated Press.