Four Wheels to Freedom Provides a Financial Learning Opportunity


Purchasing one’s first car is a major life milestone celebrated nearly universally by teenagers. A first car represents the manifestation of many dreams to the typical teenager: ownership, freedom, independence and responsibility, to name a few. All of us remember our first car – no matter what make, model or condition it was in – and likely have special memories of cruising down the highway with the wind in our hair and the music turned up. This is part of the American dream we all have strived for and worked hard to achieve.

  While most young adults recognize and understand the joys and responsibilities of vehicle ownership, this is a learning process for teenagers. Many of us had to work and save for our first vehicle, and we as adults generally striveto impart this life lesson on our teenage children. However, when we look at the statistics of Generation Z – the current teenage generation – it begs the question: are we truly making headway with helping our teenage youth prepare for the future?

The statistics are interesting. According to a couple of recent studies published by The Street, 87% of teens consider saving money to be a priority and three in four have set financial goals for 2022. While this is a positive indication that adults are teaching their teens about the importance of saving, it is important to note that only42% of teens have any savings at all. Additionally, only 35% of teenagers have a traditional bank account yet consider saving a priority.

  What these recent revelations have shown us at Jacksonville, Fla.-based 121 Financial Credit Union is that the need to get teenagers ‘banked’remains strong, despite years of industry-wide efforts to show youth the value of financial literacy, preparedness and how to use bank accounts responsibly.To keep moving closer to our industry’s collective goal of getting more teenagers into traditional bank accounts, we must get creative. Hence the launch of our credit union’s latest initiative aimed at helping teenagers prepare for the future: Four Wheels to Freedom.

As part of April’s Financial Literacy Month, our team launched Four Wheels to Freedom to encourage youths and teenagers, through their parents, to open a new savings account with 121 Financial and begin saving for their first vehicle. As an incentive, we placed $10 in each account once opened, and to broaden access, we placed no minimum age limit on youth savings accounts. We also added another fun incentive: at the end of April, every young person who opened a new savings account was put into a drawing for Two Wheels to Freedom – a new bike valued at $400.

    Our purpose was simple: to help youths and teenagers understand the vital importance of building healthy savings habits at an early age, thereby better positioning them to enter their young adult years, which can be financially turbulent in many ways. At 121 Financial, our number one priority has always been providing financial education and providing the right guidance and financial tools to help people achieve their dreams and goals. As the statistics show, while many teenagers are ecstatic about the opportunity to purchase their first car, a majority of Gen Z does not have a savings plan in place to achieve that goal. WebelieveFour Wheels to Freedom offered a positive, encouraging way to help teens realize this dream of future freedom – and financial freedom.

While this creative campaign took place during Financial Literacy Month, our financial education efforts in our community occur every day, week and month of the year. We specifically employ a Financial Education Specialist, the legendary Ms. Gail Lewis (who also won the global Credit Union Hero of the Year Award from CUNA in 2015),whose sole role is to engage people of all ages and financial stages in our community, help them better understand finances and position them for future financial success.

As with many life skills, instilling important financial principles in youth largely starts with parents. While parents have the ultimate responsibility for setting their children up for future success, sometimes it is parents themselves who need support learning and teaching responsible financial practices. To address this, our focus at 121 Financial has always been to engage both youth and parents. The goal with parents is two-prong: help them understand their own finances and banking practices and help them teach their children the same. Initiating good financial habits at a young age reaps benefits for the rest of one’s life – and conversely, bad financial habits can have a seriously negative impact on their livelihoods over the long term.

According to another recent study published in the Journal of Financial Counseling and Planning, many parents have expressed reluctance or admit to missed opportunities to discuss financial topics with their children. Conversely, children are seeking this knowledge from their parents. Some children have even expressed they wish their parents had taught them more about monetary wisdom. While we work with parents to help improve their own financial outlook, we also help them learn how to discuss these topics with their kids. And it all starts with a basic principle: by reiterating the need to have these ‘tough’ and meaningful discussions at a young age.

Our financial education efforts aimed at helping parents have these discussions involve several key principles:

  • Start Young – experts have suggested that conversations should start around age seven, when money habits and attitudes begin to appear
  • Show, Don’t Just Tell – engage children in shopping and money-spending activities so they see and experience the handling of money in their youth; it’s not just a lecture
  • Encourage Earning –it’s important to illustrate how to earn, not just spend, money
  • Engage in Spending Decisions – an allowance remains a simple yet meaningful way to show the power of a dollar
  • Be a Role Model – similar to showing and not just telling, children are watching how adults handle their money and are taking mental notes about financial behaviors
  • Develop Savings Habits – saving teaches discipline, planning and goal-setting more than any other financial practice

No matter what stage parents are in teaching financial literacy to their children, we at 121 Financial have always believed that, as a community-focused institution, it is our responsibility to help parents along this path.Our Four Wheels to Freedom initiative, while appealing to teenagers themselves, sought to do exactly that: use an innovative campaign and highly enticing life milestone to engage both parents and teens in the value of saving and building positive, lifelong financial habits.

Ultimately, the initiative was a success. The number of new youth accounts opened was four times our monthly average for new youth accounts – a record for our credit union – with each new young person creating up to $400,000 in lifetime member value if they borrow in the future. More importantly, because of this campaign, we were able to engage parents and youth in important financial literacy skills while helping them work towards a life goal. This, at the end of the day, is our most important mission and purpose. And sometimes, as all credit unions have experienced, we must get really creative in fulfilling that mission and purpose.

About Auhtor:
David Marovich is president and CEO of Jacksonville, Fla.-based 121 Financial Credit Union. 121 Financial has $650 million in assets and serves more than 45,000 members throughout the Jacksonville and North Florida region. Since its founding in 1935 as Florida Telco, the credit union has worked to be a trusted partner to the community with personalized solutions for every stage of life.

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