Most people with questions about a topic they know little or nothing about seek out experts who can give them the answers.
But North Allegheny High School juniors Alina Zaidi and Angela Wu decided that it wasn’t enough to simply teach themselves about personal finances. They wanted to make sure other kids had the tools they needed to handle money.
So the pair spent much of the summer writing a book geared to middle and early high school students titled “Growing Your Money Tree: An Introduction to Personal Finance.”
Zaidi said the idea for the book began to take shape after she and Wu joined the school’s DECA club, which prepares high school students for business-related careers.
“A lot of the activities we had planned for the summer were canceled because of the pandemic,” Zaidi said. “We had a lot of time on our hands and started talking about our experiences in DECA and how it was strange that both of us had never really learned about personal finance.”
Wu thinks schools might not see personal finance as a timely subject because “a lot of it isn’t applicable until you’re an adult.”
“I think it’s viewed as something you’ll learn when you need it,” she said. “But that’s alarming to me. That’s not the time to make mistakes that will impact the rest of your life.”
Since most of what they are learning in school focuses on building the foundation needed to pursue a career, Zaidi and Wu were determined to learn more about what to do when the paychecks start rolling in.
With their curiosity piqued, they began doing research.
One survey they discovered showed that 18% of 15-year-olds in the United States did not know the basic financial skills needed for everyday situations.
Another survey by the JumpStart Coalition dealing with personal financial literacy found that the average score among 6,856 12th graders who took a 31-question exam on the subject was only 48.3%.
Armed with the statistics, the pair had a vision of creating an alternative to the traditional articles and books on finance.
“We found out that there really isn’t much out there as far as books dealing with personal finance that are aimed at young people,” Zaidi said. “We were both really excited about the idea of creating something that gives kids the things they need to know.”
Wu said most younger people wouldn’t even consider reading some of the material available about personal finance.
“It seems like all the finance books we looked at used big language and were very black and white,” she said. “We thought it would be helpful to present financial information in a kid-friendly and fun way.”
The girls tapped multiple sources including investopedia.com and consumer.gov to gather information on subjects including:
• How to calculate net income
• Saving and investing
• Payment methods
While the book is packed with information, Wu said writing it “came pretty naturally.”
“It’s very conversational,” she said. “We tried not to make it too formal. We’re basically telling everybody what we learned using the language they understand, so we really didn’t have to worry too much about the style.”
After publishing the book, the girls decided to use the knowledge to launch a website for middle and early high school students called Money Not Magic, which features bi-weekly workshops via the Zoom app as well as blogs, education videos and other content they created.
Zaidi said there may be other topics she and Wu might want to unpack with a follow-up book.
“I think the concept of taxes can be very confusing to a lot of kids,” she said. “It’s a complex topic, but it might be something to explore in the future.”
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