Why Personal Finance should be Taught in High School

We live in a country where millions of citizens have found themselves in overwhelming amounts of debt. Students have been taught throughout their lives about math. science, history, English, health and countless other subjects. Most students are required to be taught basic sewing and cooking, foreign languages, woodworking, and even welding. Yet there is no mandatory class to teach them about the importance of managing their income, expenses and debt. This seems like a gross oversight to me.

Even the elective classes which do cover some business and economics have rarely discussed personal finance at length. The extent of their discussions are usually how to balance a checkbook, and/or how to follow the stock market.

There are people who would argue that personal finance is the sort of subject that is traditionally left to the parents to teach their children. The primary purpose of schooling is and has always been to prepare students, both mentally and socially, for the rigors of their adult lives. 50 years ago, their influence may have been limited to traditional subjects, but today’s school system is involved in many aspects of a young adults life. Moreover, the rules which govern personal finance are not subjective. They are systematic and beneficial to everyone.

Most of the students in recent generations have followed a similar, destructive path in their personal finances. After receiving a weekly allowance, perhaps working a part-time job while in high school, they are set loose in college to manage their expenses. While they were in high school they bought CDs, went out with their friends, and went to special events with their money. In college, they find that they must pay for food, housing, books, supplies, and transit costs. Even if they work while going to school, and even if their schooling is fully funded, there are unexpected costs that inevitably occur the first time away from home.

More to the point, the student has already become accustomed to being able to spend their money on non-essentials. They have begun to feel entitled to these essentials (“I earned it, after all”) whether or not these costs are covered. Add to this the extensive presence of credit card and ‘private student loan’ companies on college campuses, and you have a recipe for disaster. They have not been taught to be wary of the buy now, pay later mentality.

If the student does not go to college, or has the luxury of having their expenses paid for, they will still suffer when they inevitably must manage their own finances in their adult life.

It is not a coincidence that so many adults in their early 20s make financial mistakes, which they will pay for for many years to come. It is simply a product of the system we have put into place. High school students must be taught the basics of personal finance if they are to thrive in today’s economic world.