Financial education should be a prerequisite to qualify for any type of public aid.

As a professor at a community college in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Chicago, I have observed poor money management skills and misplaced priorities of low income adults. A vast majority of my students are very young single mothers and, as a result, have high childcare expenses along with low income. One student could not afford treatment to have a painful oral abscess treated until payday one week later since she had insufficient savings. She already had an unpaid dental bill from a prior root canal that she misunderstood what the cost would be. Still, she and many other students have tattoos, get their hair and nails professionally done, and have tablets and smartphones. Many of my students regularly eat at fast food restaurants and bring junk food to class for a snack. I have observed my students spending money on luxuries when they are not able to meet their basic expenses.

Although a majority of my students are getting free education and other forms of public aid, I don’t think that it is enough. As financial education was the turning point for me to get my finances on track, I think it should be a prerequisite in order to qualify for any type of public aid from the government. Additionally, I think that ongoing financial follow ups should be required periodically in order to continue to receive public aid.

The class should teach how to track expenses and form a budget. It should have a calculator for people to plug in their information and find out their complete financial picture including income, expenses, and net worth. The class should emphasize the importance of an emergency fund and could suggest spending cuts and help the person come up with a savings plan. Every month, people receiving aid should be required to log on to enter and track their savings and net worth. These tools could educate and motivate lower income individuals to make significant improvements in their financial situation as they have for me.

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