Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize winner said, "I believe we can create a poverty-free world because poverty is not created by poor people. It has been created by economic and social systems we have designed for ourselves, the institutions and concepts that make up the system, the policies we pursue." Those words have resounding meaning for us as we think about what's vital in preparing the girls in our programs to become financially independent, successful adults.
The girls we serve are from communities with some of the highest rates of poverty in New York City. Wracked by high rates of crime, unemployment, teen pregnancy and low rates of education, the importance financial literacy-understanding banking, the value of money, how to save it, how to spend it, how best to earn it-assumes a central role in our work.
We teach everything by doing, including financial literacy. It’s called teaching experientially. One of my favorite stories about teaching financial literacy this way shows the incredible impact we can have in girls' lives. We received $50,000 in real money from a generous corporate donor for a cohort of girls to invest in the stock market. They received some basic instructions but made their own investment decisions. At the end of the year, their rate of return on the investment was 54%! Even the best money managers didn't come close. The girls were able to keep their earnings for college and even won the "Women on Wall Street" award for their performance!
Women are particularly vulnerable to financial insecurity. As we know only too well, disparities between men and women persist. In addition, working women account for a larger share of family earnings, even after you take such things as education into account.
As our girls grow up, they also experience barriers such as the gender wage gap, in which women overall earn just 77 cents for every dollar earned by Caucasian men, 64 cents for African-American women, and 56 cents for Latina women. This takes an enormous toll: lower wages lead to less savings and retirement funds, and women 65 and older, at retirement age, are twice as likely as men to live in poverty. Women also control the majority of household consumer spending. This means that for today’s women and girls, financial literacy is essential.
As we celebrate the importance of financial literacy this month, GINYC can be very proud of its financial literacy program, as it goes a long way toward leveling the playing field.
We provide girls the support to build their knowledge and skills around economic literacy. It is critical that girls have the support and skills to enhance their financial competence and confidence and to help them exercise control over their financial future. It is also important girls understand and assert their rights relevant to their economic well-being.
Girls need role models to help them build skills and confidence, who can both show and tell them that women can be adept at personal finance.
And you don’t have to be a millionaire to do it. Taking steps together can help you and a girl take charge of your financial futures.
- Openly discuss family finances and how financial planning is part of life. Talk about income, expenses, and the family budget. Try balancing a checkbook or planning for the following month together.
- Use an allowance for completion of chores as a lesson in money management. Decide together how much to spend, save, and donate. Set short- and long-term saving goals.
- Girls still experience stereotypes that math is for boys, not them. Challenge this by showing how math is part of everyday life. Ask girls to compare the difference in cost between a tank of regular gas versus premium or much a “two for one” sale will save.
- Help girls picture their futures and plan for independence. Pick a career she’s interested in and together, look at how much money she would make. Then talk about what apartment she could rent or what car she could afford to buy.
- Talk about how ads try to convince you to buy products. Dissect ads to see what information they share about a product, what types of people are seen using it, and whether it is something she needs, wants, or if there’s a better alternative.
Seeking financial empowerment is a first step towards giving girls the chance they deserve to be economically independent. It is not only essential for their well-being but for the stability of our families, communities, and economy.