In a Nutshell: People who develop money skills at a young age can avoid costly mistakes later in life. Luckily, many credit unions are putting members first and filling a financial literacy gap the public education system often doesn’t prioritize. Peoria, Illinois-based Citizens Equity First Credit Union is a good example, providing resources and hosting educational events for families and children in member communities. In addition to providing printed and online literature, CEFCU takes learning to the next level with personal finance simulations and youth accounts that give children hands-on experience with money. By exposing young people to financial topics early, CEFCU prepares them for stability and success as adolescents and adults.
Megan Stimeling and Natalie Brandon are employees of Peoria, Illinois-based Citizens Equity First Credit Union (CEFCU). Stimeling is the Product Marketing Manager, and Brandon is a member of the Management Development Program, but you won’t always find them at a CEFCU branch location.
Often, you may find them at local schools participating in financial literacy events, like Mad City Money, a simulation designed to help students get hands-on experience with personal finance. That’s because CEFCU has pledged to serve communities in ways that extend beyond banking products and services.
“We’ve been in our core market for over 80 years, and education has been the primary focus for 25 years,” Stimeling said. “We have a lot of history here, and within our core market, we’re a pretty well-known credit union. So we’re seeing a lot of family memberships as part of that.”
This presents CEFCU with the opportunity to teach children about money and help them learn good financial habits.
“I don’t think we can stress enough how important we think this is,” Stimeling said. “It truly is the basis of our mission. Too often, adults learn about finances the hard way, and it doesn’t have to be like that.”
To help the next generation enjoy future prosperity, CEFCU offers a range of resources and programs that help young people understand the importance of personal finance. This knowledge establishes a strong foundation for success that often endures the rest of their lives.
Youth Accounts Provide Hands-On Financial Experience
“CEFCU’s mission statement is to ‘provide quality service and products to improve the financial well-being of members,’ so a huge part of that is financial literacy and education,” Stimeling said. “The earlier you start teaching kids about smart money habits, the better ingrained those values become, and they’re more likely to start adulthood on the right foot.”
Through CEFCU’s three youth accounts, children can develop financial literacy by managing their own money. Each of the three accounts, which are part of the Stones Program, is targeted at a different age group and includes a savings account, My Save Certificates, and mobile and online accessibility.
Designed for children ages 3 to 12, Stepping Stone prioritizes saving money and learning smart financial habits. The second tier, Milestone, which is for teens up to age 15, comes with a free debit card that’s tied to a checking account. Finally, Capstone, which is for teens between ages 16 and 17, helps them transition into adulthood by introducing the concept of setting larger financial goals and includes access to student and vehicle loans.
Account holders between ages 10 and 15 can participate in the Milestone Challenge each year. Participants must complete nine of 12 challenges, each of which teaches an aspect of financial literacy (like setting savings goals) and information about credit unions and how they differ from banks. Completing the Milestone Challenge earns the participant a $10 eGift Card.
The program’s coordinators annually review and update these challenges. This ensures the Milestone Challenge’s content remains up to date and fresh for new and experienced participants alike, keeping them interested in learning and strengthening healthy financial habits.
Mad City Money Adds Perspective to Financial Choices
Another of CEFCU’s initiatives is an event called Mad City Money, which puts kids in the shoes of an adult with financial goals and responsibilities.
“This is a reality fair in the schools that gives students a real-life experience in how to manage a budget,” Brandon said. “We provide them with information leading up to the fair on how to write checks, how to balance a checkbook, and some budgeting basics.”
Armed with this knowledge, students receive a profile that includes their career, salary, family situation, and additional expenses. To complete Mad City Money, students must visit a variety of stations that represent stores, businesses, and other institutions. “They have to stop at each station to make their purchase or pay their bills, and their goal is to end up with $100 in their checking account,” Brandon said.
To accomplish this task, students must evaluate their financial situations and budget accordingly. “It’s so interesting to see the things they’re willing to sacrifice, or what that they think are have-to-haves,” Brandon said. “You can pick the coffee for you and the coffee for your spouse, and you’ll have kids getting Starbucks for themselves every day but grocery store coffee for their spouse.”
While these children have as much to learn about managing relationships as they do about managing money, Mad City Money is a hands-on, memorable experience for everyone involved.
“We have a lot of fun with it,” Brandon said. “The kids actually have a ton of fun with it, too.”
Parents can also join the fun by volunteering to run stations. “We have quite a few stations we set up, so we need quite a few volunteers,” Brandon said. “The parents love it because the kids are just floored at how much groceries cost and how much it costs to go out to eat.”
Teaching these lessons through a simulation instead of a workbook helps students connect their revelations to life outside the game. “Some of the kids thank their parents,” Brandon said. “The kids come home and want to help write checks because they think writing checks is the coolest thing they’d ever done. The parents really like that it made the check writing and budgeting fun for the kids.”
Resources Help Students Pursue Financial Literacy
Financial education can’t be all fun and games, though. Fortunately, CEFCU strives to provide informational resources that are just as entertaining and engaging to different age groups.
One example is the workbooks CEFCU provides to schools in membership areas: “Saving with Mandy and Randy” and “Making the Right Money Moves.” The former caters to kids in kindergarten through second grade and includes exercises that teach students how to read statements, make deposits, and complete other basic financial tasks. By learning these lessons early, they’ll be able to start managing their money as adolescents and gain valuable experience for later in life.
“’Making the Right Money Moves’ is geared toward the high school market,” Brandon said. This workbook covers credit, choosing a car and auto loan, making payments, budgeting, and other topics relevant to young adults. This helps high school students start thinking about their futures by understanding the financial decisions they’ll have to make after graduation.
CEFCU offers other online financial literature, much of it through the Credit Union National Association. In collaboration with Brass Media, CEFCU also furnishes “The Money Side of Life” to its young members.
“We also hold several financial literacy events at many local area schools yearly,” Stimeling said. By making this information accessible in print, online, and in person, CEFCU encourages students to continue their financial education using every available avenue.
Youth Events Connect Families with Financial Education
CEFCU gives back to its communities primarily through its member centers where it regularly hosts youth events
“The member centers organize their own events, so they might have a face painter and a balloon artist, or a bouncy house,” Stimeling said. Inviting the public to these events provides CEFCU with an opportunity to interact with parents and children, provide resources and education, and connect with community members.
“It’s really intended to build relationships and make our member centers a place where kids aren’t afraid of going,” Stimeling said. “Any time we have the opportunity to improve someone’s future by working with them early on, we’re going to do so. That really does make the biggest difference.”