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If Personal Finance Were A 4 Year Course in High School

Posted By Jim On 04/27/2007 @ 8:24 am In Personal Finance | 22 Comments

Devin Wanzor is a senior at Oklahoma State University majoring in Finance. The majority of his spare time is spent golfing, reading personal finance articles/books, and renovating his condo and getting it ready to sell.

Majoring in Finance in college has helped me learn a great deal about taking care of my personal finances, as well as other advanced topics. What about people who aren’t Finance or business majors in college, or what about people who never go to college at all? I think that, in general, most of the classes I took in high school kept me busy, but lacked any knowledge that will be useful to me in my lifetime. There is one big topic that I think will be useful to everyone most of his or her life: money. It makes sense to me to teach these topics in high school, instead of having kids memorize vocabulary words that they will forget next week. I remember very little that I learned in high school, except for math and English skills.

You might think that since I am a soon-to-be finance professional, I would like to have a financial illiterate public to drive my business, but I believe that as more people learn about more sophisticated products (IRA’s etc.) then actually there would be more people in the U.S. seeking out advice and trying to make responsible financial decisions. In my opinion, a more informed customer is usually better.

Here is my 4-year plan of what kids should be learning in high school about money and personal finance:

Freshman:

1. Checkbook Mechanics – Writing, balancing, statement reconciliation, etc.
2. Saving for Larger Purchases

I cannot remember exactly when I had my first checking account. I don’t think it was before I was a freshman though. I think this is a perfect time to teach this skill, perhaps before that first checking account is opened.

Sophomore:

1. Earning Power – Jobs for young adults
2. Automatic Monthly Savings and the Power of Compounding
3. What Happened to My Paycheck? (Meet Mr. Taxman)

I think it is important for young people to understand taxes and exactly why the government is taking them (or why the government SAYS they are taking the money). Also, since this is around the time I turned 16, it is a good time to learn about jobs since they would be able to drive themselves to said job. Lastly, if a steady income comes about, this would be the perfect time to see how saving a little money each month can turn into huge amounts over time when the money is earning interest.

Junior:

1. College: It Will Cost HOW much?
2. Introduction to the time value of money: Today is better than tomorrow
3. Budgeting: How to spend less then you earn. (How to break the trend of a Negative savings rate in America)

I think people should understand the costs associated with college and learn how to make a plan to get there. I think the budgeting thing pretty much speaks for itself.

Senior:

1. How will I ever own a house? Introduction to Mortgages
2. 401(k)’s, IRA’s and other retirement savings vehicles
3. Investments: Stocks, Bonds, CD’s, Mutual Funds and other investments
4. How to use credit cards wisely

All of these are topics that will be important to all Americans. This tops off the list of some of the personal finance topics that I believe are very important to the financial health of Americans.

Are there any other topics you believe are important, yet not so advanced that a high school aged person could understand? Are any of my suggested topics perhaps too advanced?


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