Personal finance should be included in economics curriculum

Econ11 and AP Macroeconomics fail to teach Paly students applicable life lessons for real world situations

After a semester of Econ11 and an additional semester of Advanced Placement (AP) Macroeconomics, any Palo Alto High School senior could explain why the net exports effect creates a downward-sloping aggregate demand curve and what a graph of a country’s loanable funds market looks like. They probably would not, however, be confident explaining the difference between savings and checking account, or how an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) works. After reflecting on my time at Palo Alto High School and the knowledge I will take from it, I think personal finance lessons should be included as part of the curriculum in Economics classes.

Econ11 and AP Macro were two of the best classes I have taken at Paly. The material our classes covered helped me understand more about the world around me. Whereas calculus classes, teachers include lessons on “real life applications” to make the curriculum appear more applicable to the real world,  these kinds of lessons were not necessary in Econ because the whole class is essentially one big real life application. My class learned that economics surround us and influence us every day. We learned how opportunity costs influence nearly every decision we make, and the money market’s significance in our everyday lives.

However, as my time at Paly comes to a close, I am left wondering why important life skills like personal finance have not been taught to me and my classmates.

As my classmates and I depart for college, there will surely be situations where we will need to have some knowledge about financial affairs. How to obtain a credit card, how to build a high credit score, knowing when and how to save for retirement — are these not all things we should know before we go off to live on our own?

In my Econ11 class, we learned a little about personal finance. Towards the end of the semester,  experts on economics came to our class and gave a demonstration that essentially proved how clueless we were. Each class member had a certain number of “units” of money that we had to allocate among the costs of living — rent, food, transportation and insurance were some of the categories we had to allot money to. By the end of the demonstration, only a few people had distributed the money appropriately the first time around. The rest of us had been too quick to spend on a car, new furniture or a cell phone plan.

Debbie Whitson, one of Paly’s economics teachers, advises her Econ11 students to explore a website, NextGenVest, in the last few weeks of her class. Although the work is not recorded or graded, I believe the content of the website is similar to what should be taught in class. The website consists of video-lessons with titles including “Types of Loans,” “ Investing 101” and “Filing Taxes.” While I admire that the website was presented to us as an optional resource to learn from, I think the life skills the website includes would be better retained by students if it were required material that classes would be tested on, such as in a graded unit.

Personal finance should be taught in economics classes because all seniors are required to take the class to graduate, therefore guaranteeing that everyone will have the opportunity to learn these important life skills. Paying taxes, writing checks, maintaining good credit scores — personal finance teaches skills every senior will need to know at some point, no matter if one is headed to college or straight into the workforce.