Personal Statements and Essay Contests: Sharing Money Smarts and Success Stories the "Write" Way
In 2005, The Women's Resource Center of Greater Houston, a Money Smart financial education partner, found a new and exciting way to conclude its money management classes. As each class for middle-school students, high schoolers, and adults nears completion, participants are asked to write an essay about how their financial behavior has changed as a result of the Money Smart training. As an incentive, each essay is judged, and the winning authors are honored at a luncheon during which they receive a $500 award.
Although an essay contest can be a highly effective way to reinforce personal finance skills gained through the Money Smart program, FDIC Community Affairs staffers comment that simply encouraging students to write or speak publicly about their progress can help all participants learn from their successes and those of their classmates.
"For a student of any age, writing about your experiences as a money manager is valuable because it helps you think through the class material, analyze your behavior, and perhaps see other opportunities for improvement," said Irma Matias, an FDIC Community Affairs Specialist.
Added Luke W. Reynolds, Chief of the FDIC's Community Affairs Outreach Section, "An assigned essay is also a way to measure results. This is a way for the instructor to see students beginning to implement money management strategies."
Here is an excerpt from one of the winning essays from The Women's Resource Center in Houston. This essay was written by a divorced mother who thought she "knew it all," but realized the Money Smart class taught her how to "manage money more efficiently, which in turn has allowed me to save and invest more wisely." Among the changes she has made: direct-depositing a portion of her paycheck into a savings account; buying more generic products and items on sale, which can save money without sacrificing quality; increasing her 401(k) retirement savings at work; and starting a college savings account for her children's education. "With the help of these classes," she said, "my entire life has completely turned around for the better, and truly I can say that I am beginning to see a brighter future."
Would you like to challenge students to write a personal essay – and maybe even participate in an essay contest? Here are some tips from FDIC staff.
Consider tying the theme to a specific topic or message from class. For example, an adult class could write about what it means to "pay yourself first," and a class for teens could write about "how to responsibly use a credit card."
Reflect on actions taken and lessons learned. This can help students understand how to apply what they learn in class to daily consumer behaviors.
Think small and simple. Avoid involved and time-consuming essays that may discourage participation.
Don't limit your essay to the written word. Options could include student-produced videos that can be shared with the class.
With a little effort, an essay contest can motivate students and generate publicity for your financial education program. Consider developing low-cost marketing materials; for example, flyers to recruit future participants and press releases to alert the local media about a potential "feel-good" story. Select contest judges who can lend credibility to the contest and help market the event to the broader community. Present awards that will encourage participation. For example, a local financial institution or business could award a U.S. Savings Bond.
Are you using creative teaching tools that Money Smart educators and partners might find useful? Send the details to Money Smart News. The best contributions may appear in a future issue of our newsletter.