“I’m so glad I learned about parallelograms instead of how to do taxes. It’s really come in handy this parallelogram season.”
I posted this meme on Instagram recently because it really resonated with me. And, judging by the swift and robust response I got from my followers, it resonates with them, too. How the heck do the 3.6 million students who graduate high school each year toss their mortarboards in the air without knowing how to file their taxes?
And it doesn’t stop there. As @mrsswt1 pointed out in the comments, “Understanding home ownership, mortgages, investing, negotiating a car deal, car lease terms. I could go on. My entire school education was a waste of time.” Amen.
Instead, as some of my followers pointed out, we learned how to dissect a frog, memorize facts about our forefathers and build a roller coaster so that we could calculate the velocity of a marble going down the track. Here are the five things we should have learned in school, but didn’t.
How to Establish and Stick to a Reasonable Budget
The word “reasonable” is key. I like to break my budgets down into the three E’s: Essentials (food, rent), Endgame (savings, retirement) and Extras (clothes, dining out). You should be dedicating around 70 percent of your monthly paycheck to Essentials, 15 percent to Endgame and 15 percent to Extras. Yep, that means actually budgeting for FUN. By not teaching us to build fun into our budget, our teachers of yesteryear set us up to splurge because we feel so deprived.
Need more help? You can create your perfect budget with this worksheet.
How to Save Smartly
We may have been taught to stash some money away, but where? And how much? If you think the answer is “in a 401k, duh,” you might be wrong, especially if your employer doesn’t match your monthly contributions. Under the mattress, or in a low-yield savings account? Also wrong. You want to make the most of compound interest, in which you make interest on the interest your money makes. Get yourself into a mutual fund with low fees, and watch your money grow.
How to File Our Taxes
If you’ve grown up during the age of Turbo Tax as many of us have, you likely turn there to file each tax season. But are you making the most of your deductions? Are you factoring in charitable donations, gas money spent commuting to work, or your home office? Just clicking “next” through Turbo Tax won’t necessarily maximize your refund. Read up on which deductions might be available to you, and then fight for your money.
How to Pay Down Debt
Not all debt is created equal. When it comes to debt, you’ve gotta prioritize to pulverize. That means starting by paying down your highest interest rate loans first — likely, your credit cards — because those high-interest rates will eat into your earnings fastest. Next, move on to student and personal loans. Long-term, low-interest loans like a mortgage can go last.
Whether to Rent or Buy a Home
Most of us were probably taught that home ownership is the bread and butter of the American Dream, but is it even right for you? Depending on where you are in life, a $20,000 down payment could be better optimized through investing in the stock market or paying down outstanding debt. And if you need job flexibility or have family obligations that might require you to move, the ease that comes with renting might be a better bet for you. Plus, if the washer/dryer breaks in a rental, it’s on your super. Same deal in your home? No laundry for you until you pony up the maintenance costs.
And hey, while we’re revamping our curricula to include more personal finance, let’s take the suggestion from @gabriel_and_the_tank and spend more time teaching our young people to be good citizens, too, by teaching them “how to treat others, respect, honesty, principles, how to deal with adversity, how to say no, how to have boundaries, how to lose gracefully, how to win gracefully, how to properly study, how to set goals, how to treat women as ladies, how to treat men, how to love, how to say I love you.”
Now there’s some homework I could get down with.