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Pinellas County Schools Enlist Rock Band To Teach Kids About Money

If you're giving a PowerPoint presentation to hundreds of teenagers and the focus is financial literacy, you might want to consider booking a rock band as the opening act.

Turns out things like compounding interest and the perils of payday loans seem much cooler when the guy talking about it wears a black leather jacket and plays guitar.

And the rock star to do just that on a recent morning at St Petersburg High School goes by one name- Gooding- the same name as his band. Gooding's philosophy-- music makes the medicine go down. So after playing a short set, the musician talks to kids from five area high schools about how to make smart financial decisions. And yes, he knows how that sounds.

"People ask me all the time, do you write songs about financial literacy? Do you sing about credit cards? Oh my God, no,” he said. “I don't want to hear that band. The band should break up immediately.”

Gooding does admit though, that his band experienced financial struggles early on in their career.

But after years of driving beat up vans to the next gig and cooking ramen noodles in motel coffee pots, Gooding has learned a thing or two about money management and diversification. The band has earned extra money by licensing their music for advertising and to TV shows from CSI to Scandal.  That's how they've managed to become something of a small business.

In St. Pete, Gooding told the students about celebrities and sport stars who squandered fortunes, talked about how credit scores work and took questions from the audience. The show is free to school systems. Financial companies sponsor their shows, such as Raymond James did for their St. Petersburg show.

There's a lot of emphasis on the concept of never being too young to start saving money. Even with other responsibilities, like paying off student debt or saving up for a home, some money should go towards a retirement account. Gooding tells the students that if an 18-year-old saves $50 dollars a week they will have on average more than $600,000 by the time they are 65.

That seemed to resonate with Samantha Lee, a senior at St Petersburg's Northeast High School.

"I think a lot of people our age don't really pay attention to that at all until it's too late,” she said. “So I think it's very important to start now which is the overall message. I think that's awesome, to start now."

But you can't save if you spend. And that can be hard to resist for teenagers constantly bombarded by advertising. And next year when some of these kids head to college, they'll face another temptation: credit cards. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 41% of college seniors had credit card debt, with an average balance of just over $3,000.

"The first credit card company that you signed with is more than likely going to be the one that you stick with,” said Hanna Taylor another Northeast High School senior. “And they really target teenagers for that reason."

Taylor and Lee are part of Northeast High School’s Academy of Finance-- a series of college prep classes for students seeking careers in business.

Debbie Fisher is the program's director.  She says financial literacy is especially important for students who have seen the consequences of what happens when families live paycheck to paycheck.

"We want them to understand is how you get out of that situation,” she said. “This is what's going to get you to that next level. This is how to complete tax forms and this is what you do with your paycheck and this is how to plan for your future.”

After Gooding wraps up the presentation he brings the band back up on stage for one last song. By now most of the kids are on their feet and plenty others are clutching Gooding posters along with flyers with tips on how to customize a savings plan.

As a reporter, my goal is to tell a story that moves you in some way. To me, the best way to do that begins with listening. Talking to people about their lives and the issues they care about is my favorite part of the job.
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