Tippie College
January 3, 2017
Jeff Charis-Carlson

Before she started attending MoneyThink classes at City High, Dalia Castaneda would have guessed “the 10-second rule” had more to do with deciding whether to eat food dropped on the floor than with deciding whether to purchase a new phone.

But over the past year, her instructors in the weekly financial literacy program have taught Castaneda that she can avoid many spur-of-the-moment purchases just by holding an object for at least that long and asking herself whether she really needed it.

“Most impulse buys are decided within 10 seconds,” said Taylor Palensky, a University of Iowa student who co-leads the local MoneyThink programs at City and West.

Now Castaneda is offering similar advice — usually unsolicited — when shopping with her family members.

“My parents get a little mad at me because I’m always like, ‘Mom, do you really need that?’ And she says, ‘Who asked you?’” Castaneda joked.

When mentoring about 90 juniors and seniors like Castaneda, Palensky and her fellow UI business students offer much more than rules and quirky shopping advice.

They walk students through regular exercise about how to plan out longer-term budgets.

They help students calculate how much money they’ll save by buying a semester bus pass.

They teach students how to figure out which local banks offer the best benefits.

They explain how credit scores work.

And most importantly, they list out the potential roadblocks students may face on the way to adulthood.

But the UI mentors do so using lesson plans designed to engage — rather than overwhelm — their high school charges.

“They make it not boring,” Castaneda said.

Palensky said she and her colleagues are constantly tweaking their lesson plans to better answer the actual questions posed by the high schoolers. The curriculum provided by the national MoneyThink organization has been helpful, she said, but sometimes it seemed geared more toward younger students rather than 11th- and 12th-graders.

The Friday classes at City High are held in conjunction with Iowa Jobs for America’s Graduates, a dropout prevention program for at-risk students.

“IJAG includes many students who otherwise wouldn’t be exposed to University of Iowa students even though they are in our own backyard,” said Elizabeth Rook, an IJAG specialist who has been assigned to City High for the past two years. “So just having them in the room is a benefit.”

Rook said there also is a benefit to having a team of outsiders ensure that personal finance remains a regular topic of weekly discussion — rather just than one unit that gets focused on for a few weeks and then forgotten for the rest of the year.

“I wouldn’t be able to provide that level of consistency on my own,” Rook said. “Having this group support me really means that (personal finance) stays on students’ minds throughout the year. That makes a difference.”

The scheduling between the high schoolers and their UI mentors doesn’t line up exactly, however, because City is on a trimester system while the university uses semesters.

“The only reason that becomes a real problem is because their winter break is so much longer than ours,” Rook said. “I really miss them in January, and so do the students.”