Growing up, my family did not talk about money. Like many families in America, I grew up having to figure things out on my own, mainly the hard way. I had a friend in high school whose mom didn’t work. In my opinion, it was by choice and my friend, yes, a child, paid the bills with her small salary. I would have loved to receive sound financial advice on the importance of budgeting, saving, spending wisely, investing etc. Basic teachings would have taken me much farther than I am today. I remember taking classes that have absolutely no value to me now, but a sound financial literacy class would have done wonders for my adult life. These 7 practical tips would have saved me a lot of agony and money.
The importance of budgeting. I worked at Chick-Fil-A from 10th to 12th grade, bringing in about $500 to $600 per month. Add that up and that’s about $20,000.00. I. Blew. Every. Single. Penny. Although it felt good not having to ask my parents for money to buy clothes, go to the movies, or pay for any extracurricular activities, I wished my parents would have sat me down to teach me the importance of spending a little, saving a little, and giving a little. Learning how to categorize my money would have helped me tremendously. I can’t say for sure I would have listened but those lessons would have probably always been in the back of my mind. I would have come to my senses at some point. Unfortunately, it took years for me to realize that I was horrible at money management.
Stress the importance of the importance of a good education. It was unspoken that we had to bring home good grades, but I never remember sitting down with my parents to talk about how education would shape my future. I got decent grades but they could have been much better. Good grades would have gotten me into the best colleges. It may have even made realize I didn’t want to go to college and perhaps go into a trade or real estate. I wish I had the foresight to learn these things on my own since we never had that discussion. I mean the possibilities are still endless but at 35, I feel like I’m playing catch up.
Apply for every scholarship possible, no matter the amount. Even though I wasn’t the best student, I did manage to get a few scholarships. They were small. Ranging from $1000 to $1500 each but it was something. I never took the time to understand that those $250 scholarships no one else was applying for would add up. There are scholarships for everything! I received one for being left-handed! Left-handed! There are thousands of sites students can use to search for free money. I would tell my younger self to make it a second job. Apply, apply, apply. That’s all I would tell myself.
Stay away from student loans. I hate Sallie Mae and Navient. I remember college recruiters coming to my high school with deceptive tactics. “Don’t worry about student loans. Once you graduate and get your dream job, you’d pay them off in no time.” What a bunch of garbage. Looking back, all I see is a bunch of salesmen looking to line the pockets of colleges while unsuspecting teens are signing their life away. The average college student graduates with a staggering $39,400 of student loan debt.
Looking back, I would have probably gone to community college first. Community college gets a bad rap but if you’re able to get your basic courses out of the way for a fraction of the cost, I say go for it. I know a lot of people say you won’t get the real “college experience” but I’d forgo my “college experience” and graduate debt free and enjoy my adult life much more. Don’t be ashamed to say I can’t afford to go to a traditional college for four years so I’m going to do what’s best for me. Period.
Manage credit wisely. I know many financial experts promote no credit today but I’m still on the fence. I still believe in credit, if it’s managed wisely. Stay away from those tables during freshman week. Those people are like piranhas, eating up everything in their way. One is enough but make sure to use it responsibly. Don’t use over 30%…. I’d go as far as saying 10% as a college student. Pay all your bills on time and in full every month.
Spend money on experience, not things. Do not get caught up in material things because they only last for a moment. Apple will always release a new phone, watch or tablet. There’s always going to be a new car but who cares. I tell my husband all the time that I’d rather spend money on experiences than material things. How many of us really remember the toys we received for Christmas? When my siblings and I get together, we reminisce about how our grandmother went sledding with us or how we rode our bikes to different cities in Germany. It’s memories like those that will stay with you, not the newest phone, car, or tablet.
Learn to build wealth. No matter how much money you make, you will never build wealth if you don’t learn to control your spending. Despite making a great living, I know so many people who have nothing to show for it because they spend every dime they earn. So many people are waiting for that one windfall that will solve all their money problems; but no matter how much money you make, if you don’t have patience and self-discipline, you will lose it all. Even if you manage to receive a windfall, it won’t last because you have disciplined yourself with the small amount of money you do have. Earning a boatload of money will not prevent you from mishandling money, it will probably make your problems worse.
Thankfully, I’ve come a long way from that irresponsible young adult who mishandled money to someone who’s built a hefty bank account and sticks to a budget. I plan for everything and it has done wonders for my marriage. Managing money doesn’t have to be hard but it does require a desire to change, patience, and self-discipline.