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I was a personal finance nerd in high school.

I kept a detailed ledger of all the money I earned from my part-time job and every cent that went out right down to a pack of gum. I read The Wealthy Barber. I even took out RRSPs.

I always figured I was the oddball among my peers, but a new study suggests teenagers today have an intense interest in money management skills. A growing majority of students even think it should be taught in the classroom.

But while the typical student will face a crushing debt load by the time they finish college or university – an average of almost $27,000, according to the Canadian Federation of Students – very few feel they are prepared to cope with personal finances after high school.

That's according to a Youth Financial Literacy Study released Wednesday by the Investor Education Fund , a non-profit financial literacy group, which is funded through the Ontario Securities Commission's fines and settlements.

The online poll, which was conducted by The Brondesbury Group, of 400 Ontario high school students aged 14 to 18 is considered accurate within 5 per cent 19 times out of 20.

The survey found 70 per cent of respondents said learning how to manage their personal finances is "important" or "very important," up from 64 per cent when the poll was last undertaken in 2009. Meanwhile, 69 per cent believed money management should be part of classroom lesson plans, a significant 12-per-cent jump from 2009.

"This is a trend that I believe has been increasing in the last 20 years as tuition fees have gone up, with changes in credit availability, and with other financial issues that are hitting Canadian households," said Tom Hamza, president of the Investor Education Fund.

Students are becoming as concerned about how to handle money as the rest of the adult population, he added.

"They see what's going on," Mr. Hamza said, "They're become increasingly aware of the demands they're gong to have to face after they graduate. They are recognizing, in fact, that there's a gap between what they've learned in school and what they need to know."

The survey noted that just four in 10 students felt they were either "somewhat" or "very prepared" to manage their personal finances after they leave high school. At the same time, only about a quarter said their schools gave them most or all of the financial information they needed.

In schools where students reported being offered money management skills, 29 per cent said they "always budget," but in most schools, 42 per cent of students said they "never budget."

Students said their main money worry is paying for postsecondary education, yet they aren't doing much to ease it.

Teens are spending their money on clothing (67 per cent), entertainment (55 per cent) technology (47 per cent), gifts (38 per cent), and education (28 per cent.)

The Investor Education Fund is helping create a new program that will help meet the Ontario government's efforts to inject financial literacy into the curriculum for grades 4-12. Schools across the country are starting to acknowledge that personal finance is as crucial in education as teaching reading and writing.

"The landscape has changed seismically in 20 years," Mr. Hamza said, "and I don't think the school systems have kept up as far as recognizing this is a life skill – not a 'nice to have', but a 'must have.'"

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