Financial Literacy: Money, and Budgets, and Cash Flow, Oh My!

by Jackie Corkins and Elizabeth Severson-Irby

Financial literacy is an important skill that all learners use on a daily basis for: creating budgets; going grocery shopping; paying bills; making rent, mortgage, or car payments; and paying for health insurance, medical bills, or prescriptions. The list goes on. Preparing learners to manage these situations should be an essential part of any adult education program, whether the program’s focus is literacy, high school equivalency, English language learners, workforce preparation, re-entry, or any combination of these. This article describes how one instructor adapted a Teaching the Skills that Matter (TSTM) financial literacy lesson to meet the needs of her learners. For those unfamiliar with TSTM, it is a way of teaching that uses three different approaches to teaching nine skills in five different content areas. For more information about TSTM, see the April 2020 issue of PROGRESS (pp.11-12).

Over a four-day period for an hour each day, Jackie’s beginning literacy English language class worked via Zoom on the integrated and contextualized Cash Flow lesson from the TSTM toolkit. This lesson goes into calculating percent increase, but can be easily modified, adapted, or extended to meet learners’ needs. For example, Jackie chose to just focus on more foundational skills like creating a budget and checking bills and receipts. The entire lesson can be found by accessing this Google Drive.

The first two days Jackie spent time going over some of the financial literacy skills they would be using, such as determining income, identifying expenses, and interpreting bills. The class discussed the meaning, use, and importance of each topic. They also brainstormed the importance of financial literacy. Learners were split into breakout groups to come up with a dialogue for a financial situation to share and discuss. Some examples were distinguishing between needs and wants and saving for the unexpected or future expenses. These scenarios generated good whole group discussion with learners posing questions such as, “Should I have a monthly budget?” and making comments such as, “I let my spouse handle the finances, but now I think it is important for me to know.”

“At the end of this lesson, I think the students walked away with a butter understanding of how to manage their finances.”

After the two days of pre-work, Jackie’s class was able to move into contextualized learning, where learners created a budget outline. After going over the different aspects of the budget outline in class, learners were asked to complete a budget outline for homework. While only a few completed the activity at home, this did not deter the lesson’s progress or class discussion. In anticipation of needing a whole class activity, Jackie had prepared a shorter version of a budget for an emergency plumbing situation. In class, all learners completed the activity and discussed how they would budget for and handle the emergency situation. 

Learners went into breakout groups to discuss the plumbing emergency and why they chose to handle the situation in a particular way. For instance, one learner initially wanted to cut money designated for more essential needs, but after the small group discussion, decided that she could use money earmarked for something less essential. The in-class activity and discussion allowed learners who completed the homework assignment to build on their budgeting skills. For those who were unable to complete the homework assignment, the in-class work allowed them to use the skills they learned in the previous class and apply them to a novel situation.  

Lastly, Jackie used some actual bills and receipts for learners to look at, question, and discuss. As an example, learners checked to make sure items on a bill were correct and also practiced questioning particular items on a bill or receipt. Overall, the learners were engaged throughout the various components of the lesson and learned some valuable financial literacy skills.

Jackie stated, “At the end of this lesson, I think the students walked away with a better understanding of how to manage their finances. For example, after reviewing and reading receipts and bills, one student stated that she never thought about looking at her receipts or bills and just paid whatever was owed. But after hearing how one of her classmates found double charges on receipts and questionable charges on bills, the entire class agreed that it is important to know what they are paying for and how much it costs.”

Jackie CorkinsJackie Corkins ( is an English language learner (ELL) instructor at the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia (LCNV) where she teaches adult basic English and integrated education and training classes. For eight years, Jackie has taught the essential skills that ELLs must have to participate more fully and confidently in their workplace and community. To help her students apply their emerging English skills, Jackie focuses on establishing a learner-friendly environment that incorporates real-life situations, day-to-day activities, and personal experiences. Jackie enjoys traveling around the world and often shares her travel experiences with her students.

Elizabeth Severson-IrbyElizabeth Seversion-Irby is the Literacy Specialist at the Virginia Adult Learning Resource Center (VALRC). In her role, she provides leadership for instruction and program management in Virginia’s adult education and literacy programs, working with both public and private agencies and educational programs to ensure that adults have access to the educational resources they need.

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