If you're like me, you learned very little about finances in school. That's not so surprising. The backbone of our educational system, after all, does not consist of reading, writing, and compound interest. (Though compound interest is all about math, and my math classes might have made some lessons more interesting by drawing connections between various calculations and my financial future.)

Fortunately, the times are changing. High schools and colleges, among other loci of learning, are adding financial lessons to their mix. The Jump$tart Coalition for Financial Literacy has been spurring many initiatives in this arena, too. And I've just heard of a new program: Playbook for Life, created by The Hartford Financial Services. It's a personal finance education program, with ties to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), that targets college athletes, though most college students can benefit from it.

As a press release on the program noted, "four out of five high school students have never had coursework in money management" (according to Jump$tart). And "moreover, on a 2006 test of their basic knowledge of personal finance management, high school seniors correctly answered only 52.4% of questions about personal finance and money management."

Those are the kinds of alarming statistics that Playbook for Life (and other financial literacy initiatives) is aiming to fight.

Take action!
To help any young people you care about, point them in the direction of financial education. You might end up being the reason they become millionaires by age 40 and retire at age 45. You may end up in a top-notch nursing home thanks to their gratefulness and wealth. Here are some things you can do:

Send your teens and clever pre-teens to our Teens & Their Money nook, where they can learn how (and why) to best save, spend, and invest their money. Our book, The Motley Fool Investment Guide for Teens: 8 Steps to Having More Money Than Your Parents Ever Dreamed Of, could also be of interest.

Send college kids (and clever high school kids), especially athletes, to the Playbook for Life website, where they'll learn about smart credit management and investing, among many other topics. Its collection of financial calculators, for example, should entice, tackling questions such as "What will it take to save for a vehicle, home, etc.?" and "What will it take to become a millionaire?"

Run the numbers
Stop and think about it for a minute and you'll realize why it's so critical to start investing as early as possible -- it's because of time. A 20-year old who invests $1,000 can leave it to grow for a full 30 years before turning 50. A 48-year-old has just. two years. Growing at 10%, that $1,000 will turn into $1,210 in two years, and more than $17,000 over 30 years. Invested effectively, that money might grow even faster. Check out, for example, the average annual growth rates of the following firms over the past 15 years:

  • Automatic Data Processing (NYSE:ADP): 13%
  • Disney (NYSE:DIS): 9%
  • Cisco Systems (NASDAQ:CSCO): 32%
  • IBM (NYSE:IBM): 10%
  • Southwest Airlines (NYSE:LUV): 16%
  • Nike (NYSE:NKE): 15%

The range above should remind us how quickly money can grow in some stocks, and how some seemingly strong companies won't necessarily deliver incredible returns. (Lesson: Diversify, never pinning too much hope on one company.)

Talk to your kids about money, explaining lessons you've learned, sharing your financial successes and mistakes, and inspiring them to want to save and make money. You can learn how to better teach young people about money in articles such as:

Educate yourself, too
Don't forget that young people are not the only ones who can do with some improvement in their money management. I invite you to test-drive -- for free! -- our brand-new personal finance newsletter, Motley Fool GreenLight. Its "Money Answers" archive alone features more than 100 articles on personal-finance topics from taxes to credit to beginning investing, organized by subject and life stage. For access to this content plus the current newsletter, back issues, members-only discussion boards, and advisor blogs, take a free 30-day trial of GreenLight today!

Here's to a happier portfolio! (And hey -- consider forwarding this article to anyone whose financial future you care about. Just click on the "Email this Page" link near the top or bottom of the page.)

Disney is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation.

Selena Maranjian 's favorite discussion boards include Book Club, The Eclectic Library , Television Banter and Card & Board Games. She owns shares of no company mentioned in this article. For more about Selena, view her bio and her profile. You might also be interested in these books she has written or co-written: The Motley Fool Money Guide and The Motley Fool Investment Guide for Teens . The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.