December 13, 2021

This is the start of Finals Week at UNK (and many other colleges across the country).  Once again I taught a Personal Finance course for 30 college students.   I enjoy the experience talking about buying a car, insurance, stocks, risks, having children. A lot of adult type situations.  A few bigger assignments are planning a spring break trip on a budget and discussing their future job opportunities. We even had a local jeweler visit the class to discuss engagement rings since that can be a large early expense for a young couple.  A little fun we have throughout the semester is following a stock they picked on the first day of class.  It is a little contest to see the risk and rewards of the stock market.  The rewards this semester was a tight “car” race between Tesla and Ford.  The student choosing Ford had a 50% increase this fall compared to a 49% increase for Tesla.  On the risk side, two students got caught up in last year’s stocks and chose Zoom and Peleton.  Both were down over 40%.

The exercise that I feels make the biggest impact with students is tracking their expenses week to week.  At the beginning of the semester, I have them fill out a questionnaire with how much they think they will spend on gas a month, clothes this semester, and eating out each week.  They were provided a spreadsheet then to track those expenses as well as any other deductions from their checking account.  Throughout the semester, I would ask questions about surprises in various categories, their use of Venmo, strategies to reduce spending, and even taking a picture of what they are spending money on.   Finally, this past week I ask them what did they learn this semester on their spending habits.  Almost everyone started the paragraph with “I didn’t realize I was spending so much money………” 

This lesson in personal finance can apply to everyone.  If you aren’t measuring it, you can’t improve it as they say.  Measuring can be your net worth, amount of debt, how much you are contributing to retirement accounts, your taxes, etc….  It is important to set up a routine on a periodic basis to see how your finances are doing.  In the long run, it make a huge impact even more than not buying a latte to save a few dollars.

If any of my students are reading this, the answer to Question #4 is ” Rule #1 - Don’t lose any money. Rule #2 - Always remember rule #1”