Financial Literacy for Teens: What Tutors & Parents Can Do To Prepare Students for the Important Decisions in Life, with Founder of Isabel Explains, Isabel De La Cruz: Podcast Transcript

Ludo Millar
Hello, and welcome to the Qualified Tutor Podcast, the podcast that brings you the latest in the world of tutoring EdTech and education and hopefully inspires in us a big change that each and every one of us is capable of.

Qualified Tutor is an industry-leading tutor training organisation and an online tutoring community for 1000s of tutors around the world. This podcast is the voice of this community, where we aim to hear from tutors, teachers, entrepreneurs, coaches, business experts, students, tutor printers, and more from the world of tutoring about what inspires them every day, how they can help tutors like you and what they’ve learned about tutoring along the way.

The question is, what will you learn today?

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Ludo Millar 1:53
Hello, and welcome to the 130th episode of the Qualified Tutor Podcast. My name is Ludo Millar, the host of this podcast. Welcome back to our regulars listeners. Welcome to any of you for whom this is your first time listening to the Qualified Tutor Podcast. And of course, a very warm welcome to our guest today, Isabel De La Cruz. Isabel, welcome to the podcast.

Isabel De La Cruz 3:08
Oh, thank you so much for having me. That’s an honour.

Ludo Millar 3:11
And it’s an honour for us to receive you here as well. It’s been many months that we have known each other and it’s really on me that I haven’t invited you onto the podcast sooner. So I’m very glad that you’re here for the first of hopefully many podcasts that we’re able to do with you as well. As a little background to Isabel because I know many of the people in our community will have come across Isabel’s videos and Isabel’s financial literacy courses but for those who haven’t, and I’ve just given away a little bit about what Isabel does [LAUGHS], but as well as an amazing science and maths tutor of coming up to about 15 years now is it?

Isabel De La Cruz 3:57
Something like that. Yeah. Well, I technically started in back in 2008. But I didn’t start tutoring full time until 2014. So that’s a pretty cool story that I’ll tell you in a minute.

Ludo Millar 4:10
Yeah, so definitely 15 years and full time for the last 9 or 10, Isabel has a background in molecular biology and computer programming and maths. And in addition to all of that is a super talented vlogger and YouTuber and actor. So many of you will have heard of Isabel Explains which is Isabel’s YouTube channel for financial literacy, where she shares short, snappy videos explaining all kinds of banking, accounting, mathematical and finance concepts. Really, really easy and informative watching for you, the educator, for your children, if you have any, and for your students as well. And much like our guest two weeks ago, Matthew Curnier, Isabel has, as I mentioned, also starred in many acting roles in film and in TV. So I can’t wait to hear a little bit more about that, though this is, of course, the Qualified Tutor Podcast so unfortunately, most of this episode will be about Isabel’s tutoring knowledge and expertise. But we will I’m sure touch on the acting bit a little bit.

But, Isabel, I asked you a few weeks ago to see if you could find locate any old school reports because it’s a great way for our listeners to get to know our guests. I gather that locating the school reports was not necessarily possible, but you do have a tale from your childhood days. Is that right?

Isabel De La Cruz 5:46
Yes. So when I was in 11th grade, we were reading this book called Como Agua Para Chocolate. I grew up in Puerto Rico. So I went to school in Puerto Rico. And this book is basically a story, a novel. And a part of one of our projects was to literally become the character, you were assigned to be one of the characters of the book. And we were going to have judgment of the character, like we would literally go to court and defend our character. And I got so into it, like literally my character was supposed to be like a military person, like she kind of just joined the militia or whatever, out of the blue, on a whim. And my dad was in the military. So I borrowed one of his shirts, you know, I made fake guns, like I was all in. And the presentation was going great. And at some point, I said something very inappropriate. [LAUGHS] And the teacher just stopped. And she was like, ‘Okay, that is cut’. But what she said, I’ll never forget this, because I think this is probably what led me to becoming an actor, or, you know, getting some hope about becoming an actor. She said, ‘We’ve got to stop here, because that was inappropriate. But I will tell you, you are a thespian, you definitely are a thespian. I loved that, I loved everything you did. It was just not appropriate for the classroom.’

Ludo Millar 7:29
50% no. 50% yes.

Isabel De La Cruz 7:32
Yeah, but I still got an A. [LAUGHS]

Ludo Millar 7:35
Maybe one day, we’ll hear what you said. But perhaps not now. So do you think that your experiences at school and in drama have led you to where you are today? Would you say that informs what your why is about?

Isabel De La Cruz 7:56
A little bit yes. I would say that my why to becoming a tutor is for one thing, the ‘A-ha’ moments, I absolutely love that. That is my favourite part of tutoring, like seeing their eyes just when it clicks. You know, that is magical to me. But I think that one thing that I have that and I guess it has grown over time is learning that anyone can learn anything, if they are taught in the way that they learn. I’ve come across so many students, I have so many different ways of learning that has been very eye opening for me, where I can even pinpoint, like, Okay, I think you’re a kinetic learner, or you’re an auditory learner, or you’re a visual learner, or you’re a mixture of these two, you know, or kids who have, you know, ADHD or things like that, and it’s hilarious, because I actually tutor online and at the end of the day, at the end of the session, I will literally have a whole canvas of drawings about the entire board, because that’s what they do to focus. And listen, as long as you understand the lesson. And as long as you’re getting good grades and everything, I truly don’t care. And I actually saved them because some of them are actually very talented. And I literally just take screenshots and save them for myself, because this is really cool.

Ludo Millar 9:24
Yeah, it’s one of those kind of weird things that’s cropped up with online learning, isn’t it, that we now have these beautiful depictions, these flyers and posters that are just created almost subconsciously, throughout the session, and it’s not like, ‘Okay, today we’re gonna make a beautiful poster about some part of maths.’ It’s just that’s how the session kind of develops, isn’t it? Yeah, it’s almost artistic. I don’t have an artistic bone in my body but some of the things I come up with I’m quite impressed with. That’s mostly my students’ talent rather than mine.

But yeah, I remember we were talking before about why you do what you do. And it’s clearly a large part of your brand and your sell to parents is that why, is wanting to see that joy and learning and knowing that that is part of how students learn effectively is enjoying it. I can’t imagine that any student who joins any of your financial literacy games, or watches your YouTube videos doesn’t find the content  engaging and attractive and interesting, which is really, really important. But you’re also a tutoring business owner alongside that. Could you tell us a little bit more about how you came, if we go back a little bit, how you came to be involved in education and setting up your tutoring business?

Isabel De La Cruz 10:49
Yeah, so that is the story I wanted to tell you. So I actually went to school for math. At first, I was a math major, it was computational math. So it was actually math and computer science. And I did that for three years. And eventually, you know, I ended up switching- long story short, I ended up switching to biology, I got my degree in molecular biology. But I always had this dream, I guess, of I wanted to become an actress. I always did. And, you know, my upbringing, my dad is very traditional. So he was very, like, ‘No, you have a brain, you’re going to use it. So go to school and get a degree’. So when I was done, I basically just gave him my degree. And it was like, I want to go be an actor now. And I started started taking classes and whatnot. So I discovered very quickly that being an actor does not make any money [LAUGHS]. It is really hard to make money at first.

So because you have to do a lot of free projects and show off your talent and whatnot. And that is very time consuming. Because even something as simple as a 10-minute video can take literally all day to shoot, you know, so, I came across a friend who told me that she was doing tutoring, and she loved it because she could make her own schedule and whatnot. And I was like, ‘You know what, I’m gonna give that a shot’. Because I did tutor a lot when I was in high school and in college, you know, I always tutored my peers, but I never did it “professionally” you know, I never charged anybody for it. So I started doing it. And I fell in love with it. I loved it so much. And, you know, over the years, I started realising that teens were my niche, right, the ones that I got to teach the best, you know, and that’s where everything started rolling. And still, to this day, I absolutely love it.

Now, the whole financial literacy thing started, because in my personal journey, I started wanting to learn about financial literacy myself, because I never learned it. So it was it was very, very challenging for me. I trashed my credit when I was young. I mean, it was awful. I had stuff in my collections for forever [LAUGHS]. I mean, it was really, really bad. And I was like, something’s got to change. I can learn this, it can’t be that hard. So I joined a community of real estate investors. And an epiphany happened for me, where I realised that I’d learned more with them in a year or two, actively part of the community, than I’d done in 25 years of my life. And I was like, I have to share this, I have to share this with my students. Because had I known what I know now, when I was their age, I would be a millionaire by now, you know. So I started, you know, sharing tidbits and whatnot during our sessions and whatever, and they were like, ‘Man, I wish I would learn that in school’. That’s what they gotta be teaching is not this algebra or this precalculus like, I want to be a dentist, I don’t even know precalculus. And they’re not necessarily wrong about that … [LAUGHS]

So I took it upon myself and I actually did a lot of research and because I wanted to share content with them. And I realised that most of the content out there is for adults, it’s not for teens. There’s very little content for teens. And I’m like, we gotta teach them while they’re young before they start screwing up. So I took it upon myself and I was like, You know what, I’m gonna make turn my YouTube channel that I already had. It was for math and science. I’m going to start doing financial literacy. See how they love it. I have a whole course on Udemy as well, it is free at the moment. And I will hopefully be dropping lesson two by the end of this month. So yeah, it’s been an awesome journey.

As of last night actually, or yesterday, technically it was their night, but it was my morning yesterday, I ended up doing a financial literacy game with the kids from Ukraine with Yuliya [Kosko], your friend, so it was fantastic. It was so much fun. And they were so appreciative. They were like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is where real life is’. One of the things that happened that I think it was kind of a blessing in disguise, one of the scenarios that I do for the game was that your cousin gets into a really bad accident, do you help them with their bills? Or do you take them to the doctor and back or whatever. Like, how do you help them, and one of the kids didn’t want to help and I was poking fun at her, you know, going like, ‘Oh, you’re such a bad person, and how are they gonna help your cousin, you know’. It was all in good fun though. And at the end, when I got their feedback, she goes, ‘I couldn’t help them because I didn’t have enough money’. And that spoke to my SOUL, because I was like, that has actually happened to me, where I want to help somebody, and I couldn’t because I didn’t have enough money, or I didn’t have the means to go visit them and stay with them or whatever the case may be. And I told her that’s why you have to be responsible with your money because you did all that partying up to this point, right, and now you don’t have enough money to help your cousin. So it was one of those lessons that I’m like, yeah, I hope that stays with you [LAUGHS].

Ludo Millar 17:05
So, what do you know about financial literacy for teens now that you didn’t at the start? What are some things that you could tell parents or educators or students about financial literacy that you didn’t know when you first began this journey?

Isabel De La Cruz 17:25
Well, you mean my personal journey? Or the journey of teaching now?

Ludo Millar 17:31
The journey of teaching them, yeah.

Isabel De La Cruz 17:33
Well, I would say that one thing I didn’t know was how little they actually knew. So when I first started sharing tips with them, it would be things like, ‘Oh, did you know you can save on taxes by opening a business?’. And then I realised that they don’t even know the difference between a debit card and a credit card. Um, let’s back up a little bit! So I think that was a huge eye opener for me because it’s one of those things you don’t necessarily think about, you know, when I was 15, I probably didn’t know either.

So I think one thing that I have taken away from doing this is keep it incredibly simple. And start from the basics, don’t assume that they know what you think they know, right? Even like the difference between a checking account and a savings account. Most of them don’t know, so I think that is one thing that I would definitely encourage even parents [to do]. You don’t necessarily have to share any figures with them because I understand that there’s this privacy concept to it and whatnot. But even if it’s just a generic idea of this is what a checking account is and this is what a savings account is or a credit card versus a debit card. And this is how you use it, and why this one is better than the other for whatever scenario, you know, even things like direct deposit, or overdraft protection, you know, that is one thing that my students haven’t even heard of.

And it’s crazy because I actually had an experience with overdraft protection that I didn’t know what overdraft protection was, and what was with my bank account and negative numbers, you know, and paying fees on top of that, and I was like, I was almost offended at the time I remember because I didn’t know and it sounds silly, but it was almost humiliating, because I felt robbed in a way, but they had warned me ahead of time. I just didn’t know what it was. And it was one of those moments that you just feel so, for lack of a better word, so stupid and you shouldn’t but I did. And I’m like, this is so unnecessary. All of this pain was so incredibly unnecessary.

Ludo Millar 20:11
Yeah, it’s almost a bit like some of the more classic classroom subjects, isn’t it, you know, students often turn to tutoring for extra help because they just don’t know what a topic is in a particular subject. And they feel like all the other students around them have grasped this concept. And they feel, as you say, almost a bit stupid that they don’t know what the teacher is talking about. So it’s not like financial literacy is this kind of completely unrelatable extracurricular activity. It has exactly the same tenets to the progress of learning that mainstream classroom subjects do, and yet, and yet, it has such a practical application later in life, you know, as soon as they leave college or university, they will be having to deal with things like overdraft protection. Whereas, unless they go into science, they probably won’t be having to deal with colour changes in Chemistry or classification of animals in Biology or anything else that you learn at school.

But you have your own tale about your own personal journey into- or perhaps a trigger into wanting to learn more about financial literacy. I remember the first time we spoke about this, it was with the Internal Revenue Service, wasn’t it, in the US?

Isabel De La Cruz 21:28
Yeah, the IRS. So yeah, it’s funny now. But yeah, one time I was about, I believe I was 23 at the time. I had graduated college, I was kind of on my own. And, you know, because I was a math major and a science major, I was so smart, right? [LAUGHS] So I was like, You know what, this taxes thing can’t be that hard. So I’m gonna do my own taxes. I’m paying nobody $500 to do my taxes. I’m gonna do it with the software on my own, you know, and I did. So I get pretty far. I was very excited. I was like, Yeah, I did it. And then a few weeks later, I get a letter from the IRS saying, Hey, um, you owe us $1,000? And I’m like, What? What do you mean, you know, and literally they said something like, ‘There was a section where you were supposed to only check one of the two boxes, and you checked both of them’. And that simple mistake cost me $1,000 to pay back the IRS. And that was another trigger. Like you’re saying, you know, where I was, like, I have to learn about this stuff. There’s no way and I think that that is a big problem in the sense that a lot of people are afraid of the IRS. Right, everything is so complicated, and so mysterious and whatnot. And I actually heard one of my students say recently, that she’s like, ‘I’m scared of the IRS. Like, you don’t mess with the IRS’. And I’m like, Yes, true. But also, you don’t need to be afraid of it. Because if you learn about it, then you know what you’re doing, you know, the antidote to fear is knowledge, right? So just learn about it. Because yeah, it can be complicated at times. But it’s not that hard. Once you think of it in the bigger picture, which is how normally I like to teach it, think of it as the bigger picture and then start jumping into the details, it’s not as scary as it sounds at first.

Ludo Millar 23:54
Yeah. That’s a great line to leave that part with: it’s not as scary as it looks at first. No amount of learning is as scary as it ends up being as it looks at first. That’s kind of the point of learning, isn’t it, going from that place of knowledge and confidence and trust and taking that leap into the unknown into somewhere that you, as the learner, you don’t know it yet, but with the help of a financial literacy course or a tutor or a teacher, you go from that place of unknown to known. So, yeah, I thought that story strikes a real chord because not only might it save someone from having to pay 1000 pounds or dollars, but also, I think, it tells us a little bit more about how, with a semblance of understanding and knowledge, you can go a long way.

Now, we did mention that we’d get to your acting as well, Isabel, I’m afraid we don’t have a huge segment for your acting. Perhaps we can focus on that primarily in another conversation but you do have have a background in acting. And we know from speaking to previous guests that that can be a really effective tool in an educator’s toolkit. What transferable skills would you say you have been able to bring into education, then, from your acting?

Isabel De La Cruz 25:18
I would say so much. Everything from like something as simple as reading their body language, you know, when they tell me that they understand something, but their face doesn’t. Or making, you know, my classes more fun and being able even to speak on camera, right, like with this whole Zoom world or virtual world, being able to speak on camera has definitely helped me a lot with my YouTube channel, right. And even creating my course, because my course is all videos as well. So yeah, it definitely has helped a lot because simple things like even lighting or audio quality, you know, that can make or break your video. And the fact that I have been able to learn all that as an actor, you know, taking on camera classes and taping my own auditions and making sure that everything is well lit. And the microphone is plugged in, and how to make sure that the audio and the video match and all that stuff, you know, the technical stuff has definitely helped a lot. But I would say in that sense of teaching, as well, it has definitely improved my relationships with my students, because now I’m super cool and … [LAUGHS]

Ludo Millar 26:38
You’ve got an interesting backstory!

Isabel De La Cruz 26:41
But also, you know, it’s definitely helped in the sense, like I said, to be able to connect with them at a stronger level than just like, here’s how you do this exercise. Do you get it? Yes. Let’s move on.

Ludo Millar 26:59
Yeah, well, maybe the two can can be combined then perhaps?

Isabel De La Cruz 27:02
Oh, absolutely. Yeah.

Ludo Millar 27:03
Especially as you say, and given that we are, you know, delivering performances online now, you know, so many tutors are tutoring online, that’s a kind of mini, I guess, ‘audition’ is perhaps not the right word, because there’s not that level of stress or uncertainty in a teaching situation, but it’s not dissimilar, is it. I mean, the teaching environment is kind of a performance in some ways, in lots of different meanings of that word.

Isabel De La Cruz 27:33
And there’s another aspect to it too, by the way, is keeping them engaged. Because here’s the thing, and we’re all probably guilty of this, especially when in work meetings and stuff like that you are on the computer, they are on the computer, which means they have access to everything on the computer, so they could be doing 1000 other things instead of paying attention to you. So you have to be able to grasp their attention and bring them back, you know, if needs be or just keep them there, you know, that can be very challenging, especially for students who are not very interested in the topic. But yeah, it helps when you actually make that connection with them. As opposed to you know, this is how to do a bla bla bla, and they just take a screenshot of it and move on.

Ludo Millar 28:18
Yeah, exactly. Now, finally, Isabel, because we do have to bring this conversation to a close unfortunately, we like turning on this podcast to the future plans of our guests, finding out a little bit more about what they’ll be up to in the coming weeks and months. So what’s next for you Isabel? What’s next for Isabel De La Cruz?

Isabel De La Cruz 28:42
Yeah, so first of all, I am going to be releasing Lesson 2 of my financial literacy course on Udemy. As I mentioned, it is free right now. And you guys are all welcome to sign up. It is technically for teens but anybody can learn from it. And if you sign up while it is free, it will be free to you forever. So even if I add content, the thing with Udemy is that they do not let me keep it for free after I add more than two hours of content. And since I plan on doing eleven whole lessons, you know, everything from what is a bank account to retirement, investing, things like that. So you want to make sure you sign up because there’s a lot of content in there that I’m going to be posting in the next few months. And yeah, I also want to finish my financial literacy game or I already finished it but you know, keep bringing it to schools and have more financial literacy game nights, which, so far, they have been very successful. My students are eating it up. And they they enjoy it because you know, I try to make it fun and we joke about life, but also they get to learn things about, you know, what is the dividend or what is the difference between, like I said, a checking and savings account or how to use a credit card and things like that and making it a little realistic.

Ludo Millar 30:12
It is wonderful work, what you’re doing, Isabel, about opening so many, both tutors’ and obviously students’, minds to financial literacy, which affects us all, at least will affect us in the case of young students. So yeah, it’s really very exciting space to watch.

Isabel, thank you so much for joining us here today on the show. It’s always a really, really fun conversation with you as well. You add so much energy to this conversation, you can see how naturally that comes to you in a tutoring environment, as well as on the screen. I haven’t watched a film with you. But that’s my next piece of homework [LAUGHS]. So yeah, I hope you enjoyed coming on as well. If people want to reach out to you today straight after they’ve listened to this, what’s the best way they can get in touch?

Isabel De La Cruz 31:06
Well, first of all, thank you so much for having me. It’s been my pleasure. And yes, I enjoyed this. This is really awesome. The easiest way I would say is go to my website isabelexplains.com. You can also find me on Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, I even have a Linktree where you can see a bunch of other stuff that I offer as well like my cores as well. And there’s a bunch of books that I also recommend as well. They’re all in my Linktree and everything is Isabel Explains. So yeah, you can find me on any platform for the most part.

Ludo Millar 31:54
That’s your next step listeners. Thank you, listeners, for listening in today, for being with the show, for following the QT podcast. This has been our 130th episode and there’s still many, many more to come. But, Isabel, for one final time, thank you very, very much and we’ll speak to you soon.

Isabel De La Cruz 32:11
Thank you.

Ludo Millar 32:13
Cheerio then.

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Ludo Millar

Thank you for listening to this episode of the Qualified Tutor Podcast. Whether you’re a regular listener of this podcast, or you’ve just stumbled across it, join the Qualified Tutor Podcast Group within the Qualified Tutor Community. To stay up to date with our latest news offers workshops and of course, simply to meet other tutors like you, whatever your level is as a tutor, our training courses will be the next step in your professional development. Visit qualifiedtutor.org/transformational-training to find out more about our CPD-Accredited and Ofqual-recognised courses: the first of their kind in the tutoring industry.

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