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ABC15 News Special Report: Do kids need to learn money management skills?

ABC 15's Crystal Costa talked to an Horry County counselor who just started teaching elementary school students about finances.

Eighty percent of Americans are in debt and some haven't even graduated college yet. That's why a teacher in our area is making sure young students are prepared for the real world.

She's educating them about finances before they're in middle school.

ABC 15's Crystal Costa found out why it is so important to get kids thinking about money at a young age.

CCU Senior Jasmine Yarbrough has been preparing for her future since she got her first job at age 16. "Some of my expenses were getting a little too pricey," she recalled.

She learned the hard way about income and finances. "I felt like at the time $100 meant that I was rich. I struggled financially with things that I needed like basic stuff," said Yarbrough.

She felt the pressure her freshman year in college. "I couldn't get personal things and enjoy myself as much," said Yarbrough.

That feeling of being unprepared for life is why Laurie Thomas says it is so important to teach young kids about money. "When you get ready to talk about money, their ears are open. I mean, they are listening," Thomas told us.

The Waterway Elementary School Counselor is teaching fourth graders money management skills through a program called EVERFI.

"We start talking about money and what it is. I usually bring it in with my career unit, because we talk about careers and how careers are how we make money to take care of bills and expenses," said Thomas.

The Horry County School District provides the program free under the Future Scholar Financial Literacy Program.

"I found out about it last year at a professional development course and decided I would start to implement it and I did and the kids love it," Thomas told us.

Students learn about needs versus wants and what an income is.

"I thought an income was something you have to pay. Now I learned an income is what you get from earning that money," said student Jedi Benton.

They also learn how to cut expenses. Student Isaiah Daniels told us, "What we had to do was cut certain wants, and we couldn't cut the needs because those are too important."

Thomas also addresses more complex topics like taxes, investing and minimum wage, trying to make it relatable to young children.

"They wore those big JoJo bows and I'm like, you know how much that bow cost? They'll tell me a certain amount and don't let it be over $7 dollars. I'm like gasp, it took your momma a whole hour to make that if she was making minimum wage to buy you that bow. We talk about it in a fun way, but in a way they can relate," said Thomas.

Thomas was recognized for her efforts and named Teacher of the Month by the South Carolina Treasure's Office in October 2017.

State leaders believe an early education in finances will set students up for success.

Thomas agrees. "It's going to help us holistically, because when kids learn about money and know how to manage money better, then they're not going to be in debt as much."

Yarbrough wishes she knew then what she knows now. "I would be very more disciplined with my money if I would have started back in fourth grade, because I would understand the importance and I would understand how fast money comes in and out."

Yarbrough agrees its never too early to educate kids about money. "Getting them familiar like how things will work. It's not easy, like money don't grow on trees and $100 doesn't mean you are rich."

Thomas encourages parents to be transparent with their children when it comes to finances.

She says even explaining simple tasks like how you budget for grocery shopping will get them thinking long term about money.

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