How Do You Teach Money Values and Beliefs?

Sep 07, 2016
Behavioral Finance, Lesson Idea, Teaching Strategies, Purchase Decisions, Video Resource, Article, Writing assignment, Ethics

Elizabeth Justema, a first-time personal finance teacher from Summit High School of Bend, Oregon, shared resources that she developed to facilitate student reflection on their money values and beliefs (listen to her podcast here). She hopes this set of resources answers a set of essential questions and achieves specific learning objectives that she outlined below:

Essential Questions:

  • What are my values/needs/wants?
  • What is my perspective on money?
  • What are the origins of those perspectives?
  • How do those perspectives affect my spending behaviors?

Students will be able to:

  • Identify different ways that they relate to money.
  • Discuss and articulate personal values about money.
  • Identify financial needs and wants based on values.
  • Acknowledge conflicting viewpoints of other students and community members.

Here are the resources she developed and curated to achieve these objectives:

1-Survey: Personal Finance Survey

  • Two part survey to gauge student knowledge (17 questions) and experience with financial products (13 questions)
  • Results to be shared with class (anonymously of course) to show wide disparities in knowledge and experience


  • Students review list of 13 general statements about money (examples include “Money is evil” and “Taking risks is bad”).
  • Students select three of the statements that are most compelling to them and write the reasons why.
  • Students select three of the statements that they find least compelling and must be ready to discuss.

3-Written Reflection: Investigating my perspective on money

  • Students provide written responses to fourteen thought-providing questions and fill in the blanks, including:
    • Money makes people…. (fill in the blank).
    • In your house, is money regarded with caution, enthusiasm, a struggle, a reward? Explain what role it plays in your household.
    • My financial goals are………..(fill in the blank)

4-Article: Relationship with Money 

  • Two page article about “Relationship with Money”
  • Assists students in the goal-setting process by providing a scenario for them to reflect upon:
    • By seeing and acknowledging your difficulties around money, you enable yourself to face obstacles — and to attain your goals and dreams. The important question here is, “What is important to you?” If you’re not certain, imagine you’ve gone to the doctor and only have twenty-four hours to live. Ask yourself these questions, adapted from Kinder: What feelings are you experiencing? What regrets and longings, what unfulfilled dreams? What do you wish you had completed, been, had, or done? These questions help to make clear what is superficial and what is central to you.

5-Survey: Parent Guardian Survey About Money

  • Opportunity for students to explore their parents’ (or guardians’) relationship with money and the impact it has had on their belief system
  • Nine open-ended questions for parents to answer with their children. My favorites include:
    •  What were your family stories or beliefs about money growing up? What were you taught? Give an example.
    •  What is your biggest fear about me…….on the subject of money
    • When did you start to manage your own money? What did this look like? Checking account? Credit card? How did it go?

6-Writing Assignment: My Beliefs About Money 

  • First, students complete a drawing that reflects their money beliefs.
  • Next, students write a one-pager summarizing what they have learned about:
  1. Your fundamental beliefs about money and where they come from.
  2. How you think your beliefs might or might not evolve.
  3. The role you expect money will play in your life.

7-TEENS & MONEY Survey

  • Findings from the 2011 Teens and Money Survey (from Charles Schwab)
  • Opportunity to use a service like Poll Everywhere to query your students on similar set of questions to what is included in the Survey to compare/contrast class results

8-Video: Can Money Buy Happiness?

  • 10 minute TED talk video which helps to answer this question
  • Four questions to focus the class discussion afterwards

9-Discussion: The Parable of the Happy Fisherman (from this NYT article which includes four other discussion starters):

This exercise presents the parable of a happy fisherman living a simple life on a small island. The fellow goes fishing for a few hours every day. He catches a few fish, sells them to his friends, and enjoys spending the rest of the day with his wife and children, and napping. He couldn’t imagine changing a thing in his relaxed and easy life.

Let’s tweak the parable: A recent M.B.A. visits this island and quickly sees how this fisherman could become rich. He could catch more fish, start up a business, market the fish, open a cannery, maybe even issue an I.P.O. Ultimately he would become truly successful. He could donate some of his fish to hungry children worldwide and might even save lives.

“And then what?” asks the fisherman.

“Then you could spend lots of time with your family,” replies the visitor. “Yet you would have made a difference in the world. You would have used your talents, and fed some poor children, instead of just lying around all day.”

We ask students to apply this parable to their own lives. Is it more important to you to have little, be less traditionally successful, yet be relaxed and happy and spend time with family? Or is it more important to you to work hard, perhaps start a business, maybe even make the world a better place along the way?

Typically, this simple parable leads to substantial disagreement. These discussions encourage first-year undergraduates to think about what really matters to them, and what each of us feels we might owe, or not owe, to the broader community — ideas that our students can capitalize on throughout their time at college.


Do you have a favorite way to teach about money values and beliefs? Please send along your favorite lessons/resources/activities that we can share with the community!


Want to have a discussion about ethics? Try this activity where students reflect on the return policy at retailer L.L. Bean





About the Author

Tim Ranzetta

Tim's saving habits started at seven when a neighbor with a broken hip gave him a dog walking job. Her recovery, which took almost a year, resulted in Tim getting to know the bank tellers quite well (and accumulating a savings account balance of over $300!). His recent entrepreneurial adventures have included driving a shredding truck, analyzing executive compensation packages for Fortune 500 companies and helping families make better college financing decisions. After volunteering in 2010 to create and teach a personal finance program at Eastside College Prep in East Palo Alto, Tim saw firsthand the impact of an engaging and activity-based curriculum, which inspired him to start a new non-profit, Next Gen Personal Finance.