My four years at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio taught me many things: How not to turn laundry pink, bagel bites are not dinner. I also learned about financial literacy-even though like laundry and nutrition that too was strictly self-study. There just wasn’t much financial education offered to students outside the business school.
So even though money management is a key part of every adult’s life, personal finance wasn’t part of my formal education. (I did, however, have to take two geology courses.) Lucky for me, I grew up in a household where being money savvy was a family rule and not some after thought like the laundry lesson I had clearly needed.
I managed okay, and because my family always took financial education at home seriously my roommates and friends enjoyed some of the benefits. I handled the utility bills so that we always paid on time. I even taught a few of my friends how to write a check and helped them get their first credit card.
But I had other friends whose financial lives all but blew up. As a freshman or sophomore we were required to live on campus and couldn’t get into too much trouble. But we certainly could develop bad habits. The checks we received from home felt like Monopoly money because it was credited to our student ID and we could buy anything with it. My friends’ parents didn’t seem to mind reloading their account as long as the money was spent on campus.
When we moved off campus junior year our Monopoly money became real. One group of friends almost got evicted mid-semester because they never agreed when or how to pay rent. Other friends spent more money at the bars then they did on books, and still others let groceries go bad in the fridge while paying for food on campus.
This idiotic behavior might have been avoided. During freshman orientation, I wish we had talked about more than our feelings about leaving home. Sure we were nervous about that. But why not also take a moment to talk about the financial perils of bringing your debit card to the bars instead of using it to pay timely rent for decent student housing (visit the website to view some options) or buy other uni essentials on time.
I can’t say for sure that any of my friends would have signed up for a personal finance class if one had been a real choice. At my college, non-business majors needed a prerequisite course and a special request from their dean to get into the finance course, which just happened to be a “weed-out” course for business majors. That means it was a difficult class designed to separate those who weren’t likely to be able to cut it as a finance major. I mean, who is going to sign up for that?
A less intimating money class-a personal finance elective-for those of us not aspiring to be Wolves of Wall Street might have drawn interest. Or, here’s an idea-how about a required Money 101 class? I had to take English 101. Why not Money 101?
At minimum, we’d have benefited from a smart, quick guide like the one I just wrote with my mother, the OMG Guide for College Students. Why not hand out something like that at freshman orientation? It would have been a useful alternative to the book they gave us by the featured speaker the first day of school, a book that I didn’t even bring home from the ceremony.