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HSFPP Planning Guide

Financial Education: Deciding What to Teach in 3 Steps

You know that financial education is valuable and that people of all ages can benefit from developing financial literacy. You have been given an opportunity to teach personal finance. But how will you fit all that you want to teach into the time you have?

I’m frequently asked this question by classroom instructors and workshop facilitators. Instructors often have limited time for comprehensive lesson planning, and they worry about overwhelming learners with too much information or underwhelming students with irrelevant content. 

Rather than prescribe a detailed syllabus or workshop agenda, I usually respond with a few prompts to help instructors conserve prep time while still customizing the learning experience for their particular audience. These prompts form the framework for a three-step financial lesson planning guide (PDF).

An Intentional Financial Education Game Plan

Step 1. Map out the schedule.

What is your timetable? Before considering what to teach, map out the number of sessions and the length of each session. Be realistic about the time needed for housekeeping tasks that cut into learning experiences, such as general announcements or end-of-workshop satisfaction surveys.

Note any significant gaps between lessons. Transitions between learning events should take different forms depending on the frequency of sessions, for example when learning experiences occur consecutively compared to once a week or via occasional workshops. A series of sequential sessions gives you the opportunity to connect learning across multiple experiences. Long gaps between sessions mean that you will need more time for review and transition between classes or workshops.

3 step planning

Scenario A:
A Grade 8 classroom instructor plans to teach a one-week unit in a traditional 50-minute class setting. He has identified a realistic time of 150 minutes devoted to new personal finance content plus 35-50 minutes for review and 30 minutes for end-of-unit reflection or assessment during class.

Sample Map A: One-Week Unit

Day 1
Preview Unit
Topic A (30 min)

Day 2
Review Topic A
Topic B (40 min)

Day 3
Review Topic B
Topic C (40 min)

Day 4
Review Topic C
Topic D (40 min)

Day 5
Review Topics A-D (20 min)
Assessment/Reflection (30 min)

Scenario B:
A certified financial planner has been asked to facilitate a three-hour personal finance workshop for local scouts on a Saturday morning. She estimates dedicating at least 140 minutes to introduce key concepts and engage scouts in hands-on activities. This workshop time frame allocates an additional 30 or 40 minutes for housekeeping tasks, reflection and planning next steps to complete badge requirements.

Sample Map B: Three-Hour Workshop

(15-20 min)

  • Housekeeping
  • Preview badge requirements
  • Introduce topics

(140-150 min)

  • Presentation and learning activities


(15-20 min)

  • Wrap Up
  • Preview next steps to complete badge requirements


Step 2. Audit your audience.

What is most relevant to your learners? Base this on their life stage and the skills and knowledge they have acquired from previous experiences. Use available resources to gather information about what students have learned in the past and the skills they have or that they are developing.

Develop a persona profile to describe your learners. Within privacy boundaries, consider what is going on in the lives of your learners to determine the financial decisions that they are facing now or that they are likely to face in the near future.

Scenario A:
The instructor who is teaching the one-week Grade 8 personal finance unit surveys the elementary teachers to find out which financial education concepts were covered in previous grades. In an informal discussion, he asks his students what questions they have related to money decisions. He also knows from other interactions that many of his students earn money from occasional jobs such as childcare, pet sitting and yard work.

Scenario B:
Before facilitating the scout financial education workshop, the volunteer instructor previews the scout badge requirements. She also asks the scout leader to share general and pertinent characteristics of the scouts, provide background on previous financial literacy development and give examples of financial decisions that apply to the group or that are common among the individual scouts.

Step 3. Select relevant concepts for your audience profile.

What financial literacy knowledge and skills are most relevant and logical for your audience and for the scheduled time frame? This is intentionally slotted for the final planning step. Learners will be overwhelmed with too much information covered in a short time frame. And they will be underwhelmed with concepts that they have mastered or that are not applicable to their current lives.

Working from what was discovered in Planning Step 2, brainstorm a list of key concepts that your audience can act on now or in the near future. Prune the list into a manageable scope based on the most realistic time you have available for presentation and learning activities. This is the critical step.

Aim to provide learners with relevant skills and knowledge that they can realistically absorb, apply and share with others. Avoid rushing through too much material taking into consideration a realistic depth of learning and expected competence by end of the experience.

Years ago I taught a variety of business courses for a full range of students, age 9 up to age 85. Although each course or workshop covered a similar subject for different age groups, the specific concepts and activities needed to be customized to each audience demographic and need. Different topics were covered in the middle school personal finance classes than what was covered in the adult financial workshops. The scope of content covered during a two-week financial unit was far leaner than what was studied in depth during a semester personal finance course. In all cases, learners gained practical skills.

Short-Cut Tools

The three-step planning process becomes instinctual with practice and repetition. Strive to adapt the system for your teaching style and available financial education resources.

To reduce the planning time in Step 3, reference any of the following resources to help you discern what lesson content is most appropriate for your situation.

Just as individuals adapt commonly accepted financial planning strategies in ways that make sense for their own situations, financial educators must tailor learning experiences to be sensible for their instructional conditions and relevant for the learners. Make the most of your prep time and the learning time by shrewdly crafting a financial education experience that provides not too much nor too little substance. Intentionally plan for just the right amount of content for long-term results.

NEFE Nudge: When faced with decisions about what to teach during a financial education class or workshop, streamline the planning by first considering the time frame and audience characteristics so learning focuses on the most logical topics.