FutureSmart: Challenging kids to save

Shelly Gigante

By Shelly Gigante
Shelly Gigante specializes in personal finance issues. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications and news websites.
Posted on Jan 17, 2018

The nearly 2,000 middle school students who attended the FutureSmart event last week at Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, New York, may have missed a morning of classes, but what they learned inside the arena might just change their lives.

Indeed, the FutureSmartSM Challenge seminar, in which students are encouraged to become responsible stewards of their financial future, gave many of the kids their first instruction to how responsible saving and spending habits can help them reach their long-term goals.

“I learned that you should always save your money,” said Isabella, a student who said she is committed to putting money away for college. “Life is like a blueprint. You should always have a plan.”

FutureSmart Challenge, a partnership between Junior Achievement affiliates around the country and MassMutual Foundation, is a nationwide program designed to bring personal finance education to middle and high school students in a fun, live, and interactive setting. The seminars, which are held in sports venues across the country, are part pep rally (think dance contests and cheering competitions) and part money management course. The Brooklyn event was in collaboration with Junior Achievement of New York.

Hill Harper taking questions.

Hill Harper taking questions.

The arena events, arranged in conjunction with select NBA teams, are followed-up with a classroom component, in which the students are provided a blank blueprint for their future and encouraged to explore their personal values, career goals, lifestyle, and education, and then create a plan to pay for it.

To enhance their personal finance education further still, an online education program, called FutureSmart Digital, is also available to students thanks to collaboration between EVERFI, a cutting edge technology firm, and the MassMutual Foundation. Together, FutureSmart Digital’s goal is to reach 2 million students digitally by 2020.

“You are the active architects of your life,” said Hill Harper, the motivational speaker, Harvard law school graduate, and award-winning actor from the hit drama series “CSI: NY,” who moderated the event on January 11 in high energy fashion. “You need to visualize your dreams and goals and start making the decisions now that will get you there.”

For over an hour, with breaks to enjoy performances by the Brooklyn Nets male and female dance teams, Harper challenged the students to save for their future, identify wants versus needs, and differentiate between good debt and bad.

“Think before you spend,” he said. “Savings equal freedom. It buys you options. It buys you choice.”

He introduced retired Nets legend Buck Williams, who shared his own story of growing up with limited means and the importance of “paying yourself first” as the critical foundation for long-term savings.

Buck Williams addressing the audience at Barclays Center January 11.

Buck Williams addressing the audience at Barclays Center January 11.

Harper used real world examples on the Jumbotron to illustrate the cost of high interest credit card debt, the impact that education has on lifetime earnings potential, and the concept of compounded growth. But most of all, he encouraged the students ̶ some of whom live in homeless shelters ̶ to dream big.

It was just what her students needed to hear, said Kareen Francis, a teacher at a Brooklyn public school where 90 percent of the kids qualify for free meals.

“I brought them here today so they can learn about financial management and can expand their horizons and realize that college is a possibility,” she said. “Many of these kids don’t have family members who went to college, or even finished high school. I don’t think they can really dream big unless they’re exposed to the idea.”

Harper dedicated a portion of the seminar to explaining the difference between the so-called sticker price (or published price) that colleges charge for annual tuition, versus what the average student actually pays. A college degree, he said, is far more affordable than it may sound if you factor in work-study programs, grants, scholarships, low interest loans, and tax-friendly tools like a 529 college savings plan. Those who attend a low-cost community college for the first few years and transfer to a four-year university to finish their degree, Harper reminded them, get the same diploma as those who attended the university all four years – for a fraction of the cost.(Learn more: 6 ways to cut college costs in half)

Kids received some souvenirs from the FutureSmart event.

Kids received some souvenirs from the FutureSmart event.

To hold the kids accountable, Harper also asked the students to send him an Instagram message with a picture of their completed FutureSmart Challenge blueprint so he can review it, encourage them, and hold them accountable for sticking to it. 

Cassie, a student from Brooklyn who was among the attendees, said she, for one, plans to follow through.

“Saving can help you with your future by helping you pay for college,” she said. “I really want to be a police officer.”

More from MassMutual…

The dollars and sense of financial literacy

Money and kids: Teaching by age groups

Tanda, hui, or ayuuto? The money pool way


The information provided is not written or intended as specific tax or legal advice. MassMutual, its employees and representatives are not authorized to give tax or legal advice. You are encouraged to seek advice from your own tax or legal counsel. Opinions expressed by those interviewed are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of MassMutual.