Heads-up, fans of reality TV and game shows! Just when you thought we might have run out of new ideas, there's an interesting new offering in the offing. Per the folks at tvsquad.com:

Fox has fast-tracked the production of a new game show from Mark Burnett [of "Survivor" fame] and Mike Darnell. The show, called "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?," will take its quiz show questions directly from the textbooks of first through fifth graders. The show could premiere as early as this coming January or February.

5th graders and money
Reading about this new show made me think about how it would be if it focused on financial literacy. So I popped over to Google to see what 5th graders might be learning about money matters. I found a short curriculum developed at Brigham Young University. It featured three lessons, one each on budgeting, managing money, and saving and investing. Let's see how we stack up.

Lesson 1: Budgeting
This lesson's objectives include understanding the different ways money can be accumulated, learning that having money to meet both needs and wants involves setting priorities/goals, listing common items in a family budget and understanding what it costs to live, and creating a savings plan for a future purchase/expense.

Already, I can see that if students learn these lessons, they'll be far ahead of many Americans. Think of those, for example, who run up credit card debt by charging items they can't afford. Think of those who view lottery tickets as tickets to income. According to data from the Employee Benefits Research Institute (EBRI), fewer than 40% of American adults have ever tried to live on a budget.

Lesson 2: Managing money
This lesson's objectives include understanding the role of banks and other financial institutions, using a check register, discussing the merits of saving, and defining terms such as checking, savings, credit cards, bank loans, and interest.

Do most adults have this stuff under their belt? Not exactly. In 2005, The New York Times reported on a Harris Interactive survey addressing the financial literacy of adults and high school students, noting that, "about half of American adults did not know that if they kept their money at home, in cash, they were at greater risk of losing ground to inflation than if they invested it elsewhere." Yikes.

Here's more:

  • One-third of adults couldn't explain how falling interest rates affect business.
  • Barely half of the high school students knew the role of the stock market in the economy, with some thinking that it makes stock prices rise.
  • Only 15% of students knew that mutual funds provide diversification.

If 5th graders learn what this lesson teaches, they'll clearly be ahead of many, many people. (If you have children, consider spending some time poking around bank websites with them and explaining various bank functions and offerings, such as savings accounts and mortgages.)

Lesson 3: Saving and investing
This last lesson's objectives include relating the concept of interest to things they know, understanding that different investments grow at different rates, among other things.

These are concepts foreign to many people. According to our friends at the EBRI, many Americans don't know the difference between a stock and a bond. That's just tragic. According to Ibbotson Associates, from 1926 to 2000, bonds returned an average of 5.4% per year, versus 10.4% for stocks.

Better still, many individual stocks offer even more powerful returns over time. Consider that over the past decade, many companies right under our noses have delivered some hefty annual returns, including 23% for Lowe's (NYSE:LOW) and 17% for Walgreen (NYSE:WAG).

If your young person is interested in investing, know that many companies they may know and love can also make for great investments. Abercrombie & Fitch (NYSE:ANF) and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), for example, have returned 27% and 35% annually over the past 10 years.

Over 20 years, $10,000 would grow to roughly $67,000 at 10%, but to more than $135,000 at 14%. Each percentage point can make a big difference. This is lost on most Americans.

Another low-cost way for people young or old to get started investing and put the power of compounding to work in their portfolio is via direct investment plans that automatically reinvest dividends. These are also called "DRIPs." The Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO) plan, for example, sports a minimum investment amount of just $10, and the Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) plan requires just $25. Learn more about DRIPs here.

Be even smarter
Of course, if you found your way to this article, you likely do know more than a 5th grader -- at least about money. Wherever you stand, though, on the savvy continuum, you should keep learning. It's better to know more than a 12th grader and even an MBA student, if you can. The more you know about ways to save more effectively, spend more effectively, and invest more effectively, the more comfy your life will likely be. And the less money you'll be leaving money on the table or handing over needlessly to Uncle Sam.

If you'd like some help getting more financially efficient, consider trying our new Motley Fool Green Light service free for 30 days. It offers a terrific blend of basic investment advice coupled with personal finance guidance. You'll get loads of tips on where to find bargains and how to maximize your money (and minimize your taxes), among other things.

Then, if you run across a group of 5th graders, you can really impress them.

Longtime contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of Coca-Cola and Johnson & Johnson. Coca-Cola is an Inside Value recommendation. Johnson & Johnson is an Income Investor pick. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.