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3 Ways to Engage High Schoolers in Personal Finance

As states ramp up financial literacy education requirements, teachers can use technology-based tools in their personal finance lessons.

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Education experts say teaching personal finance to high school students is necessary for students' healthy financial future. 

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It’s a lesson that everyone needs to learn: how to manage money. Yet until recently, most states did not require any financial literacy education.

But in the wake of a turbulent economy and a student debt crisis, some states have changed the status quo. Four states require students to complete a one-semester course devoted to personal finance in high school, according to the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy, and several have legislation for similar requirements in the works.

[Read about the best money saving tips for students.]

Julie Felshaw, an economics and financial literacy specialist with the Utah State Office of Education, says that financial literacy education is important because as students graduate from high school, they are stepping into adult roles with adult responsibilities. Students in Utah are required to take a one-semester financial literacy course, but pending legislation could create some of the toughest financial literacy requirements in the country

"The decisions they make early on are going to affect their financial well-being as adults," says Felshaw. "They can get themselves into financial difficulties early on and it could take a very long time for them to restructure their lives and get back on track."

Brian Page, who runs FinEdChat, a blog featuring K-12 financial education tools and resources, agrees that financial literacy education is essential.

"We can’t claim to be preparing students for the 21st century if we are not providing them with 21st-century survival skills," says Page, a finance, economics and business teacher at Reading High School in Reading, Ohio.

[Check out the best ways teens can learn about personal finance.]

Technology is a great way for teachers to help students understand complicated financial topics. Instructors can try these three technology-based ways to engage high school students learning about personal finance.

1. Game-based learning: Practical Money Skills, a site that works to help consumers and students learn the essentials of personal finance, offers games and other educational resources.

Another site, OnGuardOnline, is a personal favorite of Page's. Sponsored by the federal government, the site offers educational resources and games to teach teens how to keep personal information safe and secure online.

2. Budget simulations: Both education experts agree that learning how to create and maintain a budget is one of the most important skills that students should learn. Page recommends Budget Challenge, a personal finance simulation tool. Students can learn how to manage a checkbook and maintain a budget, among other skills, using the program.

"I use it because I’m trying to bridge content understanding with marked behavior change and that’s a way for me to do that," Page says.

3. Smartphone apps: One of the best tech tools to teach financial literacy is one most students already have – a smartphone. Page recommends using an app like RedLaser to teach comparison shopping. Users can scan a product's bar code and instantly receive information on prices of the same product at nearby stores and the Web.

"You’re not going to use it for a piece of gum, but if it’s a $200 pair of shoes you might save $50 in three seconds," Page says.

Urging students to set reminders on their phone to annually check their credit report using the site Annual Credit Report is another simple way to nudge students to take action, Page says.

While some students may not see the value in financial literacy education, experts agree that it is crucial. 

"Some kids may say, ‘Oh I don’t want to take that,' or 'I want to take another AP class,' but the fact is that everyone has to deal with money," says Felshaw. "It doesn't matter what career you choose or if you don’t go to college. Everyone has to deal with money. It is so basic and it is so essential."

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