Personal finance was never an option for courses for me to take when I was in school. I did, however, learn how to write a check (this was in the 80s, mind you) and create a budget for my non-existent future at the time. I was to pretend that I had a swinging loft and took city transportation to my fabulous job as a Rockette dancer. Truth was, I ended up buying a car that I made payments on, purchased a house in a rural setting, and worked as woefully underpaid classroom teacher for the first half of my education career. Still, no one really taught me how to do personal finance. It came with the rest of my life lessons: the hard knock way.
Luckily, I learned how to save money, pay off a credit card, and not buy things when they were at 19% interest rate.
Because NO, THAT IS SIMPLY RIDICULOUS.
In Illinois, we're required to give students a course in high school that lasts for 9 weeks called Consumer Education. While much of it involves purchasing and budgeting and comparing prices, it's surely not enough time to teach students important budgeting for their future. I've often wished we could do more as a school system.
The H&R Block Budget Challenge
It's like my wish is granted. Right now, H&R Block is offering to teach these basics to students using the Budget Challenge which is a simulation and an interactive competition for high school students.
Teens act as recent college graduates who've started their first job. They receive regular paychecks and have to make decisions about cell phone plans, where to live, credit card offers, etc. They must pay their bills on time and earn points for making smart financial decisions.
It's free to play the H&R Block Budget Challenge and they're offering both classroom grants and student scholarships to winning students for up to 200,00 students. Starting today, over $3 million will be awarded in total prizes for both teachers and students.
When teachers sign up they have a chance to win $2,500 or $5,000 grants for their classrooms. For signing up, teacher receive a free print kit to get them started, including a classroom poster and lesson plans.
$3 million is up for grabs right now.
If you know a teacher, send this to them right away. If you know a teen, send this to them right away.
When it comes to personal finance I have some pretty strong opinions about educating the masses. Now, I'm no whiz when it comes to this, but there are a few things that I try to live by:
1. Never patronize places that are rent-to-own.
These places seem to prey on those in poverty and keep them paying for things 2 or 3 times over. As a person who came from a place of poverty while a teen mom I look back and am thankful that I did without a couch for a few months instead of paying $5,000 once the interest was all added up on the total bill. Even when I bought my home 4 years ago I had a living room that would accommodate a large flat screen tv. Instead of going into debt over it I waited until about 6 months ago to make this purchase. If I can live without it, I really try to do that.
2. Keep 10% of every paycheck for savings.
This isn't always possible, but with a reasonable budget, once monthly bills are taken care of, it's doable. Now, I simply have it taken out of my paychecks and put directly into savings that I can't touch except for a few times a year (I belong to a credit union and that helps). This creates a nice little nest egg for those unexpected expenses like large appliances that fail or home repair.
3. Use only 1 credit card.
In fact, it gets paid off with a zero balance and when I've used it in emergency situations I still try to keep the balance paid off within 6 months. I know this isn't always possible, but when I had multiple cards I paid one off at a time and then applied that payment to the next card and the next until I only had one. (For me, this was post-divorce when things got very expensive for a phase in my life.)
Teens can benefit from this and they are principles that were hard won for me. I'm even grateful that credit card companies can no longer prey on young adults in college. As I watch my own teen son balance his paychecks for his job I've been impressed that he can save money and not eat out at restaurants or spend frivolously. He's the youngest of my children but he benefitted from all that wisdom I've collected over the years.
In any case, I really hope teens take the challenge offered by H&R Block because the lessons are free. Without them, teens are likely to turn into adults who struggle to manage money. My advice? Sign up for this today.
*This is a sponsored post for H&R Block. As always, opinions are my own.