Walter Cronkite was the legendary CBS anchorman known as “The most trusted man in America.” In 2003, 84-year-old Walter took me, then 23-years-old, on the first of many spins on his sailing vessel, the Wyntje. We talked constantly while tacking our way through the mountain-bordered waters of the British Virgin Islands.
Walter and I were both of Dutch decent, and proud of it. Having the opportunity to talk hours on end with such an iconic figure was life changing for me. And it all started with that first sailing trip. We met because Walter was also a close friend of my boss, consumer advocate Remar Sutton. He visited Remar often during the winters.
I had just returned from a tough neighborhood in Elmira, New York, where Remar Sutton was giving a presentation on money problems to a group of adults. A 13-year-old boy was also in the audience and was very focused on the conversation. The boy had been sitting close to me in the back of the room and it struck me that he was the only kid in the room. I thought he was probably there with his parents.
At the end of the meeting, the boy hesitantly came up and began talking with Remar and me. He wasn’t there with his parents. He was there to learn tips to help his parents be smarter about money and to learn tips to keep him from making the same mistakes his parents were making. This kid worked three odd jobs to help support his family!
Lucky me…I was getting ready to fly to the Virgin Islands for the winter to be with people like Walter Cronkite, but this poor kid was worrying about feeding his family. It just didn’t seem right. And when I told Walter about this boy he just looked at me and said, “Well, what are you going to do about it?”
From those wind-swept discussions FoolProof was born. With help from Walter and several national leaders in the consumer, educational, and research fields, our discussions became a reality. I gathered a group of my young friends from four countries and things really took off.
The big question we needed to answer: was financial education, as it existed, working?
How could we determine that? We decided to see how consumers of different ages were doing when it came to money management. We studied data about money habits and debt. What we found was pretty unnerving:
• 18-34 year-olds are the first generations (Millenials & Gen Y) with higher levels of debt, poverty and unemployment and lower levels of wealth and personal income than their two preceding generations at the same age.
• 55 percent of us say we only break even or spend more than we make each month.
• Gen Xers (over 55) normally have six times the debt of their parents at the same age.
• 70 percent of all families say they face financial strain.
What’s happening? Literally thousands of financial literacy resources have been used by millions of people for decades. Why haven’t they worked?
We got the answer from experts; and this is the reason for my article. The wrong players were shaping the financial literacy landscape.
TIME magazine’s Dan Kadlec said it best: Financial literacy programs are basically “a bunch of disjointed initiatives funded in large part by highly conflicted banks and other financial institutions…”
The businesses shaping what kids learn about money were the very same businesses that profit when kids make poor money decisions. The businesses offering financial literacy “education” for adults were the very same businesses that prosper when adults made poor money decisions.
Financial literacy resources financed or created by financial institutions don’t—and can’t—teach the hard truths you need to know about marketing, money and the free-enterprise system; it isn’t the job of the seller to tell you the bad stuff about its products or services.
Take a look at financial literacy resources created or funded by businesses and you’ll seldom—if ever—see any message that might hurt their bottom line.
Take, for example, a credit card company teaching about finances. Would a credit card company consistently teach kids to pay off their credit card bill in full every month? Would they constantly preach that cheaper ways to finance are out there? Would they teach never to impulse buy? They can’t. And they won’t.
Don’t get me wrong. Many business-sponsored financial resources do a great job explaining the difference between a stock and a bond, how to balance a checkbook or how to be a smart investor. And many of these resources present their info in a fun and interesting way as well.
But virtually none of these resources teach you the one essential skill you must possess if you want to make smart decisions: Existing financial literacy resources do not teach the importance of skepticism.
Skepticism is as important to good decision-making as air is to breathing.
For that reason FoolProof resolved to teach skepticism. We recruited consumer advocates and child learning experts and ethicists and teachers—not marketers with hidden agendas to sell.
Over the past 13 years we’ve developed web-driven curriculums for middle and high schools, and separate consumer resources for adults. All free to the end-user. And we teach more than money skills.
FoolProof believes all consumers need to be skeptical of more than just the price of something. We believe everyone should be skeptical of anything that may impact their money and welfare. Oh, and the welfare of others, too.
You can make a smart money decision but still make a really dumb decision. Most of us do this a lot. Like buying gadgets at a cheaper price (smart), but at a rent-to-own store (not so smart). Not reading the fine print of the contract and paying back the gadget as agreed, many times can end up costing the consumer way more than the original price of the gadget itself. Not fulfilling the slyly written contract can also damage credit. Or buying a smart phone for the right price, but not knowing the thing has a habit of blowing up. Or buying a pair of running shoes, but not knowing they were made in an infamous sweat shop. Over the years we have learned from students that if you show them that smart choices have to do with more than money choices alone, they will listen—and more importantly—they will learn.
And our philosophy of teaching has caught on.
Last year students at over 5000 schools in America completed over 41 million page views of our free high school curriculum. It is used in over 11 percent of all financial literacy classes! If you know a high school teacher, why not send them to www.foolproofteacher.com
Last year, FoolProof introduced the first “Consumer Life Skills” curriculum for middle-school students. And get this: It is the only curriculum in the world endorsed by these four groups: The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, the Consumer Federation of America, Public Citizen and the National Association of Consumer Advocates. Check it out: www.foolproofmiddleschool.com
For years, our adult consumer resources at www.foolproofme.com have been used by millions of consumers throughout the county. The site contains tons of great consumer and money related articles and videos, as well as quick money facts. Heck, you may pick up a thing or two yourself there.
Don’t you agree that education is the best way to invest in a smart and consumer savvy society?
Try it yourself: Slow down, crank up your skepticism a bit, and review FoolProof’s resources and supporters. Then you decide if we’re a useful organization to know about and support.
Here is to education! And to smart financial decisions, of course…
Article by Will deHoo, Founder and Executive Director, The FoolProof Foundation https://www.foolprooffoundation.org In 2003, Walter Cronkite, a mentor of deHoo, encouraged Will to “Do something!” about the state of financial literacy in the U.S. Their discussions led to the founding of FoolProof, and Cronkite stayed involved with the foundation for the remainder of his active life. Walter Cronkite Project – https://www.foolprooffoundation.org/projects/walter-cronkite-project
The FoolProof Foundation now offers a variety of vetted consumer education programs and life skills curriculums of rigor and relevance, reaching thousands of consumers every day. All programs are free and advocate for the consumer. They are developed by teachers, students and consumer advocates, not marketers.