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3 Personal Finance Lessons a High School Student Should Learn Before They Graduate

Teach your kids how to be smart with their money

As your child moves from teenager to young adult, you might have had a passing thought along the lines of, “I sure hope he/she doesn’t end up living on my couch in their forties.”

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to (hopefully) avoid that.

I was fortunate enough to take a personal finance class that was offered at my high school, but I know that’s not the case for everyone. I learned how to balance a checkbook, the benefits and pitfalls of debt including credit cards and mortgages, and how to apply and interview for a job.

I was also fortunate that my parents were open with my sisters and me about our household finances. No, they didn’t share every detail, but I knew what they would provide and what I needed to buy on my own. I started babysitting at 12, applied for a work permit at 15 to land my first official job at a fast food restaurant, and then worked throughout high school.

Paying for college was my first big lesson in finance. Knowing my parents couldn’t pay for me to go, I made the decision to work full-time and attend a community college before transferring to a university that offered a program for working professionals. I got creative and earned college credit by taking CLEP exams and for prior learning through my work experience. Doing this allowed me to graduate with moderate loan debt, something I don’t take for granted when I see clients who work for years to pay off their own.

However, I know that the financial education I was lucky enough to receive at home and in high school isn’t common.

According to the Council for Economic Education, only a third of U.S. states require high school students to take a personal finance class in order to graduate. And one in five 15-year-olds in the U.S. lacked basic financial literacy in 2017, according to the Program for International Student Assessment, a global exam that measures knowledge in areas such as math, science and reading.

With state-mandated personal finance programs few and far between, the task of teaching financial literacy falls largely to parents. And moms and dads shouldn't expect it to be a quick process either. USNews

With this in mind, it’s important that we do what we can to set our kids up for long-term success.

Start the conversation

· Make conversations relevant to your high schooler by addressing what they want from their money—and why. Some of it might seem trivial (like brand-name running shoes or trendy clothes that might last a season) but getting them to think their purchases through can create a healthy lifetime habit.

· Avoid financial jargon and make sure they know it’s okay to ask questions.

· Take it one step at a time to prevent your child from feeling overwhelmed.

Cover the basics

· Teach them how to open and manage a checking and savings account and use a debit card.

· Explain how to use debt responsibly, including credit cards, car loans, and mortgages.

· Show them how to apply for a job, talk about the interview process, and help them create a resume. If they’re open to it, try role-playing a job interview so they have an idea what to expect.

Explore outside resources

Here are a few I recommend from personal experience!

App: My husband and I use this family financial app and prepaid debit card to pay our kids’ allowance and transfer their gift money: FamZoo

Programs: Many families I know in Colorado use this local bank with financial literacy programs, camps, and classes for kids: Young Americans Center for Financial Education

Book: This book is a super fun and easy read: Make Your Kid a Money Genius by Beth Kobliner

Video: This hilarious video is a reminder that talking to kids about money should be lighthearted: Kate McKinnon from SNL talks money with kids

I realize that making time to have these conversations with your kids is easier said than done when everyone is on the go. But remember that you’re providing knowledge and good habits that will last a lifetime. Just like you want them to continue going to the dentist when they move out, you want them to continue financial practices that will benefit them decades from now.

Financial education is one of the most powerful lasting gifts you can give to your children.

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No investment strategy assures success or protects against loss. Investing involves risk, including the loss of principal.


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