According to Teenage Research Unlimited, youth ages 1219 spent $105 billion of their own money and $48 billion of family money during 1999. This shows that teens are powerful consumers and also suggests that families are allowing teens to make more family buying decisions.
Yet according to another 1999 survey, the vast majority of students ages 1622 have never taken a class in personal finance and two-thirds admit they could use a few more lessons on money management. In addition, almost 10 percent of all students are rolling over credit card debt each month. If teens are to be successful in managing money, they need to begin developing life skills of financial management in their pre-teen years.
In an attempt to make Washington State youth better money managers, WSU Cooperative Extension has launched a program called The Consumer Critter Crew. The critters are part of a new curriculum aimed at teaching youth important life skills as consumers.
The project is funded by the Washington State Attorney Generals Office, with technical training and support provided by Washington State University Cooperative Extensions 4-H Youth Development program. Through this project, 18 school-age care providers across the state were given mini-grants, including curriculum, training, and funding designed to support consumer education within their programs. These rookie consumers are learning how to manage money, make wise purchasing choices, and recognize the wide variety of services available within their communities. Youth involved with this curriculum are also receiving valuable life skills in knowing their rights and responsibilities as consumers.
Field trips to shopping centers, libraries, parks, and other public arenas are a part of helping young people connect to their communities, and recognize the responsibility they have in maintaining these sites. Simulating shopping experiences also provides real world practice in selecting quality products, noting waste in packaging, and spending within a budget. Leaders have already seen valuable results in the discussions and questions fostered by the Consumer Critter Crew curriculum. Young people involved with this curriculum benefit from developing skills in giving, managing, thinking, and living safely and responsibly.