Training to Save in Ghana

(Photo: Stella Benezra)

Freakonomics fans will already know that financial literacy is a hot issue for researchers – it’s in everybody’s best interest to get people making better financial decisions, but frankly, we’re not terribly good at it.  The natural response is that if you just explain to people how to make better decisions, they’ll do it, but as we’ve heard in the podcast, it ain’t necessarily so. Just taking rational, clear-thinking adults and explaining how to make better financial decisions makes them feel good, but doesn’t necessarily help them make better decisions.

So we wondered if we could fix the problem by backing up the process and starting early, when kids were still in school.  And we decided to do it in a place where people can use all the financial help they can get – Ghana, which has one of the lowest savings rates in Africa.

My colleagues Jim BerryMenno Pradhan, and I set up a program through Aflatoun and Innovations for Poverty Action, where we could rigorously evaluate two different programs in 135 Ghanaian schools.  Using random assignment, one group of schools was offered a basic financial education curriculum, another got the same lessons embedded in a broader social and emotional development curriculum to connect financial responsibility to broader life lessons, and a third comparison group got no intervention. 

You can read about the programs here, where you can also vote in a contest to see if you can predict the outcomes.  Based on what you’ve read here, what do you think we found? 

Two winners will get a free copy of my book More Than Good Intentions or an annual digital subscription to Stanford Social Innovation Review.


A good experiment - I actually lived in Ghana for almost a year in the early 1990s.

I'm guessing the best results were, of course, where financial lessons were embedded in the broader curriculum. It seems this would be the most effective: to help children to see finances in the broader scheme of life, culture, worldview; as an outflowing of the way they approach life. For example, the benefits of delaying gratification extend not from just money, but in so many other areas of life.

Eric M. Jones.

"– Ghana, which has one of the lowest savings rates in Africa..."

I thought the recent financial collapse had made the concept of teaching people to save at least silly and perhaps incompetent advice.

My Grandmother used to scold me as a kid, "Now, save that nickel for college..."

Grandma was crazy. The current reality is your savings will be confiscated, scammed or inflated into worthlessness.


You are spot on. Indeed, in the modern economy, savers are punished with artificially-low interest rates. Combine that with stealth currency-devaluation by central banks' money-printing, which steals money from everyone holding that currency just as surely as if the government was mugging them, and there are many reasons to instead spend ourselves into a Keynesian froth.

The way out, of course, is through gold & silver - every purchase of which is a vote against current central banking policies, an "opt-out" from a corrupt financial system.


Saving for the future is not about hoarding gold coins. The reason saving is good is because the savings are transformed into investment in real goods (houses, factories, buildings, roads, ships, etc.) that have a real benefit to the larger economy. There’s no reason to expect hard currency to be a long term store of value. MY grandmother used to say “don’t let that quarter burn a hole in your pocket.” Meaning, if you don’t use it or put it to work, it’ll be gone. Investing for the future should be rewarded, but there’s no economic or moral reason to reward people for hoarding cash.

If anything, current interest rates are artificially high. The market-clearing interest rate for savings vs. investment is likely negative, but it is held up by the fact that it can’t go below zero.


I'll take a risk with weird guess:
HMB program was a total failure and in fact those children were better of without it, while kids with social study got above avarage effects.

HMB>no program>social


I think the broader curriculum by imbeding it into real life scenarios will make more of a lasting impact.


I would guess that the students who were exposed to the broad-based curriculum which incorporated financial responsibility within social and emotional development curriculum did the best, and the one's with basic financial education did only slightly better than those without no financial education at all.

Fiona Underwood

I'm wondering what measures are going to be used to assess and compare the effectiveness of the different programs? In particular in the detailed description they talk about looking at changes in savings behaviour and in the text describe the use of a metal box to record transactions for the two interventions. I'm assuming that they are using the use of this box to look at savings behaviour? However it isn't clear thatthe metal box is available for the control group so it isn't obvious how this comparison will be made or whether the comparison is being made before the interventions start for those two groups?


I'm going to guess that there was no appreciable difference between any of the groups.

Bill Ogorodny

I think the idea of teaching the young children finance in great. Schools in the US should think about doing this. So many young people get in trouble with debt.

Everet R.

I just have one issue with the idea of financial literacy classes in U.S. schools. As a current undergraduate student, I recall my high school adding a required financial literacy course to its curriculum just as I was graduating. I also remember in particular the feelings of relief that my classmates and I expressed when we realized that we wouldn't be forced to take this course.

Many physed, health, sex ed, or computer literacy courses being taught in the U.S. today seem necessary and practical on paper but rarely leave a positive impact on students. These classes tend to degenerate into an interminably dull gray area between study hall and "adult recess," where at best the students are forced to copy copious definitions from a textbook while waiting for gym to start. Nothing very profound or interesting is taught, either due to the school's curriculum restraints or the personal prejudices and motivations (or lack thereof) of the teaching staff.

I guess what I'm saying is that while I support teaching our kids about their bodies, computers, and even saving money, let us try to shy away from what was forced upon us all when WE were in school.