William Anderson's background in mortgage and personal banking laid the foundation for his knowledge in finance. But it was his daily experience in the field with adults who lacked basic finance skills that brought him to financial education. "I saw first-hand the significant issues that plague our country," he says. "A majority of adults I dealt with just lacked the basic fundamental understanding of financial concepts. The sheer ignorance and lack of education made me realize that it was my calling to address the root of the problem and to me that was in our nation's education system."
He started teaching Financial Literacy at Sussex County Technical school three years ago when it became a graduation requirement in Sparta, New Jersey. During the first year, he taught both freshmen and sophomores; now, the class is primarily for freshmen. Thus far, William has reached approximately 525 students which collectively amounts to 80 percent of the student population at Sussex.
In addition to using traditional resources to teach concepts like credit and debt management, saving, and civic financial responsibility, William created an educational game called the "Wealth Effect' that brings the concepts to life. The game simulates the financial life of a working adult responsible for typical expenses like rent, groceries and utilities. Every Friday, he gives his students a paycheck, which is based on their grade in the class. Their expenses are based on where they choose to live – for example, the suburbs versus the city – and are due on a specific date. If the payment is not received on time, the student is assessed a late fee. Random, unexpected events like a car accident or inflation pop up and affect their finances. Students are also fined for unacceptable behavior like cell phone use in class and tardiness. William says the element of friendly competition keeps students engaged and makes the lessons more impactful.
Engaging students with games to teach them about money is one of his approaches. Another lesson about loans and investing utilizes a stock market challenge. Each student starts with a fictitious $50,000 to invest in the stock market. They are required to purchase a car for at least $5,000 and must provide a down payment and follow requirements for certain loan parameters with different interest rates. Students are also encouraged to contribute to a 401K, up to five percent of which is matched by William, as if he is their employer.
This school year, William started a new program using the SIFMA Foundation's The Stock Market Game, an online educational activity that teaches math, economics, saving and investing. Students are given a hypothetical $100,000 to invest in real stocks, bonds and mutual funds they then track in teams. The opportunity is open for both current and former students to participate, and he hopes the game will gain momentum and participation as the school year continues.
The Financial Literacy class requirement was initially met with skepticism from some parents who believed the topic was too complex for freshmen. However, William believes his students are never too young to learn good money management skills. He thinks it is important to "address the issue at a young age, and then kids would be more equipped with the knowledge needed to make sound financial decisions in life." He enjoys providing them with the tools they need to be successful, well-informed citizens now and beyond graduation.
He hopes the lessons will teach his students to understand the benefits of saving and using debt appropriately to establish credit – lessons he practices in his own life. He listens to Bloomberg radio every morning and evening on his way to work, watches CNBC during his prep periods and consults financial resources like the Wall Street Journal. His meticulous organizational tendencies keep him on track with Excel spreadsheets that are constantly being updated. He also surrounds himself with financial experts and educates his one-year-old and three-year-old about money using a piggy bank.
William is dedicated to improving his students' financial literacy. He says it is incredible to "see students grasp concepts, learn from mistakes and become better citizens for it."
Practical Money Skills would like to commend William Anderson for his ongoing efforts and commitment to financial literacy education at Sussex County Technical School.