For the past two years, Matt Salas has been teaching personal finance to nearly 1,000 students at Nuestros Valores High School in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
As part of the Making Money Work program, Nuestros Valores High School in Albuquerque, New Mexico partners with Central New Mexico Community College to provide students with a personal finance education. Matt teaches both Economics and Finance 1010, which is a dual credit class that gives passing students college credit. The dual credit class is also a graduation requirement. In both classes, students learn basic money management concepts, such as credit and budgeting, and also how the economy is intricately linked to their personal financial status.
To bring financial concepts to life, Matt incorporates activities that simulate real world scenarios. In his Economics class, students complete financial aid applications for school and compare federal and private rates to track fluctuations in price. A significant part of the discussion is how current events and the country's economic activity affects these rates. Matt also ties in the importance of credit reports into the discussion. Students then research jobs and, based on the salaries of those jobs, discover how much they would have to pay back their loans and at what monthly rate. "They are going to do these things anyway," says Matt. "Tying these lessons into real-world concepts helps enhance meaning in context."
Another project focuses on entrepreneurship and the benefits and consequences of starting a business. Students watch a few episodes of the TV show Shark Tank, in which aspiring entrepreneurs make business presentations to a panel of investors. Afterward, students develop their own business idea and propose it to Matt as if he is a bank and they are asking for a loan. They must explain costs, expenses and projected profits and growth using an ROI model and equation, and estimate startup costs like employee pay and rent. "I wouldn't be surprised if this activity paved the way for some students to actually start their own businesses," says Matt. "I can see the sparks flying. Some are really talented and creative."
One project specific to the Finance 1010 class relates to budgeting. Students choose a desired profession and research required degrees and projected salaries and then interview their parents or guardians about their finances. "In every single interview, financial education – not just general academia – is highly stressed," says Matt. Most parents admit they were not taught the importance of good credit or good spending practices – lessons Matt's students are currently being taught. "The project forces them to consider the costs of life as they get older. For some, the careers they envisioned for themselves don't produce a salary that matches the lifestyle they want."
The greatest challenge teaching personal finance to high school students is its novelty, says Matt. "For most of my students, it's all new. It's the first time they're being introduced to these concepts. It requires a lot of selling on my part, making it sound great to really get their attention."
Matt's students have gained both short and long-term benefits from taking his class. Understanding the necessities and importance of personal finance and individual economics helps students become more goal-oriented and focus on future planning, particularly for college. "I feel confident that the knowledge they gained from my class will benefit them, whether they consciously recognize it or not," he says.
"I'm a budgeter," says Matt about practicing good finance in his own life. "I'm always checking accounts, making sure I'm not spending more than I'm bringing in." Sometimes, his family and friends think he's being too strict on himself when it comes to money. But as the co-founder of local non-profit Burqueños for Education and Empowerment (BEE) and a personal finance educator, Matt understands the importance of staying on budget.
Practical Money Skills would like to commend Matt Salas for his ongoing efforts and commitment to financial literacy at Nuestros Valores High School in Albuquerque, New Mexico.