April is Financial Literacy Month. Imagine how different the economic meltdown might have been if every school-aged child were taught some basic economic skills, from learning how to earn, save and budget to investing and donating money. Financial literacy is the intellectual raw material for crafting goals and shaping strategies in the new global economy. It's like learning another language, putting a "D" for "dollars" into the ABCs of education.

Twenty years ago the term "financial literacy" was barely in the lexicon. Today there are national and state financial literacy curriculum standards in schools across the country. And just this year, President Obama established a Task Force on Financial Literacy. So what does this have to do with parents? A lot.

As we have learned at Garrison Forest School, schools alone can't account for the economic education of the next generation of financially informed citizens. We all must own this task: parents, teachers and young people themselves. And the task begins early and at home. Money matters are particularly critical for girls and women. At Garrison Forest, we've embedded financial literacy into curricular and co-curricular programs so girls get down to business and learn that money is not a dirty word. Through experiential programs in budgeting, planning club fundraising events, social entrepreneurship, the ins and outs of the stock market, etc., Garrison girls are embracing the financial reality of the world they are inheriting.

And the reality is that they will face a greater responsibility than most realize. Prince Charming is not riding to the rescue. Some 85 percent of today's young women will be on their own financially during some part of their lives. Women account for roughly half the work force according to a March 2011 White House report, which also noted that persistent pay gaps between men and women at all levels of education still exist. Women earn 75 cents on the dollar compared to their male colleagues, a ratio that has barely changed over the past several decades. Younger women are working to close the gap, though. The White House report stated that women aged 25-34 earn 89 percent as much as men.

Joline Godfrey, president and CEO of Independent Means and consultant to Garrison Forest as we developed our Financial Literacy program, said, "Financial literacy is economic self-defense. And our collective responsibility as caring adults is to arm the next generation with the skills and knowledge they need to handle themselves in a world where financial safety nets are being replaced by the imperative of financial self-sufficiency."

Today's girls are ill-equipped to deal with a future that offers greater employment challenges (the unemployment rate for workers in their 20s is 15 percent), higher college costs, less access to credit, and the tyranny of credit scores that can hinder her options. According to a recent Wells Fargo survey, only 5 percent of young people between 18 and 22 believe they have the know-how to be on their own financially.

How can parents help their daughters navigate the new economic landscape? Consider the following:

•Talk about the difference between wants and needs.

•Have her keep track of her spending for a week and suggest she look at how else she might have used that same money.

•Urge her to allocate her money into spending, investing, and giving categories whether she has $1.00 or $100.

•Encourage entrepreneurial spirit when she wants to sell cookies, babysit, make scarves, offer a service to others, etc.

•Help her decide what her time is worth when she babysits, house sits, dog walks and helps out a neighbor. Make sure she doesn't say "Well, pay me whatever you want."

•Show her how to balance a checkbook.

•Compare retail and sale prices. Put any money saved into a savings/investment account.

•Suggest she do some research before she donates to a worthy cause, starts a savings account, buys a computer, buys a stock. Aid her as she becomes a savvy consumer and donor.

•Explain why she'll pay taxes.

•Search the Internet for on-line money lessons.

Seize the moment — and the month — to start a conversation that will pay amazing dividends for your daughter's future.

Whitney "Whitty" Ransome is director of the James Center at Garrison Forest School in Owings Mills. Her email is whitneyransome@gfs.org.