A Student's Journey to Financial Literacy
By Jennifer Robichaux
As a recent college grad, the term financial literacy carries a heavy weight for me. But six years ago, I had no idea what it meant to be financially responsible or literate. The only piece of financial advice my parents ever gave me was, "Never get a credit card." Now, as I start to repay my student loans and struggle with financial independence, I wish I had taken a more active role in becoming financially literate at an earlier age.
The only time I was taught anything related to financial responsibility was on a field trip in third grade. We went to Exchange City: a make-believe town where eight-year-olds played the roles of city officials with checkbooks. Naturally, I was the district attorney. This was serious business, and our "money" had to last all day. Some of my classmates were artisans, selling friendship bracelets and custom pencils in the marketplace. Did I have enough money to buy a bracelet and eat lunch? What if I got a speeding ticket? Would I go bankrupt? Unfortunately, this exercise in financial independence was the last of its kind. That is, until I got to college.
Paying for college is an integral part of attending college. While this appears to be obvious, I didn't consider the "paying for college" part until my senior year of high school. I chose to attend a private, in-state university, and I needed a lot of financial aid. While I applied for scholarships and grants, my parents handled student loans and FAFSA applications. My seventeen-year old self thought, "How great are my parents!?" Today I wonder, "Why didn't I get more involved?"
When it comes to financial aid and student loans, it's imperative that students and parents take the journey together. I'm grateful to have parents who were so active in my college application and financial aid process. However, I missed out on some important learning opportunities by letting them take the reins. Teaching students financial literacy from an early age would better prepare them for life's big financial challenges. Simple conversations about what it means to take on student loans, open a credit card, or start a savings account could have a profound impact on a student's life during and after college. Parents and counselors won't always be there to help fill out the forms, so it's important to give students the tools to be financially independent.
This month, take the opportunity to learn something new about money management. TG's Adventures In Education website (www.AIE.org) is a great resource for everything from loan management to the pros and cons of signing up for a credit card. Explore topics such as loan repayment, saving and investing, and getting out of debt, just to name a few.
Now at age 23, I've accepted the fact that I can no longer indulge my shopping addiction and have started repayment on my student loans. I hope that my younger sister can learn from my mistakes, and I encourage parents and counselors to start a dialogue with their students about financial literacy. Luckily, I'll always have my memories of Exchange City — a simpler time when my checkbook was only lightened by the purchase of a sandwich and a friendship bracelet.
Jennifer Robichaux works as an editorial intern at TG, the company that brings you Counselors Network.