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How teens can set themselves up for financial success

Chelsea High School senior Jimmy Merino is part of a group working to get legislation passed in Massachusetts requiring high schools to tech financial literacy. (Courtesy of Jimmy Merino)
Chelsea High School senior Jimmy Merino is part of a group working to get legislation passed in Massachusetts requiring high schools to tech financial literacy. (Courtesy of Jimmy Merino)

Find out more about the Class of 2024.

Bills are moving through Massachusetts and Washington legislatures require schools to teach high school students financial literacy.

Chelsea High School senior Jimmy Merino is working with the group Massachusetts Association of Student Reps to help write the state’s bill. And Aaron Ton’s siblings would get those financial literacy lessons if the legislation passes in Washington state.

Merino and Ton talk about how they manage their money and ask their financial questions to Washington Post personal finance columnist Michelle Singletary.

Senior Aaron Ton says his sister will benefit if Washington state lawmakers pass a bill requiring schools to teach financial literacy. (Courtesy of Aaron Ton)

The rising cost of college

Jimmy Merino: “What is your number one tip that you would give to current teenagers who are looking not to get into tons of student loan debt, but also get a higher-quality education?”

Michelle Singletary: “There’s a lot of pressure for you all right now to get into a certain kind of college. So what I would say is close your ears to all of that and pick a college that has the coursework that aligns with what you want to do in life and then only go with the colleges that you can afford with the least amount or no debt.

“I would say the best thing you could do for your life and to help your parents or your guardians is to borrow the least amount so that you can start your adult life when you finish college with little to no debt. I can’t tell you how many adults that I now counsel in their 40s, 50s and 60s still carrying student loan debt all the time. People are like ‘I have finally decades later paid off my college debt.’ It’s that much money.”

What to watch out for

Aaron Ton: “As a young person who strives to be as financially literate as I possibly can, I’m curious of what are very common mistakes or practices that you witness amongst young people that you would consider financially illiterate.”

Michelle Singletary: “I think following the things that they hear on social media and feeling like this pressure that if they aren’t millionaires by their 30s, that they somehow failed. What you two are doing right now will make you a millionaire faster than any of that other stuff you are saving.  So you’ve got expenses and so you are living the two of you, an example of living below that, stay with that. If you can tune out all that pressure that you’ve got to do something to become richer.

“The other thing I would say is I don’t know if you guys have credit cards, don’t lean on credit cards. Be very careful about the use of credit even when you pay it off every month. Because studies show that when you use plastic, you tend to spend more than when you use cash.

“You do those two things — minimize debt and save — and you are well on your way.”


Hafsa Quraishi produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Catherine Welch. Welch also adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.