Teaching financial literacy can be a challenge, especially in a college setting. It can be difficult to come up with progressive, creative ways to pass along the message of financial freedom and the benefits they will reap from planning ahead well into their future. As students are graduating with more and more student debt, however, it is becoming more crucial to share applicable, real-life solutions directly related to financial wellness. Music can be an outstanding way to engage students with an otherwise less-than-exciting topic by quickly and accurately connecting with their current (and future) concerns. While the music industry at large generally gets a bad rap by portraying living a life entrenched in excess, there are a few notable exceptions. Here are four hit songs that can help students understand the importance of financial fitness in a fun, meaningful way.


1.) "Thrift Shop" – Macklemore

The chorus of Macklemore’s pop hit, Thrift Shop, could not be more perfect in explaining the power of budgeting – and it sounds much better in the hook of the song than it does coming from a professor’s mouth.

“I’m gonna pop some tags
Only got twenty dollars in my pocket
I – I – I’m huntin’, lookin’ for a come-up
This is ****** awesome”

Students have financial temptations at every turn, not to mention expensive realities, including the cost of tuition and pricey textbooks. “Thrift Shop” can be used to speak directly to the importance of living off only what one has available, even if that is a mere $20. The lyrics of the song also talk about the trap of buying brand new clothing and other items at full price versus the option to buy secondhand. Reminding students to live within their means without the use of additional student loans or credit cards is a simple task when referencing this song.


2.) "Price Tag” – Jessie J featuring B.o.B.

Another recent hit song that can be used in teaching students about financial wellness is a direct contradiction to the norm of living in excess the music industry portrays. Jessie J’s “Price Tag” has a clear message to listeners:

“Why is everybody so obsessed?
Money can’t buy us happiness
Can we all slow down and enjoy right now
Guarantee we’ll be feelin’ alright
It’s like this, man, you can’t put a price on life”

There is a common misconception with young students that money is the answer to all of life’s problems. In order to have made it in this world, or to be considered successful by peers, students think they must have the biggest, the best and, most importantly, the most expensive, all in the pursuit of happiness. “Price Tag” speaks to the importance of developing a different definition of success, and subsequently creating a healthier relationship with money. The song is powerful in sharing the message that money is important, but it does not necessarily equate a full and happy life.


3.) "Money, Money, Money" – Abba

Although this tune is not as current as the others, it still presents an important message about money and is easy to listen to on repeat. Instead of lyrics about spending down everything earned each pay period, the song focuses on having some in reserve for emergencies or a rainy day:

"I work all night, I work all day, to pay the bills I have to pay
Ain't it sad?
And still there never seems to be a single penny left for me
That's too bad."

The foundation of financial literacy is two-fold: the need for savings coupled with the responsible use of credit. In order to not accrue an oppressive amount of debt during college, students need to understand the importance of having a reserve fund available – instead of relying on the easy-to-access credit card. “Money, Money, Money” speaks directly to this core principle of financial fitness and creates an opportunity for educators to share that message with students in a fun, memorable way.


4.) "If I Had a Million Dollars" - The Barenaked Ladies

In the mainstream media, it is clear that a life of excess and the mentality of “have it now” are prevalent; students are constantly battling the idea of keeping up with a lavish lifestyle when they truly can’t afford it. “If I Had a Million Dollars” discusses this ideal in real-life:  

"If I had a million dollars
We wouldn't have to walk to the store
If I had a million dollars
We'd take a limousine cause it cost more"

Helping students understand the concept that just because money is available does not necessarily mean it should be spent is another powerful principle of financial literacy. Does moving to a newer, more expensive apartment off campus make sense if it does not easily fit in the budget? Does buying a brand new wardrobe after your first paycheck make the most of your income? The answer to those pressing questions is generally no. Instead of focusing on what they may be able to buy with their next paycheck or after landing their first post-degree job, students should be aware of the positive implications of saving even when they have the money to spend.

In order to connect with students where they are as it relates to financial fitness, utilizing trendy tools in your financial literacy class can be incredibly beneficial. It is proven that providing students with relevant and real world information through an interactive classroom experience increases engagement and promotes retention. So instead of presenting a lecture full of statistics, have fun with your students and engage them in a discussion about their finances by integrating popular or classic songs that relay a powerful, long-lasting message. 


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