Money Lessons for the High School Graduate


There’s a lot of financial advice around these days for the recent college graduate, but as the parent of a recent high school graduate, I think those conversations need to start even earlier. Now is the time when high school graduates are choosing a college to attend, and applying for financial aid, and probably deciding on a future career path. There’s nothing like taking on an enormous amount of debt while you’re living on the money you make working at the local pizza place to help turn a teenager into an adult overnight.

At our house, we’ve had numerous conversations around the college decision, and I’ve always made a point to remind our daughter that different schools cost different amounts. The cost of a school should weigh in her decision of where to attend college along with how pretty the campus is and how many graduates are employed in their chosen fields.

I’ve encouraged my daughter to consider what the average salary is for her chosen field when applying for student loans because the last thing we want her to do is to graduate with more debt than her salary will allow her to repay. Our daughter’s chosen field happens to be teaching, and if you’ve not been living under a rock then you know that teachers are not exactly the top earners in our country. When we were comparing colleges over the last year and one college cost tens of thousands of dollars more, that definitely weighed into her decision. Borrowing more means less money in her bank account in a few years, and for several years after that.

We’ve talked about how her friends who don’t know what they want to study are smart to take classes at the local community college while they figure it out, instead of going away to a more expensive school. The community college is far less expensive and will allow them to live at home, and work part-time while they figure things out instead of taking on debt.

We’ve worked hard to teach our children about money because in our generation there weren’t discussions around the dinner table about finances. My husband and I learned by trial and error what worked and what didn’t, and as parents, it’s our job to encourage our children to do better and to learn from our mistakes. Our kids have had bank accounts for years, and we’ve always encouraged them to save more than they spend. Now that our oldest is driving, and has her own car, she’s getting her first experiences with paying bills regularly and how that makes saving even more difficult. I’ve heard her say things about really wanting to hit her favorite shops, but not wanting to spend her hard earned money.

Even with all of our discussions about finances we were surprised when our daughter turned 18 and the credit card offers started filling our mailbox right alongside the college brochures. This opened the door for a lengthy discussion about debt, credit scores, and all that ties with those things. While a credit card for emergencies might be a good idea next year when she is away at school, we all agreed that now is not the time to add that responsibility to her wallet.

The bottom line is now is the time that our teenagers start to realize that mom and dad will not always be paying their bills and they need to start thinking about their own financial futures.