I have been privileged to have made CARE Financial Literacy presentations in 56 different middle schools, high schools and colleges this school year. That would not have been possible without the dedication of so many amazing teachers, counselors and administrators to the long-term welfare of their students. Here is some of their important financial advice, with a few of my related comments.
"Do not be a prisoner to debt ... save/invest and be free!" — GST BOCES - NEW VISIONS ACADEMY
Over the years, I have read the quotes from a number of African American clergymen, who actually refer to unnecessary debt as a form of slavery.
I always tell my students to focus on their own finances in college. Don’t worry about what the dorm mates do, as you don’t know if they are using debt to have their fun (or perhaps they are born with a silver spoon in their mouth). In either case, don’t "keep up with the Joneses" in college. Focus on your own budgeting and debt management. — CHURCHVILLE-CHILI H.S.
In our hyper consumer, debt is ok, society, how many Americans are “keeping up” by going into credit card and other debt? Part of the problem is that we, and especially young people, can’t really tell if our neighbor, colleague, friend, or family member is deeply in debt. No one wears a sign that says it, and no one broadcasts it. When students see people swiping their cards at the store, they don’t know if they have no credit card debt, or thousands of dollars of debt. It all looks the same — swipe, swipe, swipe!
From kindergarten to 12th grade you receive academic grades. Your credit score is your grade on how well you are doing in life! — PAVILION H.S.
In today’s world, if you don’t have a good credit report and credit score, there are consequences, including getting turned down for loans, jobs, apartments, and more, and also, paying higher interest rates or deposits. The most important thing is to pay on time. Payment history is 35% of your credit score.
Don’t spend money unless you have it to spend! — WHEATLAND-CHILI SCHOOL DISTRICT
One thing I personally try to emphasize is to eliminate the cash flow mentality that too many Americans have. We have discussed that 78% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, including 10% of Americans making $100,000 or more. Part of their problem is that they think like this. I will buy this now (I am not talking about fixed expenses and true needs), because the bill won’t be due for two weeks, and I will get paid again by then, and I will have the money. Actually have the money BEFORE you spend it. Have a balance sheet, not a cash flow, mentality when it comes to spending on “stuff.” It means you are saving for things.
Many invest in the stock market, bonds, etc. The BEST/HIGHEST return is to invest in yourself with higher education. THAT “interest” / rate of return dwarfs all others!! — CHURCHVILLE-CHILI MIDDLE SCHOOL
When it comes to money and spending, consider making a practice of periodically fasting. Try to go as many days as possible without spending any money except on what you absolutely need, like gasoline, paying bills, etc. Don’t buy any food out, just eat what you have at home, and no shopping or spending on any extras. You would be amazed how quickly you can rebuild your savings account. — CAMPBELL-SAVONA H.S.
We do it for dieting, all those cleanses and fasts, with fancy names — why not for getting our finances under control? That kind of financial fasting can really expose how much you spend, often mindlessly, on wants, wishes, luxuries and conveniences. It might help to actually write down the things that you would have spent your money on, if you weren’t fasting and consciously stopping yourself.
When it comes to student loan, debt and college costs, start thinking about your future career interests during your junior and senior years. Do as many job shadows and interviews as you can, watch career videos, and even participate in an internship to really see what is out there and begin matching your interests, abilities, and skills to those careers. You will be that much more prepared when choosing a college and a program so that you can get in and out in the least amount of time and with as little student loan debt as possible. Finding out when you are halfway through your college major that this just isn't for you can be a very costly mistake and could add several years and loan debt to you. Consider starting with a community college for the first two years to keep the costs down (or even free if you are in the top 20-25% of your graduating class). Apply for scholarships; so many go unclaimed because students get lazy and don't feel like submitting the paperwork. — FREDONIA H.S.
More and more, student loan debt is what students want to talk about and learn how to minimize, because there are too many stories out there of mistakes students have made. Recently, we heard the story of the payoff of the student loan debt of the graduating class at Morehouse College. What struck me was that one of the students had $200,000 in student loan debt for an undergraduate degree in finance. I thought, how could the school have allowed him to incur that kind of debt? What kind of job did he think he was going to get to pay that off?
I ask all students to raise their right hand and promise that they will never just pay the minimum monthly payments and also that they will start setting money aside for long-term goals as soon as they get their first post-high school jobs. — HONEOYE H.S.
How many times have we discussed, that debt is not about the monthly payment. It is about the interest rate and the term. It is only when you have done that math that you can see what you are really paying, and whether in the long term, you can actually afford it.
In the next column, I will share some additional advice from teachers.
John Ninfo is a retired bankruptcy judge and the founder of the National CARE Financial Literacy Program. Find his previous weekly columns at http://www.mpnnow.com/search?text=Ninfo or at http://www.monroecopost.com/search?text=Ninfo.