How to Teach Personal Finance with an Index Card. A Guest Post by Barbara O'Neill.

Aug 28, 2017
NGPF Fellows, Behavioral Finance, Featured Teachers, Financial Literacy, Teaching Strategies

Barbara O’Neill is an NGPF Fellow and a Distinguished Professor at Rutgers Cooperative Extension in New Jersey. In addition to teaching, Barbara also organizes and facilitates professional development for high school personal finance educators in New Jersey. In August 2017, Barbara facilitated two Financial Education Boot Camps and had educators work through the following Index Card Activity.


Back in March, I wrote a NGPF blog post about my three-month curation of financial education resources as a sabbatical project. As part of that process, I spent a month investigating the wealth of NGPF resources that are available to financial educators. One of the NGPF resources that caught my eye was an 8-minute PBS video in the video library called All the Finance Advice You Need Should Fit on an Index Card.  The video features interviews with Harold Pollack and Helaine Olen, co-authors of the book The Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated.

NGPF created an activity around the index card video and suggested that having students write their personal finance take-aways on an index card “might be a good culminating activity.” In a related blog post, NGPF founder Tim Ranzetta noted “it would demonstrate what left the greatest impression on students and what they retained across all the units that you taught.” The blog post also noted that New York Times columnist Ron Lieber had shared readers’ index card tips.

I developed an activity to extend the “personal finance on an index card” concept even further. Each summer, I conduct two full-day conferences called Financial Education Boot Camp (FEBC) to provide professional development for New Jersey financial educators. I decided to make the NGPF index card video the “keynote address” followed by an activity where teachers wrote their personal finance tips on index cards and shared them online. I completed the activity handout while attending the July NGPF Summer Institute in Palo Alto.

Basically, participants have two options to share their financial advice index cards via social media: taking a cell phone photo of an actual index card (low tech) or creating a digital image by inserting text into a PowerPoint slide and digitizing it using Windows Paint (located under Accessories) or another graphic design process (higher tech). Obviously, cards created using Paint are more attractive, especially if index card creators “trick” their index cards out with different colors, fonts, school logos, and digital clip art. 

I tested my index card activity with over 100 New Jersey teachers….and it worked very well. Everyone had an index card completed within 20 minutes and they sent me their digital files via e-mail or direct messages on Twitter. From there, I prepared a collage of index cards from each FEBC conference and I used the index cards to create a short video about the personal finance tips shared by New Jersey teachers. Some of the index cards were also included individually in a Storify summary of the FEBC conference. The more outreach methods that are used, the better.

If you are looking for an engaging activity to review content or to assess what students have learned, I highly recommend Personal Finance Ideas That Fit on an Index Card. Have students share their key take-aways and then extend the project in as many directions as you can: student newspaper article, blog post, tweets, videos, etc. Make your personal finance advice visible and valuable. Collectively, our voices can make a difference and improve the lives of others.

About the Author

Laura Matchett

After graduating with an education degree and spending 7 years in an elementary classroom, Laura made the switch to the non-profit world and loves interacting with students, educators and business professionals across the country. She is passionate about all students having access to high quality education and views personal finance education as one way to ‘level the playing field’. When Laura is not locating or creating high quality educational resources, you can find her mountain biking or searching for the best ramen in town!