Is your teen graduating with an ‘A’ in money management?
More high school students than ever will be collecting diplomas in the coming weeks, an increase attributed in part to new career-oriented schools that help students appreciate the link between learning and earning.
“After 40 years, we’re finally seeing significant improvements in high school graduation rates. The national average shot up from 72 percent in 2001 to 78 percent in 2010,” says retired business executive Cary Siegel author of “Why Didn’t They Teach Me This in School? 99 Personal Money Management Principles to Live By,” (www.carysiegel.com).
“While it’s wonderful to offer initiatives like career-prep schools, I worry these new high school and college graduates won’t have a clue about how to manage their paychecks.”
Siegel speaks from experience. Even after earning an MBA from the University of Chicago, he realized he knew little about how to best manage his personal funds. Setting financial goals helped him establish some basic principles, a trial-and-error process that was ultimately successful: He retired at age 45 after a marketing and sales career that included introducing new products like Crystal Light and Jell-O Light for Kraft Foods.
“I wished I’d learned these things in school – I would’ve made fewer mistakes,” he says. “My main goal was to retire early enough to spend time with my kids while they were still young, and I was able to do that. It’s not because I’m rich; I’m not! It’s because I learned how to effectively manage my money.”
All high school and college grads should leave school armed with that knowledge, says the father of five teenagers ages 13 to 17.
He offers three of his favorite tips:
Just say no to credit cards (and don’t get one in college!) Credit card companies inundate college students with special offers. They want to hook you early on! But getting hooked on credit cards is as bad as getting hooked on drugs. The more you use them, the easier they are to use, and since you’re not required to pay off the balance each month, you can quickly spiral into debt. You pay for that debt, too. The average interest rate on student credit cards in April was 17.4 percent – which means for every dollar of debt you have, you’re charged almost 18 cents every month.
Know what your bills are and take action when they go up. It’s amazing how many people don’t know what they’re paying their service providers each month. (If you don’t know within $5 what each monthly bill is, you’re probably overpaying on many of them.) When your cable, internet or cell phone company tells you it’s increasing its rates, call the company and ask to speak to a manager or someone in the retention department. Be polite and don’t raise your voice. Ask for detailed rationale for the increase; often, this will immediately stop the increase. If it doesn’t, stress how long you’ve been with the company and your excellent payment history.
Spend an hour a week learning about personal finance. Once you start, you’ll find you’re learning so much, you’ll spend more than an hour exploring. Some free resources include the internet and the library. Look for a financially savvy individual, write up a list of questions, and ask if you can interview them. You may not have to look any further for this than your own family. Just one hour a week adds up to a lot of time over a few years: 52 hours your first year, and more than 200 hours during four years of college. “I’m fairly certain that is more time than 95 percent of other college students spend on learning personal money management,” Siegel says.