Pass me a bucket

I saw the door of my study creep open, ever so slightly.

I heard heavy breathing. Whispers. And then … fits of giggles.

It was the school holidays and my sons were bored, so they decided to spy on their old man ‘working’.

And fair enough too. When I was roughly their age, I’d do the same thing with my old man, and I’d watch him counting out great wads of cash (hey, it was the 80s).

My boys, however, saw me sitting on my office floor playing with three plastic buckets.

I may as well have been in a sandpit (hence the giggles).

Let me explain: this year I’ve been working in classrooms across the country teaching kids about money, as part of my not-for-profit the Barefoot Money Movement.

My Primary School program — called ‘The Jam Jar Project’ — is a rolled gold winner:

Last month I taught it at my old primary school, and the kids nearly wet themselves.

“This is the best class ever and I have a blood nose”, one seven year old excitedly told me.

My teenage program is … not going as well.

In fact, teaching this class has been giving me a blood nose. Repeatedly.

Honestly, engaging teenagers is easily the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my career. I’m in awe of the amazing work teachers do. The volatility of the share market has nothing on the volatility of 25 teenagers. We go from boom to bust to depression … in a 60 minute class!

Yet I finally nailed it — with the help of three plastic buckets.

Here’s what I did:

I put a bucket on the table and explained to the class that this bucket represented a bank account.

Then I told them about Johnny Depp. He may be a movie star flying around in private jets, but Johnny has a hole in his bucket: money goes in, but it flows straight out the bottom. He (reportedly) doesn’t save. (Which explains why he has to keep making bad pirate movies.)

Then I picked up the other plastic buckets and put them on the table. The solution, I told the kids, is to have two other savings buckets that don’t have holes in them: one for emergencies (Mojo), and one for savings goals (Smile).

They got the concept straight away.

In the next lesson I plan to take the metaphor further, and explain that their job is to guard their buckets, and not let anyone drill a hole in them: like credit card companies, Harvey Norman interest-free deals, Nimble loans, car loans, even AfterPay. We go through their glossy marketing, and then read the fine print and show them just how big a hole these products can blow a hole in their buckets.

Here’s the deal: in a few short years these kids will be fresh meat for financial institutions, who employ some of the savviest and sophisticated marketers on the planet. While they’re still in school, they need to learn how the game works against them.

Case in point: we got the class to calculate that an average credit card would take 30 years to pay off.

The looks on their faces, as Mastercard would say, were ‘Priceless’.

Tread Your Own Path!