To buy or not to buy: Drew students share finance tips with kids at Morristown’s Neighborhood House

Do you need shoes, or just want them?

And if it came down to shoes or shelter, which would you choose?

What about an iPhone?

Some 40 kids from the Morristown Neighborhood House pondered those puzzlers this fall in a “financial literacy” course taught by Drew University students.

“It taught me to be an adult, to save my money, [and] to use a debit or a credit card,” 13-year-old Joseph O’Bannon said last week after receiving a certificate from his instructors.

His brother Michael O’Bannon, 11, had a similar take-away. “I just learned you don’t have to get everything you want. What you really need is food, clothes and a house.”

Photos by Bill Lescohier. Please click icon below for captions.

Aimed at sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders, the lessons were taught at the Frelinghuysen Middle School in Morris Topwnship by 14 students of David Anderson, an adjunct professor of economics at Drew in Madison.

“It’s a really interesting concept,” David said. “I’m teaching Drew students. And they have had to translate and convey the information to students at the Neighborhood House.”

The Neighborhood House has been assisting low-income families and immigrants for more than a century.

Funded by a $10,000 grant from the Van Houten Foundation, the course stressed the importance of critical choices and living within one’s means.

“We made pretend-credit cards and a fake mall in the gym,” said Drew junior Jessica Centanni, who is majoring in business and sociology. The Nabe kids were given a credit limit, and had to make hard choices about what to buy. Is an iPhone really a luxury?

“Some would say in today’s society, a cell phone is a necessity,” said Kellen Hinkle, a Drew junior studying business and French. “Food, clothing, shelter, yes. But today you need a cell phone.”

Sixth-grader Rasheem Harris said he learned that if he saves his allowance for a college education, “I can get a lot more later.”  He wants to become an architect; he knows it will take discipline. “The hard part is the temptation of seeing stuff that you want. I try to get past it, and not think about it.”

The mentors learned from the course, too. For many, it was their first teaching experience.

“Once Drew students get a taste of taking knowledge to the world, it’s addictive,” said Amy Koritz, director of Drew’s Center for Civic Engagement.

The Drew team established a rapport with its young students by using real-world examples–Xboxes and PS3s–to illustrate financial concepts, said Jose Melgarejo, a Drew masters candidate who served as David Anderson’s assistant in the course.

“I never appreciated the teaching aspect until this course,” acknowledged Kellen Hinkle.

Lashone Murphy, who oversees after-school programs at the Neighborhood House, called the program a success and hopes it can be offered again. One of the secrets of the course’s success, Drew students revealed, was its currency:


When they remembered prior lessons, kids were rewarded with Skittles and Hershey Kisses.

And if they saved their Skittles, “we gave them more,” explained Jessica Centanni. “It was like compound interest.”


Kids from the Morristown Neighborhood House display certificates from Drew University, after completing a financial literacy course. Photo by Bill Lescohier

Kids from the Morristown Neighborhood House display certificates from Drew University, after completing a financial literacy course. Photo by Bill Lescohier



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  1. What a fantastic program! You are taking real life financial concepts and making them relevant and meaningful to young teenagers. Just love it!

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