Financial Literacy: Let's Hear It For The Girls

According to singer Beyonce's hit song, girls run the world. If that's the case, they are going to need a strong grasp of finances in order to remain in charge. Fortunately, a number of options exist to help girls learn financial literacy.

Why girls need financial literacy

Even if girls aren't planning on world domination, there are plenty of reasons why they should be educated in sound financial principles.

"At some point in their lifetime, [most] women will become a head of household," says Rhonda Mims, President of the ING Foundation, which partners with Girls Inc. to offer an investment challenge program.

According to The Atlantic, women are waiting until an average age of 27 to get married in the U.S. today, compared to an average age of 20 in 1960. Living independently requires some financial acumen. In addition to those who choose to manage family finances voluntarily, some women may find themselves thrown into a head of household role as the result of divorce or the death of a spouse.

Certainly, most girls prefer to be self-sufficient. A 2012 survey conducted by the Girl Scout Research Institute found 94 percent of girls say they don't want to rely on their parents for money. When given the choice, 80 percent would choose to make their own money rather than marry someone who would support them.

Financial literacy programs for girls

While financial literacy education is important for both genders, experts say girls may deserve some extra attention.

"Smart money management is a life skill," says Mims, "but many girls don't have role models to teach them good money management."

That may be why women lag behind men in terms of financial confidence. The Prudential 2012-2013 research study Financial Experience & Behaviors Among Women found only 23 percent of women feel well-prepared to make financial decisions. That compares to 45 percent of men who say the same. Meanwhile, a 2011 MassMutual study found only 37 percent of women say they are very good at managing money.

To help girls grow into financially savvy women, a number of organizations have created programs designed to cater specifically to their needs. For example, the Girl Scouts have developed a Mix It Up! program for middle school girls that discusses, among other topics, financial literacy. However, no program is probably quite as involved as the ING-Girls Inc. Investment Challenge.

Teaching investment skills

"[The investment challenge] came out as a result of a multi-cultural survey," Mims explains. "We discovered black women were educated and leading households but didn't have a handle on their financial future."

ING U.S. teamed up with Girls Inc. to create a long-term program that put girls in the driver's seat making real-world investment decisions. After eight weeks of financial literacy education in 2009, teams of girls began investing what would eventually become $50,000 portfolios.

The teams managed their portfolios for three years and posted impressive gains, ranging from 31 percent to 54.55 percent from 2009-2012. The gains were then split among team members as scholarships, with some also going to Girls Inc. to support local programming.

This year, ING and Girls Inc. are expanding the program to include more teams as well as launching a one-year curriculum that will touch on additional aspects of personal finance, such as building a saving account and budgeting.

Mims recommends parents find programs that speak to their daughters where they are. For example, online programs may be best for Internet savvy girls while community programs may pique the interest of socially active girls. Regardless of which program they choose, parents should make a point to help their daughters become financially literate so they can be one of the girls who can run the world.