Lessons on the realities of finances are just as important as English, math and writing the perfect college essay.
As teens prepare to head off to college, they’ll soon be confronted with real-life financial decisions about everything from student loans to rent to what to do with those tempting credit card offers that seem a whole lot like free money at first glance. If an 18-year-old doesn’t know any better, he or she could end up graduating college with credit card debt and a low credit score that will take years to improve. That’s why lessons on the realities of finances are just as important as English, math and writing the perfect college essay.
The more teenagers know about managing finances, the better — and this education can occur in the classroom, at home, or (ideally) in both places. Sandra Bush, a business and entrepreneurship teacher at Annie Wright Upper School for Girls who previously worked at Russell Investments for 15 years, teaches a class on this very topic.
Bush uses an online simulation called “Budget Challenge.” If your child’s school doesn’t offer a class like Bush’s, you can purchase Budget Challenge or a similar program and use it at home. Budget Challenge offers a 10-week simulation in which the student is given a salary and then makes financial decisions — for example, how much they’re going to invest into their 401(k). They also need to make decisions about how much rent they can afford each month, in addition to other necessities like renter’s insurance, car insurance and health insurance. It also throws some curveballs along the way — for example, the student will have to figure out what to do if his or her apartment is broken into and their laptop is stolen.
“The reason I like the simulation is because students can’t say, ‘If I run out of money I’ll get it from someone else.’ If you run out of money, you run out of money and face the penalties that go along with it for your credit, credit score, interest rate hikes, and more,” Bush explains. “It’s really eye-opening for them to start seeing how these things play out in real life.”
When it comes to conversations at home, it’s of course up to each family to decide exactly how many details of their financial situation they share with their children. “What I do think is important is that parents talk about things like budgeting, even if they’re not using specific numbers,” Bush says. She recommends explaining to children that there’s a plan behind each financial decision — for example, tell them you’re being more frugal than usual for a few months so you can afford your annual family vacation.
“Make kids aware of the fact that you’re being thoughtful about how you spend your money and how you’re budgeting for different things,” Bush advises. “I think that’s important because growing up there’s no concept of where this money is coming from unless someone tells you about it. So even if families don’t feel comfortable talking specifics, acknowledging those decisions and that the decisions are happening is really important.”
Julia Henning, a sophomore at Annie Wright, says she’s benefited from her parents’ openness about family finances. “My parents include me in their conversations about how they spend their money,” she says. When she took Bush’s class last semester, she would often come home and ask her parents questions about what she was learning and how it pertained to their family and how they manage their own expenses.
Julia’s mom, Renee Houston, says she and her husband have worked hard to instill the importance of savings and using your resources thoughtfully and to help others. “Julia’s done a great job of saving and she’s seen how that money goes to the things she wants and the things she needs,” Houston says. “And then we talk about how we can support other people with our resources, because it’s not just about ourselves.”
This is certainly a lesson Julia took to heart. Last year, she used her personal funds to start a drive to benefit the victims of Hurricane Irma. Because she had money in her savings account, Julia was able to use her own money to pay for some of the supplies that were essential to the drive’s success. Houston worked with her daughter to figure out the best way to manage donations and use her resources to make the drive as successful as possible.
Although you may expect teens to yawn at the idea of talking real-life finances, Bush has found they’re actually very interested in the topic. “One of the things I’ve found that kids really enjoy is an assignment that involves going home and interviewing a trusted adult about their taxes,” she says. An interesting discussion can come from that and, by keeping the dialogue open, your child will be armed with crucial information when they enter the real-world and it’s time to pay rent to a landlord, not a software program.
Founded in 1884, Annie Wright Schools serve students from age 3 through high school. Annie Wright Lower and Middle Schools offer coed programs in preschool through grade 8. Separate Upper Schools for boys and girls offer day and boarding options in grades 9-12.