Focused. You wouldn’t think a room full of 66 Grade 12 students on the brink of graduation could be that focused, but they were. Everyone’s eyes were locked on Jeff Baulch, the Money Apps presenter, as he served the students their first financial reality check: postsecondary education is expensive – around $25,000 dollars expensive. Although almost all of the students said they were planning to attend post-secondary, less than 42% currently had a part-time job to help pay for it. Almost none of them had ever made a budget, and, when asked if they were worried about going into debt, no one seemed too concerned.
At the end of the presentation, when I was packing up to leave, I overheard two girls talking. The conversation went something like this:
Girl 1: “Wow, I need to get a job. I don’t know how I’m going to afford living on my own next year.”
Girl 2: “I know, me too… my parents expect me to cover tuition and I barely have any money. I thought I could just work this summer and make enough, but after this presentation I’m starting to realize I need a really tight budget…”
I so badly wanted to chime in and say, “Yes, you’re right, you need to start saving and budgeting right now. University is expensive, and the last thing you want to do is miss events and activities – especially during your first year – because you don’t have enough money.”
When I was 18 and about to graduate, the last thing on my mind was money. I was very focused on spending time with my friends and keeping my grades up while also balancing a part-time job; making sure I had enough funds to pay for everything was the least of my concerns.
Here are 5 money lessons that every University student should know:
- Make a list of your needs, wants and priorities
When I was in high school I had a job that paid me $10 an hour — a lot considering back then minimum wage was around $7. Since I was still getting an allowance and my only expense was entertainment, I’d go shopping all the time. Although I never spent my entire paycheque, I was a huge impulse shopper and without thinking would often drop $100 in one trip. Five years later and the bottom of my closet has become home to a huge pile of barely worn clothes I don’t know what to do with. Had I taken the time to truly ask myself if I really needed those clothes, let alone ask if I really saw myself wearing them, I’d probably be a lot richer.
- Put more money in your high-interest savings account
One of my close guy friends convinced me to open a high-interest savings account with one of the online banks when I was in Grade 11 because we’d each get $13. Delighted at the thought of getting free money, I signed up but rarely used it. It wasn’t until the summer going into university that I finally started putting 60% of my paycheque in. I’m going on seven and a half years of owning the account and have made almost $900 in interest – a big amount considering I’ve been in school full time and also divide my finances among five other bank accounts and a couple of mutual funds. Imagine how much more interest I would’ve earned if I’d deposited my wages in eleventh and twelfth grade into the account, instead of letting it sit in my chequing account, where it gained little interest and was easily accessible for spending.
- Learn to create a budget you’ll actually stick to
During university, my parents gave me $500 a month – except for during the summer – for food, gas, toiletries, utilities, personal spending – whatever. You’d think that that much money would be more than enough to support myself and I’d have some left over to sock away. In the five years I was away at school, the most I ever had left over was about $150 – and this only happened a few times. Day-to-day expenses were depleting my bank account but, because I wasn’t keeping track of my expenses, let alone following a budget, I had no idea where my money was going. If I’d taken the time to monitor my spending patterns, I would’ve had a better idea where I could cut costs.
- Take the time to educate yourself about credit cards – you’ll regret it if you don’t
I’m going on my sixth year of having a credit card, and I can honestly say that flimsy piece of plastic has taught me some invaluable lessons. For starters, the importance of paying your bills on time; after once paying $30 in interest fees, I’ve never again paid a bill late. More importantly, though, it’s shown me the dangers of debt. Fortunately, I’ve never experienced it, but I’ve seen first-hand what a costly mistake it can be. Having a poor credit rating negatively impacts your finances for life –trying to rent an apartment, getting a mortgage or even applying for a loan becomes next to impossible.
- Protect your financial identity
Although my parents have had their credit cards compromised a couple of times, it wasn’t until a few years ago, when I began hearing a number of horror stories, that I took measures to proactively safeguard my finances. I scan my online bank statements multiple times a week for suspicious behaviour, I always cover the key pad when I enter my pin number at the cash, I don’t keep my Social Insurance Number card in my wallet in case of theft and I make sure I always sign out of all personal accounts when I’m on a public computer.
At the same time, though, if someone had taken the time to teach me all these things, there’s no guarantee I would’ve listened or taken it seriously enough. Regardless, I’m grateful that at least now I’m smarter about money.
What are some money lessons you wish you’d been taught before graduating high school?