When we think about literacy, we often consider letters rather than numbers. But over the past few years, financial literacy has become ever more crucial — and more widely-discussed. And as of this past week, even Elmo has joined that discussion.
For his preliminary lessons in personal finance, Elmo learns the difference between a “need” and a “want,” emphasizing that his father likes the word “prioritize.” The three-and-a-half-year-old Elmo also learns about “deferred gratification” when he realizes that he needs four more dollars to buy a sparkly “stupendous ball” rather than a standard, less-stupendous rubber ball.
In addition to discussing “spending” and “saving,” Elmo even introduces the concept of “sharing” money — explaining that, when “we see that somebody needs help … we are putting some of our money together to send to help.” So through a familiar vocabulary of helping and sharing, Elmo introduces philanthropy to his young audience — and suggests that understanding philanthropy is a key part of understanding money overall.
Elmo’s lessons, while certainly targeted at those with an allowance rather than a salary, certainly raise some important questions. First, how can learning to “read” finances become as common as learning to read a book or magazine? And should financial literacy be taught alongside traditional literacy to children in Sesame Street’s target demographic? (Yesterday in Boston, Gov. Deval Patrick in fact “signed a bill creating a new trust fund designed to help Massachusetts residents be smarter about the way they save and spend their money.”)
Personally, I think that Elmo’s financial language — centered on saving/spending/sharing — is quite smart and widely applicable. In particular, I appreciate that he separates “spending” and “sharing,” indicating that an act of giving is not an expense per se — but rather an investment in the community that we share. So do you agree with his three key words? What can we do to spread financial literacy among kids and adults?