3 Money Lessons I Missed in High School

June 22, 2012

[I’ve shared my money story from childhood but of course everyone’s exposure to and experience with personal finance topics is different when growing up. Today Matt Geer looks back on his teenage years and shares some things he feels like he missed out on].

Formula Based Life

I’ve learned a lot of lessons the hard way. Unfortunately for me, most of these lessons revolved around money. I know first hand what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck, not have money for emergency situations, and how easy it is to screw up your credit.

So what I want to do is share some of things that I wish I would’ve learned in high school that might’ve helped me from becoming so poor and resorting to a top ramen diet during my college years.


3 Things I Wish I Had Learned in High School

Of course, there are more than 3 things I wish I had learned in high school but here are three big ones when it comes to personal finance.

1) Credit: What Is It & How It Works

This is the lesson I wish I was taught the most while in school, hands down. My reason for this is simple; you can be bad with the money that you earn from your paychecks, and the worse outcome is usually that you’re broke until you get paid again. You’re not going to dig yourself into thousands of dollars of debt.

But you can with credit cards and loans.

It’s a hard lesson to learn, and one that many people do the hard way. Between student loans, credit cards and auto loans, many people are tens, or even hundreds, of thousands of dollars in debt before they finish college.

I was so bad with my money that I ended up using credit cards for everything. It didn’t matter what it was or what it cost — if I had the credit for it, I usually bought it. Between the excessive use and me only paying the minimum payment each month, I really could’ve used a basic course in “credit 101.”

2) The Importance of Money

I want to clarify that when I say “the importance of money,” I mean how you go about handling your money. Understanding the value of a buck.

I was bad with my money, which is why I resorted to credit cards. I’d receive my paycheck and within days it’d be gone. I’d pay the few bills I had back then, then blow the rest on eating out, movies and video games. Nothing ever went into savings.

The biggest problem I ran into was having a week to go before payday and not having enough money to make it there. I ended up using my credit cards, which quickly led to maxing them out. When I couldn’t use those anymore I resorted to borrowing money from friends, family or from payday loan lenders.

I’ll tell you what — although it wouldn’t have made my situation that much better, knowing how to budget and stretch my paycheck for 2 weeks would’ve been extremely useful. It’s possible (possible, not necessarily probable) that I would’ve used less credit than I did then.

3) Monthly Expense and How They Work

In addition to understanding the importance of money, something I failed to learn are the types of expenses that you have as an adult. I wasn’t totally oblivious to them, as I had to take care of my own gas and car insurance while still at home. But I didn’t fully understand the extent of what monthly expenses consisted of until I got out on my own. This included rent, electricity, water, phone and food.

What’s more is realizing that these bills are regular expenses, that all have their own due dates. You have to pay the amount they ask for by this time or else you have no lights, water or telephone service.

By now you can probably see the snowballing effect. I was bad with my paychecks, barely paid my bills and monthly expenses, assuming I didn’t forget them, then used my credit cards to make it by until I got paid again.

Then, rinse and repeat.

It’s no wonder at all why I was so far in debt so early in my twenties.

Why Didn’t I Learn About These Things in School?

Well, for one thing, many schools don’t teach any kind of financial literacy course. Mine didn’t, and who’s to say that if it did it’d be mandatory for graduating.

There are schools out there that have, or have had, financial classes. There has been reports that these classes did students more harm than good. But I wonder how much of that has to do with the actual topic being taught. Stocks? Do kids really need to know about that in high school? Maybe. But let’s teach them how to stretch their paycheck to beyond the next one first, shall we?!?

My parents weren’t very literate when it came to money either. Both made mistakes, but they didn’t relay those lessons to me very well. I do have to give some credit though. I was told to save. The downside was not being explained to what for or why. I think that’s very important. Not just telling your kids to save or use credit wisely, but why these things are important. Give examples that they understand.

I’ll take some of the blame too. I never thought about money much other than making it by the time I was old enough for a part time job. I did save some money, but I wasn’t very consistent. And I never did research credit cards or retirement options — I just spent money and used credit up.

How These Experiences Can Be Inserted Into the Teenage Experience

I do feel that schools should have courses for students to take. Not classes that teach stocks or trading forex, but just how far money will go, bills that have to be paid and a primer to how credit works. These are things that nearly everyone has to use or deal with. Not everyone decides to invest in the stock market, much less are ready to invest right out of high school. However, most kids are going to have bills to pay and food to put on the table when they go to college.

Parents should also take it upon themselves to teach their kids how to handle money. And if they’re not good at it themselves, then they could have their kids take a class on the weekend or something. Better yet, it could be a family event. Just position the child to learn about finances. That’s all they can really do.

And if you’re reading this, and you’re in school now and don’t understand what credit is or how to budget your money, take the time to learn about it now. You’ll thank yourself later, believe me.

As I said above, this isn’t about crying about things I’ve experienced, and I should also stress that I’m not placing the blame on anyone either — even if that’s how it sounds.

But I do want to make it clear the things I’ve seen or done, so that maybe everyone else who reads this can rely this information to other parents or their kids or teachers. Maybe we can help others become better handlers of their financial destiny, especially in this time where people need every penny they can get their hands on.

About the author: Matt Geer is co-founder of PlugThingsIn.com, a site that helps you get the most for your money when dealing with cable, internet, and phone companies.


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Ben Edwards, the founder of Money Smart Life, saved up enough to buy a Nintendo back when he was 12 years old. When he used the money to buy shares of Wal-Mart stock instead, he knew he wasn't like the other kids... His addiction to personal finance has paid off for his family and now he's helping you to afford the life that you want. Check him out on the web at Google Plus, Twitter and Facebook.

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11 Responses to 3 Money Lessons I Missed in High School

  • Bryan

    I guess I’m really lucky in the fact that, similar to Crystal’s family, I learned everything about business, finance, and money from my parents. Like she suggested, students definitely should take classes on this subject, whether in high school or in college, and then maybe consumerism wouldn’t be such an issue.

  • Charlotte@EverythingFinance

    My parents didn’t use credit cards. They were of the generation that saved and paid cash for what they needed. I worked for a credit card collection company for 10 months and after that thought that every high school senior should have to learn about credit before they graduate.

    • Matt

      Hey Charlotte,

      Yeah, that’s another approach, for sure. Do you mind me asking if your parents bought their vehicles and home outright? If so, I’d be interested in hearing how they did it.

      I agree with learning about credit before graduating, although, as I said in another comment, I think if the students can learn about credit from their parents that would be better.

      Maybe just make students take a credit assessment-type test before graduating? That could work, right?

      The bottom line is that students should definitely learn about credit before moving on to college. After all, many go from high school to being in debt $xx,xxx or $xxx,xxx. They ought to learn something before jumping in.

  • Jerry

    I wished I’d learned those things in high school, too! It would have been my insurance against all the stupid mistakes I made with my credit cards! It would lead more people to make better choices with their money, for sure.

  • Daddy Paul

    When I was young credit card were rare. Teachers taught you about buying individual stocks. Today’s world is so much more complex. I spent a lot of time educating my children about money. The schools don’t do it. My kids are much better off than their peers because of it. Funny how my daughter remembers playing cards and listing to Bob Brinker 20 years ago. The lessons she learned are invaluable.

    • Matt

      Hey Daddy Paul,

      I agree 100%. In fact, I would’ve preferred to learn about money and how to use it from my parents versus schools. I think there would be a more personal touch to it, just like anything else that is passed along.

      That said, I don’t suppose every adult or parent will have the (money) skills worthy of passing along to their children. That’s where the schools (should) come in. Meh, right?!?

      That being said, even if parents were to recognize and pass along the negative things they did and why, that would be just as beneficial in my opinion.

      What do you think?

  • Crystal @ Prairie Ecothrifter

    For me, it came down to family. I was only able to start off my adult life with a great knowledge of personal finance because my parents and grandparents were open about money while I grew up. I agree that students should have to attend some classes in the subject.

    • Matt

      Hi Crystal,

      Yeah, that’s great that your family was so open about money. I bet that helped a lot.

      Thanks for the comment 🙂


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