Activity Idea: Write a Column About Money To Help Your Peers

Mar 01, 2017
Writing assignment, Credit Cards, Investing, Student Loans, Teaching Strategies, Current Events

This St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter, Jim Gallagher, wrote his final column recently. After twenty three years of being on the personal finance beat, he left a gift to his readers by reflecting on all that he had learned. I thought this would be a great activity for educators who are constantly on the prowl for writing assignment ideas. Why not as a final project have your students write a personal finance column highlighting all that they had learned. In terms of structure, here are some additional ideas:

  • Should cover 4-5 of the key topics covered in the course that you think are most relevant to your peers (banking, budgeting, credit, credit scores, paying for college, etc.)
  • Include anecdotes or personal stories to bring the topic to life (e.g., I remember getting charged an overdraft fee which taught me to monitor my bank accounts more closely)
  • Discuss the “surprises” or “aha” moments that you had in the class and what led to this surprise (e.g., didn’t realize how important credit scores were)
  • Be specific with your language.
  • Assume that readers are looking to you for advice so be sure to have concrete steps that readers can take to improve their financial capability.

As for Jim’s columns, here are a few highlights that I found myself nodding my head most vigorously:

  • His investing advice: “A good investor is humble. I’m dumber than those geniuses on Wall Street. I can’t beat the Street, so I don’t try. In fact, most of the geniuses can’t beat the Street. Nearly 9 out of 10 percent of managers of actively managed mutual funds trail the dumb stock indexes over time, according to Dow Jones Indices. So, favor dirt-cheap index mutual funds for your stock investments. Pick a total-stock-market fund for the big piece, and total-international fund for the small piece. But beware — stocks are not the place for money you’ll need in the next six years. Use bonds and bank accounts for that. Shun individual stocks unless you really know what you’re doing. The big boys have smart analysts picking stocks. They’ll know to bail out before you do…Target-date funds are wonderful things in 401(k) plans. They adjust investments automatically to maximize the payout on your retirement date. Unless you’re really savvy about money, grab the target date fund (hey, we just talked about these funds in our webinar “Teach Investing In Two Hours.
  • Pros and cons of debt:  “Don’t borrow money for something that won’t pay you back. Education pays you back. A house might. A car won’t. Drive an old beater until you can afford something better, and buy it with cash. Before taking out student loans, look at what your likely career will pay, and don’t overborrow. Engineers make a lot more than social workers. The money benefit of college goes to those who finish. If you think you might not, start at community college. You can swing that without borrowing.”


Looking for more Writing Assignment ideas? Here are a few recent blog posts with additional ideas.

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.