Costly lessons

Like many freshly graduated high schoolers in the early 2000s, I got a job and started college. I would foolishly spend: All. The. Time. It didn’t matter on what. I would get paid on Friday and expect to receive overdraft statements soon after.

I continued this trend until I began my second stint at college in 2010. Enough was enough. I toned down my lifestyle, quit going out so much and started to save my money.

When I transferred to Manoa in 2013, I barely went out and studied and worked nearly nonstop at the campus newspaper, Ka Leo O Hawaii. Budgeting my spending and filling my time with study and work allowed me to reflect on my financial situation and save up for rainy days and then some.

According to a 2015 Financial Literacy Task Force by the Hawaii Department of Education, “millennials are struggling financially. In particular, they exhibit a number of problematic financial behaviors, display low levels of financial literacy and express concerns about their debt.”

According to data from that report, 60 percent of millennials are not saving for retirement and 67 percent have no rainy day funds. The most staggering statistic is 24 percent of them can’t answer four or five questions on a five-question financial literacy quiz. Yikes.

Growing up, my public school curriculum on Kauai did not have financial literacy courses. None that I remember anyway. Even if there were courses, they didn’t keep me engage enough to care. I’m not blaming the DOE on my bad spending habits, but who knows what life would be like if these courses existed or were interesting.

Times, however, are changing thanks to organizations like Junior Achievement, which recruits volunteers to lead financial literacy classes in schools, and Kauai Community Federal Credit Union and Kauai Government Employees Federal Credit Union.

KCFCU recently opened the Raider Credit Union at Kauai High School.

It is also sponsoring a free financial literacy program to 18 Kauai schools on Kauai to help students avoid the pitfalls of uncontrollable debt, overdrafts, overspending.

The program is called Banzai. It exposes students to real-life scenarios and allows them to make financial decisions — whether good or bad for their in-game finances.

“They see the negative and positive results and they have good conversations among their peers when one kid buys the renter’s insurance and the other one doesn’t,” said Greg Anderson, a Kauai High School teacher who teaches business courses. “It creates a conversation. The kids, overall, have benefited from it because it ties back to the real world — things they can understand.”

One example involves purchasing a new car or fixing an existing broken car.

If they choose to fix it, the next scenario may have them fix it again. It demonstrates the cost of maintenance and upkeep, which means budgeting and saving enough money for future, unforeseen events.

Hopefully financial literacy programs and exercises like Banzai will help to improve and cultivate financial literacy among our keiki and, in turn, change how future generations spend their money.

I mean, they can learn the hard way, but that might be a bit costly, don’t you think?

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