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Fostering financial literacy in and out of the classroom

Imagine sharing your personal financial information with your students—your bank account transactions, your retirement account statements, even your bills.

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your$ Spring 2014Patrick Kubeny, a nationally certified business education teacher at Rhinelander High School, not only sets the example, he is the example. He puts everything out there for all of his students to see, because he believes his real life examples are his strongest teaching tools.

“I’m a realist,” Patrick confesses. “If I can show my students real examples—real life applications such as real bank and retirement accounts—I do. We look at my financial records for teachable resources and teachable moments in the classroom. I share my failures as well as my successes so hopefully they can learn from my mistakes. Some lessons are quite humbling,” he adds.

If the idea of this makes you uncomfortable, you’re not alone. As a society, we shy away from discussing our personal finances in any detail, even at home. Interestingly, one research study found that 69% of parents admit to feeling less prepared to give their teens financial guidance than they do having the “sex talk” with them.1

Because many students will not have the opportunity to learn even basic financial skills at home, teaching financial concepts in school may be the only chance they have to learn the skills they need to navigate the changing and increasingly complex world of finances.  

Interest rising in districts

While not required statewide, 44% of school districts in Wisconsin now require students to take a financial literacy course to graduate high school.2  

This is good news from Patrick’s perspective. “It was 25% just a few years ago.”  There’s increased interest nationwide in offering personal financial courses as part of school curriculum. This may be in part because research shows that individuals graduating from high schools in states that require personal finance education have higher savings rates and net worth than individuals graduating from high schools in states where financial education is not mandated.3

And, there’s evidence that students want to learn about financial concepts. According to a survey of teens completed in 2012 (DoughMain), 55% indicated that they wanted to learn more about how to manage their money—particularly investing (88%), saving (87%), budgeting (82%), checking accounts (80%), and financing for big purchases like a car or a home (79%).4

Patrick’s enthusiasm for teaching this topic, along with his unique approach, contributes to the popularity of his classes in Rhinelander. He now teaches four sections of Personal Money Management in addition to Accounting, Business Law, and Basic Computer Skills. “Personal Money Management is my favorite course to teach. It’s just so practical,” says Patrick.

Its popularity has grown through word of mouth among Rhinelander high school students and it is rated as “highly recommended” in their course selection book.

“We discuss credit cards, how to buy a car, insurance, mortgages, saving, and investing. Parents who hear about the class from their kids say that they wish they could take the course.”

Making lessons sticky

Patrick says that integrating his personal information and experiences into his lesson plan makes the lessons more memorable. He shared numerous stories of former students who remember those “sticky lessons” and applied what they learned to their own financial lives, including opening a retirement account with money from their part-time jobs.

This is heartening news for Patrick, because he feels the changes to how retirement plans are funded may be the biggest financial challenge his students will face.

“There’s been a shift away from employer-sponsored defined benefit pension plans to individually funded accounts, where the responsibility falls heavily on the shoulders of the individual rather than the employer.” Patrick wonders about how many of his students will have careers that offer a defined pension plan or access to a retirement savings plan.

“As a Wisconsin public school employee, I am fortunate to have the Wisconsin Retirement System and the opportunity to contribute to a 403(b) and IRA at the district level. However, the new trends make it more likely that my students will have to rely more and more on their personal savings to make ends meet in retirement. They need to be prepared.”

In addition to the decline of defined pension plans and the lingering questions about the future of Social Security benefits, 401(k) offerings in the workplace are trending toward longer vesting periods and reduced employer contribution matches.

Not your father’s retirement

Compound interest calculatorPatrick stresses the possible outcome of this new retirement paradigm by showing his students the three-legged retirement stool, where each leg represents a source of income that contributes to the stability of their finances in retirement. It’s an illustration Member Benefits uses to show Wisconsin public school employees the significance of personal savings in building a secure retirement nest egg. 

“I tell them, if they’re lucky they will have three sources of retirement income—a pension, Social Security, and personal savings. Imagine trying to sit on that stool without all the legs. It will be difficult and uncomfortable. You’re going to be struggling.”

Patrick emphasizes that because they may not have these particular sources available, they will need to maximize the opportunities available to them. He points out one advantage they have now that can help make up for lost income sources: time. That’s right, time is their greatest asset.

Patrick explains to his students, “You will never retire on the money you saved for retirement. You will retire on the money you make off the money you saved for retirement.” The earlier you start saving, the more time you have to benefit from compounding interest. Patrick uses a calculator in his classroom to illustrate the time value of money.

The example below assumes a contribution of just $20 per month starting at age 16 (to age 65) with an average 8% return. “It’s powerful stuff. They recognize that $20 a month may be doable, even for them.”

The Roth factor

Patrick loves teaching about the benefits of a Roth IRA to students and fellow educators alike. “The Roth IRA is huge. It’s one of those things that seems too good to be true. It’s (tax) FREE money,” he says. Since taxes are paid up front on the contributions you make to a Roth IRA, money you take out, including earnings, is tax-free.

“I encourage them to start saving early with a Roth IRA—as soon as they have a job—to get a head start on saving.”

Beyond the classroom

What Patrick is teaching his students has relevance outside the classroom as well. Regardless of your age, the issues are the same. If you don’t understand financial concepts and what they mean to your financial security, it’s difficult to make sound decisions and plan for your future.

Patrick doesn’t limit his advocacy to the classroom. He shares his knowledge with his friends and colleagues as well.

Though his financial acumen is the product of his passion for the topic, it was the veteran educators from his first days as a teacher who encouraged him to plan for his future. “I remember them telling me they wished they had started saving earlier. I appreciated and heeded the advice.” Now he’s passing these words of wisdom on and has become a resource for others.

“I have a little group that comes to me with financial questions or to bounce something off of me,” he says. Patrick is happy to help and quick to recommend educational resources, but increasing your financial literacy requires an investment of time and a desire to do so.

Self-investment required

“People need to invest some time in educating themselves. They spend more time investigating their next big screen TV than figuring out their retirement accounts. Some of that is fear—fear of what they don’t know or what they have or haven’t done,” says Patrick.

“As educators, our days are spent helping others, but we need to take time for ourselves. The benefits of financial education are enormous for you, your family, and your students.”  

An often overlooked resource

“As Wisconsin public school employees, we are lucky to have a resource like Member Benefits.” Patrick has advocated to have Worksite Benefit Consultant Sharon Schmidt present financial seminars and hold personal consultations for staff. “What I love about Member Benefits is it operates like a not-for-profit, the fees are low and they are capped. That’s unheard of with other vendors motivated by profit,” he adds.

He learned the hard way about the impact of fees by going with a higher cost 403(b) early on. “As soon as I realized what Member Benefits had to offer, I switched. I try to let my fellow educators know about the option and why they’re different because I don’t want them to make the mistake I made.”

You can do it

Improving your financial literacy and your personal financial situation takes a level of commitment and an investment of time as Patrick suggests but it’s not difficult. April is financial literacy month and the perfect time to get started. You can:

  • Attend free financial seminars. Find offerings at and see page 8 for details about our Financial Fitness Fairs this summer.
  • Schedule a personal phone consultation by calling 1-800-279-4030.
  • Find a mentor or be one. Chances are there’s a “Patrick” in your school.
  • If you are an educator looking for information about how to incorporate financial concepts into your routine lesson plans, Patrick invites you to contact him at or 715-365-9500, Ext. 8205.
  1. DoughMain, February 17, 2012.
  2. Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions.
  3. 2008 “Parents & Money” survey, Charles Schwab.
  4. “Integrating Financial Education into School Curricula,” The Department of the Treasury. 

The Trustee Custodian for the WEAC IRA accounts is Newport Trust Company. The 403(b) retirement program is offered by the WEA TSA Trust. TSA program registered representatives are licensed through WEA Investment Services, Inc., member FINRA.


Patrick gets creative: "Grandparent IRA" idea

Knowing the importance of starting early, Patrick thought it would be great if he could set up an IRA for his young children to maximize the compounding effect. “Anyone can set up an IRA if they have earned income, so I approached my parents. They were still working and not contributing to an IRA. After I explained I would make the contributions and there was no tax consequences for them, I set up accounts for my parents with Member Benefits and named my kids as the beneficiaries.”

A word of caution

This only works if:

  1. The grandparent is earning income, and stays within the IRS contribution limits; 
  2. The grandparent isn’t contributing to an IRA and won’t need money from an IRA in retirement, and;
  3. There is a high level of trust that the money will be left to the named beneficiary.

Consider limitations for non-spousal beneficiary

One consideration to naming grandchildren as beneficiaries of an IRA is the limitations of a non-spousal beneficiary (such as grandkids) in the event of the account owner’s (grandparent’s) death. Non-spousal beneficiaries must begin taking required minimum distributions the year following the account holders passing—regardless of their age. They cannot transfer or roll over the account into their own name nor can they continue to make contributions to the account after the owner passes away. They do have the option of taking a lump sum withdrawal, but be aware taxes may apply. Depending on the age and health of the grandparents and the ages of the grandchildren, there is a risk that the potential compounding impact of Patrick’s idea would not be realized.

Another option: Contingent beneficiary

However, assuming 1-3 above are true, it may be better if each grandparent names their spouse as the beneficiary and the grandchild as a contingent beneficiary. Spousal beneficiaries are not required to take required minimum distributions. If they roll over the account into their own IRA they may also continue to fund the IRA as long as they are eligible to do so. This approach would allow the account to continue to grow as long as the grandparent lives. 

If the grandparent IRA isn’t for you, you can also maximize the life-long compounding effect of early investing for your kids (giving them a good head start) by helping them open an IRA when they get their first job. 

Patrick considered all of the limitations and decided the benefits outweighed the risk. Keep in mind every situation is different.

The concepts we discuss may not be aligned with your estate plan. Be sure to talk about the potential impacts to any beneficiary designations with your estate planning attorney before taking any action. This article is for informational purposes only and not intended to be legal or tax advice. Consult your tax advisor or attorney before taking any action. 

MEMBER PROFILE: Patrick Kubeny

Patrick KubenyProfessional: Patrick has been a Business Education teacher at Rhinelander High School since 1993. He is nationally certified to teach financial literacy, and was a 2013 Recipient of the Governor’s Financial Literacy Award.

Family: Wife Katrina (teaches 4th grade in Elcho), daughter (16), son (12).

Retirement dream: “To simply have more time to be able to do the things I already love doing, but don’t do as often as I would like. I don’t have grand plans to travel the world or anything. I just want to spend more time with family and friends in the great outdoors; hunting, fishing, biking, snowmobiling, and sipping lemonade on the deck or pontoon boat.”




 Favorite financial resources:

  • Capitate Your Kids—John Witcomb
  • Make Your Kid a Millionaire—Kevin McKinley
  • Affluenza”—A PBS special which explores the high social and environmental costs of materialism and overconsumption.
  • Member Benefits—A good resource for financial tools in and out of the classroom.
  • Wisconsin Educational Communications Board Web site, which Patrick helped create at
  • MoneySKILL® —A reality based personal finance curriculum. “It’s the skeleton of my teaching units. I’d be lost without it and it’s free.”
  • National Institute of Financial and Economic Literacy (NIFEL)—Offers courses each summer at Edgewood College to teach educators how to teach financial literacy more effectively to students.