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The UnCollege Blog

It Pays to Know the Basics About Personal Finance

High schools often don’t teach us much about one critical aspect of our lives. They ignore the fact that we will all be dealing with money.

Much of the information about finance comes on the fly as you gain experience in your first job, with your first savings account, having a credit card and having debt.

But for years it has been suggested that educators make common sense instruction about money part of the required instruction in high school – and yet research shows it isn’t evident in the adult population, and one survey by the National Endowment for Financial Education suggests that less than 30 percent of schools offer it.

So, if you got good information in school about this material you’re lucky, but if you didn’t you probably should.

There are a bunch of tips online and Web sites offer more information aimed at young people. Here are three that I find helpful:

1) Northwestern Mutual is a big insurance company, and on its “The Mint” site for teens it seems to have every scrap of information a young person would want to know about money management in one place (without promoting its products). Get to the the section for teens and click on the tabs at the top for topics like “earning”, “spending”, “saving” and “owing”, and the links at the side for specific topics. The “try it” section has a lot of interactive stuff too.

2) Lance Barnard was a high school junior when he started “TeensGuide to Money” and now he’s a junior in college. In that 3-4 years he’s gotten a lot of good information on his site. It is broken down into four sections: earning, saving, investing and spending.

3) The Bank of America has a Money Management for Teens site, that has some telling graphics about things like how teens spend their money (more than
40 percent on music and movies, electronics and personal care items) and some other tips. It does recommend certain bank products, however.

Here are a few quick tips that experts suggest:

– Open a savings account and grow it. It’s satisfying and it’s a habit you should develop.
– Learn about interest and compound interest. It can help you or hurt you.
– Learn about budgets. The two basic parts – what comes in and what goes out, and simple aps can help you track both and compare them.
– Get a debit card. You’ll learn about virtual money, with limits.
– Don’t get a credit card without a clear plan and set of controls. Debt mounts easily.
– Write down what you need and what you want. Consider the value of both.

And, related to that…

– Think twice. Unless it’s a critical, time-sensitive purchase, give yourself time when you buy. The worst and most regretted expenditures are impulse purchases (from a candy bar to a car) and sometimes pausing will give you a different perspective.

Understanding money is not as difficult as it sometime seems, and knowing the basics will be valuable.

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