Should They Teach Personal Finance In High School?

My wife and I were discussing this the other night and both of us thought it was ridiculous that they don’t teach a personal finance class in high school, at least not when we were in school. Is it any wonder that when kids go off to college they rack up so much debt? According to Nellie Mae, the nation’s largest maker of student loans, the average undergraduate has $2,200 in credit card debt! (bankrate.com)

There are a lot of classes that I took in high school that were certainly not beneficial to me in my adult life, but I can bet that a finance class that teaches fiscal responsibility and retirement planning would be a benefit to many of these young students. Instead of going off to college and binging on shoes, clothes, beer, cars, televisions, etc, maybe they would think twice before piling on the debt. I am guessing that most of these students graduating with a ton of credit card bills assume they will just pay off the bill when they get a job, but this is often not the case. I know it wasn’t for me. My parents tried to explain money to me, but I guess I was not listening as I racked up a ton of bills by the time I graduated college, and it took me years to pay it off..and this was on top of my student loans. I bought just about anything I wanted and I paid dearly for it. I had minimum payments of several hundred dollars a month for at least 4 years after I graduated, and this put my retirement and home savings on hold while I was trying to dig out of debt. This is certainly not the way one should walk out of college, already owing a ton of money.

A simple personal finance class with discussions on retirement, the negative impact debt can have on a person, automobile financing, and saving for the future instead of buying for the now should be implemented in every single high school across the country. Did I really need to learn trigonometry if I had no interest in any fields that would need it? I would think that learning how to control one’s money would be of more help to most people. Thoughts? Did you have finance classes in high school? If you did, did they help? I would love to hear about your experiences!

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Comments (24)

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  1. NCN says:

    Should they teach pf classes in high school? YES, YES, YES, YES, and YES…

    But, the real question becomes, WHO should teach the class? Find people in the community who have actually LIVED ON A BUDGET AND MANAGED THEIR FINANCES WISELY!


  2. ~Dawn says:

    Unfortunately, if they do teach it, it is out of a book and so dry, it doesn’t reach the kids.

    They should teach it every other year from 8th grade to 12th and they should have tours, speakers, etc. Make it real-life!

  3. Flexo says:

    And which classes should be removed from the already-stuffed high school curriculum to fit in personal finance? Money management can be taught in the home, as the basic skills are… pretty basic. Art, foreign languages, history, music, literature, physics, biology, pre-calculus, and most other subjects taught in high school can’t be taught at home because most parents don’t have a working knowledge of the subjects…

    The job of high school education isn’t to prepare students for the “real world,” unless you’re talking about vocational-technical education. Personal finance classes would fit in there. The job of high school education (in this country) in general is college prep — to teach students how to *think* and how to *research*, not necessarily how to *do a job.*

    If students aren’t getting the money management education they need, don’t blame the schools, blame the parents. These skills could be easily taught in the home by parents with even the most basic knowledge.

  4. david says:

    While I agree with Flexo in principal that it SHOULD be the parents job, I disagree that it should not be taught in schools. It is pretty obvious that money skills are not being taught at home, as many parents and their kids are in debt up to their eyeballs..and this is all over the country in every economic strata. There are a lot of classes I was forced to take in high school that are pretty irrelevant to a lot of people, and I think most kids would benefit from some sort of financial training, as no one is doing it at home.

    Sure, the schools are getting arts and music and phys ed cut and that should not be happening. But I think throwing in a personal finance class would not hurt anyone and benefit many.

  5. david says:

    NCN – I think you just found a new business model…you should start teaching personal finance at schools!

  6. david says:

    Yes Dawn, I agree, it would be incredibly dry and outdated like most other classes if it was left to the government to set up how it should be taught. Schools should make it innovative and exciting…handling one’s money is more important than some of the other stuff you learn in school!

  7. Debbie says:

    The thing about trig is that it required you to remember much of your algebra. And now that you’re not afraid of easy algebra, you have no problem conjuring up all kinds of cool spreadsheets that are perfectly suited to your specific personal finance goals at any given time. And you can update these or re-do them completely at any time for free.

    You also learned to read, and that skill has allowed you to teach yourself about all kinds of personal finance-related skills.

    I remember that in college I had to teach myself how to use a checkbook register and how to do laundry. No one had taught me before, but there were instructions right on the register, the laundry detergent, and even the clothes washer, so it was no big deal. So no one taught me those specific skills, but they taught me everything I needed to know to teach myself efficiently. I would argue that they did the same for personal finance.

    So why is it that people who can read and do math rack up so much credit card debt? I don’t really know.

    I do know that I was surprised at how hard it was to pay back my college loans. I took the loans because that’s what you do. They wouldn’t make everyone do something stupid, would they? So maybe I had a little too much trust.

    Maybe people feel the same way about credit cards–they wouldn’t give me a credit card with this high limit if they didn’t think I could pay it off. So, I guess a lesson in how credit card companies make their money could be very useful.

    What other topics should be covered? What else do other people wish they had learned earlier?

  8. Flexo says:

    David: While I agree that it is a problem that certain things are not being taught by parents at home, I don’t believe it’s the responsibility of the schools to pick up the slack, especially not in high school.

    There is a subject usually taught sometime between 6th and 8th grade called “home economics,” and if money management/fiscal responsibility is to be taught in school, it can fit into that subject between sewing pillows and whatever other crap we had to do.

  9. david says:

    I agree Flexo, it should not be the schools responsibility, but I would rather have them pick up the slack in certain areas than have kids not learn things that might be necessary later in life. My wife is a teacher and she doesn’t want to have to teach this stuff either; but she knows that a lot of kids (especially out here in California) don’t learn much at home and their parents are not much help. I don’t know where the line should be drawn as to what should be taught and what isn’t…but yea sewing pillows is not exactly a life lesson.

    Then again, the kids that always got killed in dodgeball Im sure would rather have been in personal finance class….

  10. Kellie says:

    I would say personal finance was taught in my high school. We learned everything from doing our taxes to credit cards, etc. Also, I took a personal finance class in college. That’s why when my brother went off to college and racked up a bunch of credit card debt I thought to myself “didn’t he pay attention in high school!”

    Just because you take a class in high school or college doesn’t mean you’ll get anything out of it. Like you said, you’re parents tried to teach you about money but you didn’t listen. You won’t learn (and retain) much if you aren’t interested.

  11. […] Carnival of Personal Finance No. 91 – The Sun’s Financial Diary – Accumulating wealth is like building The Great Wall, one brick at a time on Should They Teach Personal Finance In High School? […]

  12. Luke says:

    For folks assuming parents should take care of finances at home with their child, why are we assuming this when its clear as day that adults in this country can’t save for squat…

    I think this is very important and MUST be included in some shape or form at the high school level. To make it sound like EVERY class taken your junior/senior years are important is laughable. I went to a respected public high school and graduated with so many extra credits I could have basically graduated nearly a half-year early. I would have loved to have had the option of a finance class over the typical throw away classes students take their senior year.

    We aren’t talking revamping the entire K-12 curriculum here. We are talking about adding or altering existing business electives to suit students for today’s world that clearly can’t be left up to the “responsible” parents.

  13. david says:

    That is exactly it, Luke, a class or 2 would not hurt anyone and would only help!

  14. Nneka says:

    I remember taking the basic skills test in high school and having to balance a checkbook in it. I had not balanced a checkbook or even seen one before then, but I was able to do it anyway.

    The machinations of personal finance are already taught. It’s the concept of money and what it means that’s missing. This is taught by your environment. It’s not just about parents, in churches, participation in social groups, and early jobs all teach you about money.

    The problem is that money is a taboo subject. Generally, people don’t talk about it, so you wing it even though you know that 1+1=2.

  15. […] Should personal fiance be taught in schools? That’s the discussion going on over on My Two Dollars. Flexo brings up a good point: “And which classes should be removed from the already-stuffed high school curriculum to fit in personal finance? Money management can be taught in the home, as the basic skills are”¦ pretty basic. Art, foreign languages, history, music, literature, physics, biology, pre-calculus, and most other subjects taught in high school can’t be taught at home because most parents don’t have a working knowledge of the subjects”¦” […]

  16. david says:

    Thanks for the comment Nneka….I just wish more schools would teach it as it is obvious that parents (and their kids) have no clue.

    And Fab5 – it is obviously not being taught in school…look at how many parents and kids are in debt. Maybe a short class would help a few people out!

  17. […] this exposure take place? Flexo says, how about 7th grade? A good debate rages on over there and in the rest of the […]

  18. Rebecca says:

    I disagree with a few comments. It is the responsibility of schools to prepare students for the real world. Every level of education is preparation for the next step and high school leads to the real world. It does not necessarily need to replace and core academic classes. It would be in addition to those classes. Students are allowed many electives and the benefit of understanding finances can help them with a strong start in their future. Imagine if students left high school with a strong grasp on interest rates, investment, assets, liabilities, student loans, credit cards, taxes, etc. They would not only improve their own economic strength, but in turn would improve US economics by being investors. Unfortunately, many parents don’t understand these concepts and are just living check to check or drowning in dept. Some parents also refuse to talk about finances…viewing it as private matter. I think it’s the duty of the school to educate in more ways than one and I strongly believe this means preparing them for real world experiences. If high school is not authentic and relatable to their lives, they are bound to disconnect.

  19. david says:

    I agree Rebecca, schools need to prepare kids. Learning about handling money is just as important as learning how to do anything else they teach you. Thanks for the comment!

  20. Faith says:

    I just graduated from high school and took a free enterprise class that touched on finances. we learned about stocks and had way too many people from banks come in and talk to us. we did learn, though, about savings accounts, having good credit, but nothing too in depth. I know more about the stock market than I do about paying bills or balancing a checkbook.

  21. Kevin says:

    If personal finance can be taught at home, then why are there so many foreclosures? The reason? Most people either don’t realize what they’re getting themselves into or like their kids, they don’t care to know – just give me the money. I firmly believe most high school students would benefit from some of the basic working knowledge of mortgage loans, interest on credit cards, credit scores, and general management of money and how to save for the future. Our students live in the “real world” everyday and when they go to college, that’s also the “real world.” Wouldn’t it be a great idea to give them some “real world” knowledge before they get themselves into some “real world” financial problems?

  22. david says:

    I agree Kevin…and since you are a teacher from Mass, I agree even more! That’s where I am from!

  23. […] by parents to their children from an early age.   Flexo from Consumerism Commentary posted a comment about this, stating that the schools are already chocked full of classes, and this one isn’t […]