Personal Finance

Teens & Finance: 5 Classes Your High Schooler Should Take to Start Out on the Right Financial Foot

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Wide Angle View Of High School Students Sitting At Desks In Classroom Using Laptops

As we all walk this path of real estate investing and financial freedom aspirations, we learn and grow and achieve. As we start to find success, we almost always have a moment when we say to ourselves, “What if I would have known all this when I was younger?” As with most things in life, we usually regret not getting started earlier so we could be further on our way to our goals.

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So, what if you are a “financial independence-chaser” or a “real estate investing-believer” who has kids, and you want to help them succeed in these same capacities—but at a much earlier age? What can our teenagers be doing now to acquire the necessary skills and knowledge? The answer is: plenty!

As I start to blog for BiggerPockets, I can’t wait to go into all of the ways we can help our children (ages 15 to 25) succeed in these endeavors. First up, let’s talk about high schoolers.

Related: What Is the FIRE Movement?

How Can High School Students Set Themselves Up for Their Best Lives Financially?

Let’s start by looking at five classes students should aim to take in high school.

  1. Personal Finance

Yes, this may be kind of obvious, but the vast majority of students graduate high school having not taken any courses that teach them how to manage their own money. Only a few states require students to take a personal finance class to graduate—one of the most unsettling disservices of our public education system.

Some school districts and even individual schools are concerned enough to take the initiative to require this class for their students when not mandated by their state. Kudos to them! But, unfortunately, the vast majority of students still do not learn these vital skills and essential knowledge in school.

group of young adults outside looking at a sunset

The good news is that a lot of schools offer a class that teaches personal finance strategies as an elective. This is the case at my school. As an elective, kids can opt to take the class even though it’s not a requirement. Regrettably at my school, as with many others, only about 5 percent of our graduates take the course—but at least it’s an option at all.

If your child’s high school has this class, get them in it! Ideally, they would take the course as a junior or senior, because as they get closer to entering the real world, they tend to accept this information more wholeheartedly.

  1. Accounting

In addition to learning essential personal finance skills, students would be well served to learn how to keep accurate financial records. Not every school offers an accounting class, but if your child’s school does, it’s another class that will help them in their future.

I took accounting in high school. This was in the early ‘90s at a tiny school. I still use those accounting skills today when I balance my account ledgers (now online and with Excel) or analyze a potential rental property with projected revenue and expenses.

An accounting class will also teach your teen about the concept that money coming in needs to exceed money going out. This is a valuable lesson to learn while one is young, and before credit cards, car loans, and overdrawn accounts become a reality.

  1. Computer Applications

I’m pretty sure every entrepreneur, business employee, real estate investor, or FIRE enthusiast has at some point used (or even developed) a spreadsheet to help them accurately analyze an opportunity, property, or other business situation. I would guess that most wished they knew more about how the spreadsheet worked and how to take full advantage of its particular features if only to help them save time.

brightly lit school hallway with light gray lockers and blue doors with window leading outside

Not too many high school students are lining up to spend time crunching numbers on a spreadsheet.  Thankfully, the spreadsheet curriculum (usually Excel) is typically embedded in a computer applications course of some kind. At my school, the title of the course is simply “Computer Applications.” The benefit is a title like this draws in more students rather than a class called “Spreadsheet Analysis.” I’m pretty sure the teacher for that course would starve!

In addition, the course teaches students how to properly use Word and PowerPoint, as well as relevant skills like writing a professional email. These are all skills our students need to know no matter what career path they plan to pursue.

  1. Speech/Debate

As a high school student, the mere suggestion of getting in front of people to give a presentation or report petrified me. Clammy hands, dry mouth, sweaty armpits, and shaking fingers come to mind.

Today, I am in front of an audience every single day in my classroom—not to mention the dozens and dozens of times I’ve talked in front of large groups of parents and community members throughout my career. I don’t think twice about it. How did that change? PRACTICE.

Just like practically everything else in life, practice will improve your teenager’s ability to present in front of a group. Some classes provide the opportunity to do just that, and some even do so in hypothetical business situations. The earlier they get started in defeating their fear of presenting or public speaking, the earlier they can attain the confidence needed to succeed in future endeavors.

Related: How to Teach Your Kids to Be Self-Made Millionaires

At my school, the best way to improve in these areas is by competing in the DECA or FBLA club. These business clubs offer students the opportunity to role-play business situations with an adult judge in a competition format. In addition, they practice these skills in class to prepare for the conferences where they compete.

If your child’s school doesn’t have DECA or FBLA, then a speech and/or debate class can be just as beneficial (but without the business twist to it).

  1. Classes That Offer College Credit

Today, many high schools offer a variety of classes in which students can concurrently earn college credit. If you are familiar with the AP class structure, this is not what I am referring to. Although AP classes (or similar IB classes in other high schools) can help a student gain college credits, concurrent enrollment courses are different in these ways:

  • Concurrent enrollment classes lead directly to college credit, usually at a local community college. AP classes may or may not translate into college credits at the university the student chooses.
  • Concurrent enrollment courses generally do not have a curriculum-based test at the conclusion of the class that is outside of the regular class setting. AP classes conclude with students taking the relevant AP test at a time and location outside of the regular school day to receive a score of 1 to 5. The score on this test matters as to whether the student will receive college credit.
  • Concurrent enrollment classes generally have no costs. Students simply take the college-level course at their high school. There is a fee associated with the AP tests which, again, are required for college credit.

Now, AP classes do have immense value for students since they can also lead to college credit. However, the concurrent enrollment classes have more advantages. Talk to your school’s counseling office to see what offerings have dual enrollment or concurrent enrollment status.

By taking advantage of both AP and concurrent enrollment classes, your child could start college as a second-semester freshman or even as a sophomore. I probably don’t have to tell you that this can also save a boatload in tuition costs.

Conclusion

Every high school is different and will have its own class choices, but it will serve your child well if you do a little investigating to see if their school offers any of the above classes. And if so, talk to the child’s counselor to make sure they are taking full advantage of these opportunities.

If you have aspirations of your child following your footsteps into a FIRE or REI world (and I assume you are partaking in those strategies if you find yourself reading the BiggerPockets Blog), these classes will set them up for their best life.

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What were the high school classes most helpful to you in your FIRE or REI aspirations? Do you concur that the classes mentioned in this article will set up your high schooler for success?

Comment below to let me know, and thanks for reading.

Dan is a high school Business/Marketing teacher, real estate investor, and personal finance advocate in Denver, Colorado. He and his wife have a variety of real estate investments including multifamily, single-family, Airbnb, and out-of-state BRRRRs. Working with teenagers, personal finance advocacy, real estate investing, and the FIRE movement are Dan's four passions. He volunteers in the MoneyWi$er initiative out of the Colorado Attorney General’s Office with a few other hand-picked experts from around the state. The program strives to advance Financial Literacy in Colorado secondary education. In his 16+ years of teaching high school, he has taught a variety of business subjects including financial literacy, entrepreneurship, and marketing. Embedded in his classes is the co-curricular DECA club in which students travel, compete, acquire leadership skills, do community service, and have fun! His students have competed at the national level with much success over the years. During this time, Dan has also taken his high school students into local middle and elementary schools where his students have taught the importance of personal finance to younger children. Dan aims to help teens use specific methods of saving, earning extra income, and frugality to set them on a track to purchase real estate investment properties in their early 20s and achieve financial independence at a young age. Follow him on Instagram at dsheeks or on LinkedIn at Dan Sheeks.

    Wenda Kennedy JD from Nikiski, Alaska
    Replied 28 days ago
    I totally agree. The high schools are not preparing kids to be adults!
    Dan Sheeks Rental Property Investor from Denver, CO
    Replied 24 days ago
    Thanks for your comment, Wenda.
    John Murray from Portland, Oregon
    Replied 27 days ago
    I'm a successful entrepreneur. Here is what needs to taught in regards to money. Teach arithmetic and how to practically apply it. Teach how government structure and policy effects money. Teach the different types of income and how the tax structure affects a taxpayer return. Teach calculated risk and how it effects money. Hire entrepreneurs as teachers (part time, we are way to busy full time) and get rid of teachers that have never been successful out of the class room. The biggest and most important things to teach is the education system needs to stop producing employees, support individual thinking not just have the correct answer and the biggest stop encouraging students to get in unsecured debt, Today young adults are highly educated and don't actually know how to do much.
    Dan Sheeks Rental Property Investor from Denver, CO
    Replied 24 days ago
    Thanks for your comment, John. I agree with most of what you said. The big picture idea you have of not teaching kids to be employees is a good one. I would probably say that schools should teach them about all the options they have and let them decide for themselves what they want to do.
    Andrew Syrios Residential Real Estate Investor from Kansas City, Missouri
    Replied 27 days ago
    And instead high schools have no financial or accounting courses these days...
    Dan Sheeks Rental Property Investor from Denver, CO
    Replied 24 days ago
    You're right, Andrew. Most schools don't offer those classes. A few do. But even when they are offered, they don't always have enough student interest to fill the class, therefore it gets replaced with some other class. Sad.