Facts of Life – Financial Literacy for College Students

While a higher education may be one of the single most important investments a person can make in their future, the ability to manage personal finances has become essential to individual security and increasingly necessary in today’s society. Yet, financial education often falls through the cracks.

A recent survey by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) found that millennials (people born between 1978 and 1994) struggle financially, display low levels of financial literacy, and express concerns about their debt. Only 24 percent of the young adults in the survey could answer four or five questions, on a five-question basic financial literacy quiz, correctly.

Facts of Life - Financial Literacy for College Students

Even if you’ve taught your child money management skills, moving out of the house presents new freedoms for your child that can often lead to financial problems.

The Rest of Your Life Starts Now

To prevent students from becoming part of the statistic, numerous colleges and universities in the U.S. have added financial literacy courses to their curriculum.

“A financial education is one of the most important things a person can learn,” says Cathy Bowen, a professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics, Sociology and Education at Penn State University.

Bowen’s Consumer and Financial Skills course centers on individual finance concepts like budgeting, savings, borrowing, credit reports/scores, investing, taxes, work benefits, and insurance.

Bowen says, “The reason we go to higher-learning institutions is to get educated so we can make money and have a decent life. But no one teaches us how to manage the money, no one teaches us the ins and outs of how to maximize the money we will earn. You’re assuming that because people have a college degree and money, they know what to do with it. But a person’s view of how money works in this world is often limited to their exposure as children, teens and young adults.“

Well before college, Bowen advises parents to provide small financial lessons early on, starting somewhere around first grade on up, “so that by the time a child gets to adulthood they’re less likely to make mistakes with their money that’s going to change their life.”

The Next Semester After College

A financial education is the key to a healthy start as a young adult, through mid-life and well into retirement.  

Gene Natali Jr., co-author of The Missing Semester, says one of the reasons he decided to write his book was because he noticed how many of his friends and family members in their twenties, early-thirties and even late-thirties had very good jobs and sound educational backgrounds but were in  very tight financial situations. “They had not avoided one or two mistakes because they simply had never been taught Money 101 and as a result of all the good choices they had made, a couple of bad choices were having a pretty profound impact,” says Natali.

In his book, Natali writes that “much of our education system is designed to prepare us for careers in specific fields, but few if any, teach us “how to live” in relation to money.”

Natali says there are countless, really terrific resources out there that can easily educate people on personal finance. “Parents are really the starting point with helping their child understand the benefits of a financial education. Without a solid financial foundation, how do you expect your child to choose wisely when it comes to the money choices they will face in the real world?”

Financial Literacy Lessons for You and Your Child

Since the Great Recession, financial independence has become a struggle for young adults. With a sluggish economy, underemployment, rising college costs, and historical debt – many young adults are relying financially on their parents.

A recent Pew Research Center survey revealed that roughly half (48 percent) of adults ages 40 to 59  have provided some financial support to at least one grown child in the past year, with 27 percent providing the primary support.

By preparing your children financially for the real world, you’re giving them the gift of financial freedom while reducing the risk they’ll become a financial burden on you.

Setting an example through your own behaviors, your core values, and overall spending habits are what will ultimately resonate with your child the most.

Whether your child is preparing to enter college, already a student, or about to graduate, it’s never too early or too late to teach them money management skills.

Collegeparents.org suggests approaching your child with a positive attitude and making it an equal exchange, not a lecture.

Creating a Budget

A basic budget can help your child think more carefully before they spend and may also provide a sense of control.  Wallet Wise provides a monthly budgeting worksheet that will help them itemize regular monthly expenses.

If at all possible, the budget should include a savings strategy, and encourage your kids to make regular deposits into a savings account for future expenditures.

Saving in College

College isn’t necessarily the most ideal time to save, but it’s never too early to start paying yourself first! If your child has a summer job, teaching them to set aside a percentage of their earnings into a savings account to cover living expenses or other “fun” goals can help them grow their money management skills. MoneyCrashers.com says parents can encourage savings by offering a “savings match.”

Smart Spending

Teaching your child the difference between needs and wants is important throughout their life. Buying groceries is a need, eating out is a want. While the occasional splurge won’t wreck the budget, too many “treats” will result in overspending. Making, maintaining, and being mindful of a budget will help to curb overspending.

Credit Cards for College Students

College is the perfect time for young adults to learn about the advantages and dangers of borrowing money. Credit cards can be a valuable tool if used correctly and allow students to build credit. However, credit card debt can also haunt students and parents for years. Your child needs to know that credit costs money and the longer it takes them to pay off the balance, the more money it will cost in the long run.  Paying off balances each month is an excellent way to avoid debt. You don’t have to carry a balance in order to establish credit.

As much as parents and educators try to teach young adults financial lessons, some may not be receptive or don’t see the relevancy. “Sometimes mistakes can be the best teacher. If you make a mistake once and you understand the mistake and how it cost you money or how it delayed you from reaching a financial goal, you’re less likely to make it again,”  says Bowen.

Other Articles You Might Like:
Behind the Scenes with Kiplinger: Find a College That Fits Your Finances
Teaching Your College Graduate About Retirement Savings
Grandparent’s Gift Guide: Is a 529 College Plan Better Than a CD?


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