Financial Planning | Leadership / Management

Lessons in finance? You’re never too young.

Pig CPAs have been fighting the good financial literacy fight for years now, and admirably so. Americans are spending too much and not saving nearly enough, and they're facing a pretty bleak financial future as a result. That has huge implications not only for folks on a personal level, but for the nation's economy as a whole.

So an army of CPA volunteers has been invading our high schools and colleges, intent on helping young Americans improve their financial IQ.

Ruth Spivak, though, is taking it a step further.

For the past dozen or so years, the Cockeysville sole practitioner has ditched the podium at the front of the classroom and given her financial literacy lessons a real-world flare. She runs the student store at Warren Elementary School, and she has turned over pretty much all of the heavy financial lifting to her fourth- and fifth-grade students.

In doing so, she has turned the operation of the store into an economics lesson of sorts. With guidance from Spivak, a team of five students each year is responsible for everything from merchandising to pricing to advertising to sales.

"These students learn what's involved in running a business," Spivak said in a recent phone interview. "I've had five students each year for 12 years, and I've had one child drop out. The rest have all been very excited (about the project). They look forward to their days of work."

Spivak's lessons don't stop there, though. She is also teaching the store's "customers" -- the rest of the student body at Warren Elementary -- the value of a buck. In a world where most youngsters rarely handle money or make actual purchases by themselves, that's huge.

"I was 5 years old when I went out to the corner market and bought a pound of ground round and a loaf of bread and some Old Gold cigarettes for my mother. I was handed money, walked to the store, bought what she needed and walked home," Spivak said. "Our kids don't do that anymore. They never touch money. They don't have any concept of money.

"The (Warren Elementary) store is a safe shopping environment for the kids. No one is going to take advantage of them. No one is going to push them to buy anything. It's a safe, secure way to learn how to choose what they want and get the best value for their money. That's the true goal of the store. Five kids learn how a business runs, and the rest of the kids have an opportunity to shop in a safe and secure manner."

And there, dear readers, is the power of CPA activism: One CPA takes it upon herself to teach invaluable lessons to children in her community -- and changes their lives as a result. It doesn't get much more powerful than that.

So here's to you, Ruth Spivak. Keep spreading that financial literacy message. It's too important to stop now.

And for the rest of you: If you'd like details about how you can get involved in the movement, visit the MACPA's financial literacy resource center.

Want to learn more? Check out these resources:


Bill Sheridan