James Cunningham is the Funny Money program’s creator.  He has presented it to hundreds of thousands of high school, college and university students across North America.  Funny Money has received the “Best Unconventional Project” award from the World Chambers Congress and two “Lecture of the Year” awards from the Canadian Organization of Campus Activities.  James can currently be seen hosting Eat St. on Food Network Canada.

"The best time to teach and really get through to young people about money is when you are just getting your first pay cheques, your driver’s license and taking your first steps into financial adulthood."

Question: What inspired you to start the Funny Money seminar and help spread financial literacy amongst youth?

Answer: In retrospect, I was very fortunate to have some strong financial lessons taught to me when I was in high school.  From those experiences I realized that the best time to teach and really get through to young people about money is when you are just getting your first pay cheques, your driver’s license and taking your first steps into financial adulthood.

Q: Why is financial literacy among youth so important?

A: Understanding the power that money has in our life’s decision-making process is one of the most fundamental things humans — not just young ones — need to know. Money is not the most important thing in your life, but you either control your money or your money will control you. The earlier you learn this, the better. The Investor Education Fund has spent years studying teen spending habits.  We don’t want today’s youth to be money-challenged in the future.

"Money is not the most important thing in your life, but you either control your money or your money will control you."

Q: In your opinion, what is the most prevalent financial issue amongst youth?

A: Without a doubt, the early age that teens are being exposed to credit is one of the biggest problems. The unofficial currency of the Internet is the credit card, so getting and using one in your early teens is becoming very common. The one thing you rarely hear a teenager say nowadays is, “I’m saving up for…” Add to that the fact that almost an entire generation has been raised under the banner of “cheap money.” Lending rates have been so low that first time buyers for many years think a mortgage will be 3.2 percent forever! I remember my father telling me about rates in the early 80’s where he was paying 17 percent on a residential mortgage.

"Almost an entire generation has been raised under the banner of 'cheap money.'"

Q: What advice would you give to parents looking to raise financially literate kids?

A: Make your children aware of financial issues and involve them in the financial workings of the household.  Let them see the electricity, gas and water bills.  Help them understand how much things like car insurance and property tax actually cost, so their first exposure to these numbers isn’t when they are 23, moving into their first apartment on their own.