Young adults struggle, succeed with financial intelligence

A+student+holds+a+beer+bottle%2C+tilting+his+head+back+to+take+a+drink.+Photo+illustration+by+Sarah+Kuhlmann%2C+Ana+Manzano.

A student holds a beer bottle, tilting his head back to take a drink. Photo illustration by Sarah Kuhlmann, Ana Manzano.

Anjali Noel Ramesh

In a secluded hallway on the North side of the school, surrounded by art and language classes, lies the two finance and economics classrooms. Teachers Susan Lidholm and Stacy Elsbury educate their students on both individual and global economic principles.

Personal Finance, one of the business classes RBHS offers, is a required credit by the state of Missouri for all high schoolers to complete before they graduate; however, students can test out of the class by taking Advanced Placement Economics. The personal finance class became mandated in 2006, when the State Board of Education deemed it necessary to prepare students to make informed decisions in their future work and family life. The class focuses on educating students on how to manage their expenses, income and how to invest their time to create a profitable future for themselves.

Did you know?
20% of young millennials expect to rely financially on parents into their 30s. [Source: Bizjournals.com]

Lidholm teaches the class through simulations such as controlled spending through a budget wheel tracker, and giving the students practice dividing an assigned net income among necessary day-to-day expenses. The simulator also provides “chance” cards that throw in possible, random scenarios, such as a speeding ticket or a small sum of money from a lottery win, for students to deal with when completing the activity. She also said she believes the best way to tell students about budgeting is through hands-on, real world practice rather than lectures.

“The cardinal rule in Personal Finance is to put money in savings before you even actually start to spend,” Lidholm said. “It’s always easy to overspend, and we want you to know that you have a budget and this is your requirement.”

One of Lidholm’s hopes for the future is to be able to invite outside business managers, such as car salespeople and bankers, to come to events at RBHS like the course fair and career fair. She said professionals in these fields would help educate students on insurance maintenance. Additionally, from their experience in the world outside of school, they would provide opportunities to practice budgeting for novice high schoolers.

“We do [simulations] on a smaller level in class, and it works out really well,” Lidholm said. “So, [it would be helpful] to be able to make [the project] broader and more hands on with real-life situations.”

Parents, work experience influence financial decision-making 

Senior Jordan Kuhnert enrolled in an online, condensed version of Personal Finance during the summer before her junior year. While she said taking the class was useful to an extent, currently she is turning to her parents to answer more detailed questions about finances. This includes how to manage her insurance for the future, both with living arrangements and automobile maintenance. Kuhnert knows how to complete basic tasks for independent living, like doing laundry and changing a tire, but she said she would rather have help from her parents when tackling tougher financial issues, such as managing insurance and doing taxes. 

“I have a job, so I’ve had to do taxes, but my dad definitely helped me with them,” Kuhnert said. “And I’ve had practice budgeting my money because my parents made sure that was a big part of what they taught me.”

In terms of controlling how much she spends on food, Kuhnert said she maintains a healthy lifestyle for the most part. She avoids eating out at fast food restaurants for lunch and packs her own food daily. Kuhnert also tries to exercise through activities she enjoys, such as hiking.

Exercising regularly helps reduce the cost of healthcare bills because it lowers the risk in medical issues, such as heart attack and stroke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With these practices, Kuhnert said she is ready to live independently beyond high school.

“My parents have played a pretty big role in teaching me how to live on my own,” Kuhnert said. “It’ll be an adjustment, but I think I’ll be OK [after I graduate].”

Though Kuhnert said she is conscientious of how much she spends on meals, Lidholm said having a financial plan when it comes to food is often the major struggle for high schoolers. Students pay large costs for food from off-campus fast-food restaurants, according to a survey by Piper Jaffray, a branch of the financial services business Piper Sandler Companies. In spring, 2019, the average amount of money teenagers spent in total, including on clothes, cosmetics, technology and food, was $2,600 per year. After responses from 8,000 adolescents, the survey revealed food was the number one spending priority for males and the number two for females.

Lidholm said paying for lunch or a snack is not inherently careless because food is an essential part of everyday life. She did highlight, however, the importance of allocating a cap on food finances.

“Since we have such an open campus at [RBHS], just be aware of how much you’re spending, particularly [on] food,” Lidholm said. “And not that spending on food is a bad idea, but think about if you budgeted that money and whether you’re spending within your budget.”

Food is only one of the priorities for junior Quinn Tyler. To pay for her vehicle’s expenses, such as gas, she has worked at Addison’s American Grill as a waitress since March 2019. What she does not spend on her car goes into her savings account and helps pay for any educational programs she wants to take over the summer. Tyler, who took Personal Finance online during the summer before her junior year, said working during high school has not only helped her improve her budgeting skills, but it has also increased her awareness when considering how much she spends. 

“I realized that what you may think is a lot of money runs out really quickly,” Tyler said. “Spending your own money completely changes your perspective about money, what necessary expenses are and the value of hard work.”

Tyler and Kuhnert both said their previous experiences — from parents and employers alike — helped improve their financial abilities more than the ideas they studied in school. Though Missouri educators impart the importance of financial management on students, Tyler and Kuhnert said exposure to real-life situations is the best way to practice economic skills.

Did you know?
By age 35 the average American has already had 11 jobs. [Source: Businessinsider.com]
“School hasn’t really taught me any skills that will directly impact my ability to live independently,” Tyler said. “Most of what I’ve learned in school is really just preparing me for more school, which is applicable to what I want to do with my life, but the same doesn’t apply to everyone.”

While Kuhnert said the required Personal Finance course hasn’t given her much insight directly into her future, she said a combination of the class and her parents’ lessons supply her with the confidence to take her next step, college, after high school. With more practice handling economic issues through trial and error, as well as performing individual, daily tasks, Kuhnert said she will become self-sufficient financially and feel ready for adulthood.

“I’m probably not as aware of my spending as I could be, but if I make a budget, I usually stick to it,” Kuhnert said. “ I feel like I’d adapt [to living independently] and that in the long run I’d be OK.”

How do you remain financially intelligent? Let us know in the comments below.