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PERSONAL FINANCE: 25 years in the schools, part 2 –

In the last column I set out my history, and the history of The National CARE Financial Literacy Program, which I founded, in our fight against our National Epidemic of Financial Illiteracy.

I also included some quotes from students and Tammy Franz after a recent visit to Canandaigua Academy.

John Ninfo leads a school National CARE Financial Literacy Program discussion.

Before I leave the CARE presentations in the high schools, I want to include the TOP TEN LESSONS that I cover, with three goals in mind. First, reinforce what the students have or will learn about personal finances in the classroom or at home. Second, educate the students on some additional personal finance lessons, tactics, and techniques. Third, energize the students to realize that they have to learn a lot more about finances and never stop learning, so they are not taken advantage of by the financial industry, and so they also realize the importance of always having a financial plan in life, and developing good financial habits, so that they can meet all of their career and life goals.

In order to reinforce the top ten lessons, the presentation includes videos, as well as stories of real people from in and around the bankruptcy courts and the mistakes that they have made.

Here are the lessons. Don’t use credit cards to buy “stuff” you can’t afford. Cash is king. Budget to control your spending or it will control you. You need a good credit history or there will be consequences. Save if you want to do priceless things and live richly. Money matters; be frugal, not cheap. Don’t make wants, wishes, luxuries and conveniences ‘”false needs.” Don’t make anticipated expenses “false emergencies.” The only “good debt” is debt that you can afford to repay and have a plan to repay. Get the best value for every dollar you spend or borrow for an education, and minimize student loan debt.

Before we move on to some pre-pandemic visits to the Canandaigua Middle School (I will be back there in late November), I wanted to leave you with the story of Nathan, which regular readers may remember. Because of the unique combination of classes he took, after listening to three presentations over two semesters, even though after the first one we told him he could go to the library and take a study hall, this senior had this to say: I don’t regret sitting in on three presentations, because, “I learned something new each time, and kids like us can’t hear this stuff enough.” WOW!

Also before we move to some the middle school experiences, I wanted to share a quote from Caroline Chapman, the District Communications Director, who, as far as I can remember, is the only person in any school district to sit in on both a high school and a middle school presentation.

“Judge Ninfo’s lessons to our students prepare them for life beyond middle school and high school. I have visited and participated in the lesson numerous times and have found the tips and explanations to be helpful to anyone. Understanding the value of money, interest rates, being frugal and thinking about the value of money in association with the hard work needed to earn it will be lessons our students can carry into the world and hopefully share with others.”

I have been going to the Canandaigua Middle School to speak for Kim Connal’s Family and Career Science classes every semester for a number of years now. The students have been incredibly attentive, interested and eager to learn. We talk about more basic subjects, like unit price and comparative shopping, and having a monthly dinner with your family to discuss and learn more about personal finances. Then, somewhat scaled down, we cover some of the top ten lessons — money is about hard work, cash is king, the need to start saving now, knowing the difference between needs and wants, interest payments cannibalize your hard work and your wealth, and the need to avoid credit card debt when you get older.

In the attached pre-pandemic photo, you will see the famous “Money Tree” in Kim’s classroom, and an expensive red Ferrari.

Thanks to the tree, I always say in my presentations, “Money doesn’t grow on trees or come from ATM machines, it comes from hard work”. As for the Ferrari, I always say, “avoid and minimize debt as much as possible so that you don’t give all those unnecessary interest payments to my friends in the financial industry, so that they can buy nicer cars, etc., keep them for you and your family.”

Here is a quote from Kim: “It is a huge benefit to our students to have Judge Ninfo come into our classroom to speak about Financial Management and being a frugal shopper. Through his passionate dialogue, Judge Ninfo thoroughly engages the students so they ‘sit up and listen’ to his wise advice. It is evident through student reflection that Judge Ninfo’s sessions are of high value and are something the students will take with them beyond graduation.”

I want to finish up with my favorite middle school stories. In fact it is one of my favorite stories, period.

I normally only do 7th and 8th grades, even though it is never too early to start talking about these things, but one year, Kim said “I have a really exceptional 6th grade class that I would like you to speak to.” I did, and at the end I asked what I always ask in all my presentations: Did anyone learn anything today, do you think that other kids should hear this, and do you have any final questions? A somewhat puzzled 6th grade boy raised his hand and said, “JUDGE, ISN’T THIS ALL JUST COMMON SENSE?!”

If all Americans could say that, we would no longer have a National Epidemic of Financial Illiteracy.

John Ninfo is a retired bankruptcy judge and the founder of the National CARE Financial Literacy Program. Find his previous weekly columns at

John Ninfo