Guest blog post: Teaching youth to manage money

November 23, 2017

By James Cunningham, Comedian, Host and Funny Money Creator

For the past fifteen years I have had the greatest job. I’ve spoken to over one million students about my favourite subject: money. Understanding cash flow, controlling debt, and saving and investing for the future are the three basic principles of my lectures to young people. 

At a recent dinner, a colleague said to me: “Surely by now, with all the apps, YouTube videos and online instruction, your student audiences must find those topics pretty basic.” I had to laugh.

Despite the incredible changes in technology, hair styles and music, one thing remains very much the same. Today’s high school, college and university students reach their teens and enter adulthood with insufficient financial training and education. Most do not understand these three fundamental things about money. 

As adults, of course we understand that reaching a goal in life or education requires discipline and planning. Living within your means helps you avoid costly mistakes while you’re a student and prepares you for life after graduation.

When, exactly, do we realize that?! For most of us, it was long after we graduated! Far too late in my opinion. So here are some fundamental tips to teach your teens as they take their first steps into financial adulthood:

Budgeting:

Adults and students have very different financial needs when it comes to budgeting. Stop thinking like an adult when teaching your child how to budget. Look at your income for example:

  • you know where your money is coming from (work) 
  • you probably know how much is coming (salary) 
  • you know when it is coming (weekly or bi-weekly pay day!)

Your child’s financial world is vastly different from yours. They probably have multiple sources of income (part-time job, allowances, student loans).

It’s rarely consistent or reliable, and there is no set schedule as to when it is coming in. Yet we try to teach them how to budget like us, and then wonder why their budgets don’t work and why they give up. 

Teach them instead to focus on their sources of income first - they must understand and budget where their money is coming from. A budget is like a map that shows you where the money is in your life. It’s simple: income first and then expenses. We tend to teach them this fundamental principle backwards.

Minimizing student debt:

Student debt can come in many forms, but the one that tends to follow us well into adulthood are government student loans. Borrowing for your education is not necessarily a bad thing, after all. “The more you learn the more you earn.” But before you sign on and accept that money, make sure your child understands the long-term implications:

  • the rate of interest
  • the repayment structure
  • the terms of the loan

There is more funding available for students now than ever before: grants, bursaries, loans and scholarships abound. But it’s a double-edged sword. This is one very certain area where the devil is indeed in the details.

Sadly, I have far too often seen high levels of student debt scuttle what could have been brilliant ambitions. The last thing a student should be thinking about when they graduate is money! What I mean is that they should be focused on their long-term career goals, not immediately having to choose a job that makes them the most money because they are desperate to pay down their debt. 

Building credit and paying down debt:

Graduating debt-free is a luxury most students simply do not have. Therefore, learning how to pay it down effectively and on time is crucial.

In this “buy now/pay later” economy, today’s students have become accustomed to having what they want now and paying it back over time. The worst part is that interest rates are currently very attractive, especially when it comes to mortgages!  Today’s students have access to a great deal of “cheap money.”

As with student loans, our perception of debt doesn’t have to be negative. When you pay down debt you are also building a healthy credit score. So when it comes to paying off student loans or credit card debt, students must know this:

  • time is a factor, even one day late with a payment causes problems
  • amounts are key, cover the minimum payment but more if possible
  • frequency counts, consistent, regular payments show responsibility

With these three financial concepts under their belts, today’s students can look forward to a future of financial well-being after graduation, ready to tackle their next big life challenges. 

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