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Improving Financial Literacy in the Black Community

Improving Financial Literacy in the Black Community

When Christmastime came around in my preteen and teenage years, I’d already prepared my list. “The Babysitter’s Club,” “Fear Street” and “Goosebumps” books made it to the top. Then there were specific board games: Dream Phone (a game about narrowing down which one of 24 boys liked me); Girl Talk Date Line (a matchmaking game to find dates for my friends, along with myself); Party Mania (a game where I scrambled to complete chores so I could meet my crush at a party); and Mall Madness (a game to find bargain deals at a shopping center). 

 

The pattern was clear with these games: Either spend all of my time focused on finding a (white) boyfriend or the rest on finding cute clothes to still be popular. When I was bored with those games, I was back to books that either scared the bejesus out of me, or overlooking preteen girls trying to create their own babysitting careers and instead focusing on how long it would take Mary Anne and Logan to be an official couple. To describe me as a wee bit boy crazy is an understatement. 

 

My grandfather tried to get me into more advanced board games like Monopoly and Risk as I got older, where I learned about everything from making sure all other players were bankrupt or wiping out all people who dared to cross my path on another continent. The latter game certainly taught me all about Christopher Columbus’ ways but served no other purpose.

The board game Monopoly captured by Anete Lusina

 

In all of my childhood, and minus the character Jessica in “The Babysitter’s Club,” I genuinely just don’t remember any board games, books or educational outlets that focused on general money management. Although Monopoly fancies itself at teaching players about investing, the goal is to own everything, not partner up with other players to invest together. I’d be in and out of jail, collecting $200 for doing absolutely nothing and right back to buying more property in a roll of the dice. In real life, that’s not how that goes. 

 

By high school, I learned trigonometry, algebra and geometry in order to graduate, but none of those classes prepared me for financial literacy as an adult. I still have yet to find a purpose for any of the three in my day-to-day life as I knock on age 40.

Financial literacy lags behind for African-Americans

In a 2018 Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) national survey, researchers found that only one-third of American adults could correctly answer four out of five questions meant to assess basic financial literacy. In fact, the lowest rates were among youth, women and those with less education. 

 

By racial and ethnic groups, Asian-American and white participants scored higher in financial literacy than Hispanic and African-American test takers. I cannot say I’m surprised. As both a black person and a woman, it’s not news to me that there were some lessons that were overlooked in the public school education system. 

 

In all fairness, I did have a high-school economics teacher who tried his best to make a class full of primarily black students learn to invest in stocks and bonds. But when you grow up swiping credit cards through mall machines and scoping out boy crushes, I did exactly what I knew to do in real life: I found the first attractive boy in my class and focused all of my energy on talking to him and ignoring my teacher. I got it honestly, courtesy of all of my favorite board games. 

 

By the time I hit my college years and my grandfather desperately tried to make me understand certificates of deposit (CDs), stocks and bonds, it all sounded like trigonometry all over again to me. I didn’t enjoy the topic. It was too difficult to comprehend, and I just wasn’t interested. Neither was the topic of home ownership or mortgages. Money games I played as a kid were designed to just take everyone else’s money, not really learn about principal and interest or the difference between 403(b) and 401(k). I wish I’d have been introduced to that with my favorite toys and books as a kid so I could slowly work my way up to advanced financial topics. 

Catching up on the stock market, as captured by Anna Nekrashevich

 

Give or take a few people like my parents, grandparents and my great great aunt, I didn’t even know a lot of black people who owned their own homes. And finding successful black entrepreneurs was harder to find than the Mall Madness announcement for “a clearance at the department store.” I had African- and African-American history and literature lessons growing up, but I cannot remember really learning how black women like Madame C.J. Walker became a millionaire—only that she got rich off of women buying hair products (Check out our other blog post on the richest man to have ever lived). The financial literacy lessons were still getting drowned out by the shopping part.

Has technology given Generation Z a better shot at money management?

I think about my K-12 education a lot now while I binge-listen to podcasts like Earn Your Leisure and child actress Marsai Martin’s “In the Know.” Millennials and Generation Zers are getting rich in their early 20s while I was still trying to figure out how I’d use my Creative Writing degree. What board games did they play as kids? What books did they read? How have some managed to become more financially responsible and taken more initiative when it comes to branching out to work on their own? I’m always fascinated when people younger than myself answer these questions. Technology has made it so that even if they don’t get the lesson in school, they can press play on Spotify and get the education there instead.

Spotify is one of the streaming platforms where you can get educational content on finance. Captured by Ivan Samkov

 

I don’t regret the board games I played. I love the books I read. I enjoyed my childhood memories of boy crushes. I’m not mad at myself for spending my last dollar on $0.99 singles at Coconuts music store or perfectly matching all my BOSS clothes. But I have much respect for the generation under me, specifically those of color, for being more cognizant of how to use their spending power to become more financially responsible than I was at that age. 

 

Editor’s Note: This blog was written by Shamontiel L. Vaughn. Find out more about her at Shamontiel.com. 

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