Preparing Our Daughters for Their Financial Future
How prepared are our daughters for their financial futures? That is a question that has bothered me for decades. As a Bais Yaakov high school mechaneches and administrator, I have long felt that girls’ education could be enriched by preparing the young ladies of today for the roles they will iy”h play as wives, mothers, and grandmothers down the road. Whether a frum girl today becomes a kollel wife, a professional, an entrepreneur, or a full- time homemaker, she needs to be prepared for what lies ahead financially. How should she manage her money or lack thereof? How can she save for a rainy day? Should she have life insurance? What about taxes?
Enter the Financial Literacy course taught at Shevach High School in Kew Gardens Hills, N.Y.
At the very least, it is the responsibility of yeshivos and Bais Yaakovs to teach our teens the value of day-to-day financial planning. Today’s high schools are the vehicle to prepare tomorrow’s adults. They need to know the seven fundamental skills that support informed decision making in line with the values of a frum household. They are to earn, spend, share, save, invest, borrow, and protect the family. They need to understand deposits and withdrawals and bottom-line income/debt ratios. They have to be able to identify fixed expenses and fluctuating expenses. When is it okay to borrow money? What is the difference between a credit card and a debit card?
When I taught this course recently, I asked the girls if they knew the advantage of having a credit card. They, of course, quickly responded that one can spend money one does not have at the moment. But when I asked them about the disadvantages of using a credit card, fewer were able to answer that. It did not take long before someone said just what we of the older generation now know: you can spend money you do not have at the moment! And then when the bill comes, you have to pay it. Or else. With interest rates up to 27% (and sometimes more!) that can hurt.
When the students started asking questions that were on their minds, it became evident to me that the classes spoke to them as individuals. Are there fees for banking? What happens when one writes a check with no money behind it in the bank? What should one do if they were the recipient of such a check? Does cash income have to be claimed as income? Why do I need insurance if I am young and healthy baruch Hashem? Why were taxes deducted from my Youth Corps check last summer?
Students learned about overdraft privileges, bounced checks, money market accounts, social security deductions, student loans and mortgages. I delineated the difference between what one wants and what one needs. Using a pie chart to teach budgeting, the girls understood that some expenses are unavoidable while others are occasional and some frivolous. And then, of course, there are always the expenses from left field: think mechanic and dentist. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a rainy day “envelope” for that?
A proper course would include overdraft protection, online banking, CDs, IRAs, retirement funds, pensions, cutting utility bills, leasing a car vs. owning a car, check writing and more. Students would learn what ATMs and PINs are. How is it possible to shrink our food bills? Is Costco the answer for all households, regardless of size? Do electric cars deliver the savings they claim? I invited a reputable accountant to teach about what the government does with our taxes, the understanding of investments, and how stocks and bonds work.
As in other areas of education and chinuch, there is a wide range of background knowledge amongst the students. So much depends on upbringing and the financial health of the family they come from, not to mention basic intuition. However, with so much of shalom bayis dependent on the financial understanding between the husband and wife, we are remiss if we do not address this topic. When couples are in financial “trouble”, they seek the guidance of professionals to show them a path they can attain for peace of mind. One well-known Rav mentioned that 75% of the questions he is asked by couples are related to money. An ounce of prevention would go a very long way. Having a clear picture of basic budgeting would help avoid these times of tension.
Of course, we believe that money is not the focus of our aspirations in this lifetime. It is not a goal in and of itself. It is a means to help ourselves and our families, and even others, survive in difficult financial times. Part of this course is to instill in our girls the obligation to give maaser of their earnings. Tzedakah, matan b’seiser, chessed— these are identifying features of the Jewish nation.
Over the years of my teaching this course, students have left feeling knowledgeable, prepared, and empowered. The course is now part of the curriculum at Shevach High School. It is another way that its young ladies will be able to take on their futures with confidence becoming contributing members (literally!) to their communities.