What I'd Teach Kids About Money (as a Former Teacher)

What I’d Teach Kids About Money (as a Former Teacher)

I will never forget the day that I drove away from the high school I taught at a year and a half ago. I just sat there in the parking lot blankly staring at a sign that said “band hall” for about 10 minutes. It was already too late to turn back, so I was just taking it in before I bailed.

Honestly, I’ve only driven past the school once or twice in the past few months when we were on our way to something else in the area. That life seems so much different than the one I live now. Being a full-time blogger is probably not too similar to many other “normal” jobs out there.

One of my favorite things now is that some of my former students still email me from time to time (usually about money). One student in particular gives me updates on his side hustles and investment accounts, which is always pretty cool. I’m sure he’ll read this and give me a new update haha!

High school students are the reason I started M$M

For the first two years I was teaching high school band, I was rightfully obsessed with music. The irony is that I actually listen to more music now than I did when I was teaching. It helps me write, so I tend to burn through a lot of music daily.

However, after I paid off my student loans my attention noticeably started to shift to personal finance. There were these dumb lessons we were supposed to be teaching the kids during their advisory time every day. It made my brain hurt just looking at the lesson plans, and I knew the kids probably hated them even more than I did.

So…one day I just stopped teaching them. I wanted to talk about credit reports, so I did. And the kids freaking loved it.

People don’t realize this about kids – they want to be wealthy just like everyone else. The cool thing is that they haven’t dug themselves into a hole yet or convinced themselves that there are barriers in life. Everything is still a possibility to them, which makes for more compelling learning.

I kept teaching the lessons, and wish I could have taught more.

I don’t remember how many of the lessons that I did with the kids. The issue that popped up for me was that the few that I did teach were more fun than any of the music I was teaching, so I knew something was “wrong” with my career choice.

When I officially resigned from my job, I told my principal that I had been totally ignoring his advisory lesson plans so I could teach money. Normally I wouldn’t do that, but I was so far into “What are you going to do, fire me?” mode that it didn’t really matter.

He thought it was really funny, and then told me that he was jealous that I was following my dreams. I’ve realized as I’ve built this business, not many people actually take the chances in life to do just that.

I’ve thought a lot about what I would teach if I could go back. The original idea behind M$M was to teach seminars in schools about personal finance. That fell by the wayside when I realized I could reach more people (and make more money) this way.

See Also: December 2016  Online Income Report: $12,581.87

Here are the things I would teach about money if I was a teacher again:

It isn’t linked to happiness

Seriously…it’s not. I’ve gone from $3,500 to $12,000 per month, and I don’t feel a whole lot different. That may be because I still drive a 2004 GMC Yukon and and still live off of my wife’s salary. Who knows. But my actual occupation makes me happier than any amount of extra money that comes from it.

Related: Does a Higher Salary Lead to Happiness?

The crappy reality of student loans

They suck. Bad. Schools unknowingly do this disservice to kids of telling them to be whatever they want in life while pointing them towards college as the only answer. I still have what feels like a hole in my stomach thinking about the debt my former students are taking on in college.

Hopefully they learned one or two things from me that could help them later on.

Related: 27 Heartbreaking Facts About the Student Loan Crisis

Assets vs. liabilities

Most ADULTS don’t understand this concept, much less high school kids. I think having a strong understanding of this very simple financial rule can help you make easy financial decisions. Also, it just drives me nuts that so many people can’t grasp this. Oh well.

Related: Are Cars Assets or Liabilities?

Cool stuff doesn’t usually equate to rich person

I would pound this concept into every lesson of every day if I could go back and teach a personal finance class. So many people think personal finance is about, well, money…but it isn’t.

It’s about systematically identifying what the average people are buying with their money and then not doing that. It all boils down into something pretty simple. Even a high school kid could understand that. 🙂

Related: Let Your Friends Pass You Up

Questions for you:

1. What would you teach in a personal finance class for high school kids?

2. What would you tell them about life?


Live differently. Your bank accounts will thank me later. ~M$M

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35 comments… add one
  • Kyle Jan 30, 2017, 7:52 am


    This is spot on! As a teacher, I find myself teaching more and more about money concepts and tweaking my lessons to fit it in! I’m a social studies teacher, so it’s probably easier for me to fit it into my curriculum that being a band director! We’re learning about the Great Depression right now and I spent a day on credit cards and buying on credit, all that good stuff! I am also going to introduce the kids to a budgeting project in a couple weeks! You’re absolutely right that kids are interested in this stuff, they car, it’s just a shame that most of these lessons are not taught. Thanks!

    • Millennial Money Man Jan 30, 2017, 7:57 am

      Ah that’s great that you spent time doing that! Yes, money probably fits in much easier with Social Studies than band haha. It was definitely something I enjoyed teaching, maybe I’ll go back and do it from time to time once money doesn’t matter anymore 🙂

  • Heather aka HoJo Jan 30, 2017, 7:58 am

    This! All of this! I’ll never forget sitting in a sixth grade classroom teaching my students when they started bragging about whose parents had taken a bigger vacation, and how much they had to put on the credit card to do so. Now – kids will be kids – so they may have been exaggerating, but it blew my mind! We had quite the discussion about money. Teachers’ salaries are public, so I put my take home pay and monthly expenses up on the board for all to see. The kids were appalled at how little I made and how I was able to live so “well”. Then they asked me how much credit card debt I had. More than a couple jaws dropped when I said none, and no student loans. Truthfully – no debt of any kind. I should have pushed the envelope more and done more lessons like this, but I didn’t know what to say to get them to listen. They thought I was crazy (and I probably am), but I’m also happier than most of them will probably end up being if they go hundreds of thousands of dollars into debt just to keep up with the “Joneses”. Sigh. 🙁

    • Millennial Money Man Jan 30, 2017, 8:27 am

      That’s so cool! I actually taught 6th grade too, and it seemed like they were more enthusiastic about money than my high school kids were. They dream so BIG at that age; it’s a lot of fun 🙂

      The most surprising thing so far is that I think I actually had some real impact on them. Even one money lesson is important.

  • The Savvy Couple Jan 30, 2017, 8:00 am

    Wow great article!

    It’s great that you were going against the grain and teaching what really needs to be taught at schools.

    We were lucky enough that our parents taught us as much as they could about finances and we make a great team together.

    I would add budgeting into the mix. Knowing what’s coming in and going out is so important.

    Maybe you just opened up another career for yourself? Getting paid to do large presentations at schools for teaching kids the important about finances. That would be an awesome side hustle!……I might steal my own idea now 😁

    • Millennial Money Man Jan 30, 2017, 8:28 am

      Haha yes I’m sure I could go back and do it – my high school told me I’m welcome to come back and do $$$ seminars any time. When I wasn’t making any money on my own, I was very close to actually doing it!

  • Mrs. Picky Pincher Jan 30, 2017, 9:31 am

    Yaaaaas! Thank you for focusing on useful real-world lessons with that advisory time. I had one teacher during my public school education who did this, and I’m forever grateful. It was my high school economics teacher and he scraped two days out of the entire year to focus on personal finances. He taught us how to fill out a W-2, how to file taxes, how to balance a checkbook, how to determine a good or bad interest rate, and more. I am so, so thankful for that. I wish our state would make personal finance as mandatory as health or speech classes, because it is so important. So many young people mismanage their money, and I know we could do better with formalized teaching in public schools.

    If I could teach personal finance to high schoolers, I would cover:

    1. Debt education: avoid loans, how to understand interest rates, how to get a better interest rate if you need a loan.
    2. How to save money in your daily life
    3. Building an emergency savings.
    4. Smart credit card usage

    • Millennial Money Man Jan 30, 2017, 12:40 pm

      Hehe no problem! I know a lot of the kids had fun with it. Those are all great ideas for lessons! 🙂

  • Mad Money Monster Jan 30, 2017, 9:57 am

    This is a great article! My husband worked as a teacher for the first 15 years of his career – before quitting to pursue his passion in film. He is currently earning 2-3 times his teaching salary with only a few years under his belt. He can certainly attest to your sentiment regarding the lack of financial education in public schools.

    Our daughter, who is only 7 years old has been able to identify an asset from a liability for a couple years now. She knows that she must save/invest at least half of all money she receives/makes in order to build wealth. I have taught her from day one that money isn’t something to be frittered away. She is aware of the importance of money and how difficult it is earn. She even knows that the hot water filling up her tub each evening isn’t free. We also instill in her that money is only a means to a better, more fulfilling life because it gives you options. The option to travel, the option to change careers, and the option to spend more quality time with the people we love. I wish schools would get on the bandwagon. She knows that to be wealthy, she has to watch what everyone else does, and then do the opposite. She knows that buying companies (investing in the stock market) is one of the quickest ways to becoming rich. And, even at 7 years old, she loves watching her numbers go up. It’s a shame our schools are fostering financial illiteracy. So, THAT is what I would teach children about money. Hopefully what we are teaching now, will set her up to live a life of options, not one burdened with debt.

    Mrs. Mad Money Monster

    • Millennial Money Man Jan 30, 2017, 12:42 pm

      Yes unfortunately there isn’t a big focus on it, which is weird because I’ve used so much more money than algebra since I graduated haha! Most kids will be the same. I’m so stoked that your daughter can identify assets and liabilities!!!!!! It’s shocking how many people can’t even after you tell them what they are.

  • Susan B Thomson Jan 30, 2017, 10:04 am

    My mom would always say that “money is the root of all evil” and would make remarks about neighbors who seemed to be focused on earning more. So it took me longer that I’d like to learn this, but I would teach kids that money equals opportunity. Money allows us the freedom to make choices that allow us to live our highest purpose and I can’t think of anything better than that.

  • Mrs. COD Jan 30, 2017, 10:05 am

    Amen on teaching kids better! I think of improving public finance education whenever I’m listening to Dave Ramsey and people call in saying something like, “well, I just heard about you, so I’ve been really dumb with money in the past”. How crazy is it that basic common sense with money is this foreign concept to so many?

    I’d definitely urge debt-free ways of going to college. That’s what I pushed a lot during my last year teaching, as I overheard their post-HS plans. And of course basics like not spending more than you earn. I’d also push for kids to start investing ASAP and show them the magic of compound interest! That should get any 18-year-old excited about saving rather than buying the crap their friends do.

    • Millennial Money Man Jan 30, 2017, 12:43 pm

      Unfortunately schools don’t really push the debt-free aspect, and they also can’t utilize any Dave Ramsey content (usually) because of the religious aspect to what he does.

  • The Financial Tech Jan 30, 2017, 10:09 am

    Great article, I had a great teacher that teached us budget and a little bit of stock market.

    I think they should explain more on how to use credit card pro and cons and explain the how to build an emergency fund.

  • Gentleman of Leisure Jan 30, 2017, 10:45 am

    Educating our kids before they can impact their credit and saddle themselves with loans would have such an impact on their lives. If I were teaching kids, I’d show them the power of compound interest along with the power of a high savings rate as opposed to chasing and hoping for a high return rate.

    • Millennial Money Man Jan 30, 2017, 12:45 pm

      I almost included compound interest, but it would have made the post a little too long. I do think that compound interest is a pretty popular term, so hopefully kids pick it up just through interacting in society.

  • Christa Szabo Jan 30, 2017, 10:55 am

    I agree!! It took me quite some time and a lot of teaching myself and finding free webinars to really get things going.

    It’s also hard to balance teaching the state mandated curriculum and trying to add real world lessons, but it’s also difficult when you have kids who are just not interested. My mother, who’s the only high school math teacher at her school, tyrs to teach kids who have no interest whatsoever, real world situations or otherwise, that all they have time for is test teaching. They’re so constricted by time and having to teach what the kids need to know for the test so the school doesn’t loose its funding, that there’s no time to teach real life lessons, no matter how much the teacher wishes to teach them. In the case of my mom’s school, there are only 200 kids K-12 with about 20 kids in the graduating class. It only takes a few of those kids to not perform to the state standards for this tiny school to loose their funding. And when you have some kids who don’t care, then there’s very little room for teaching off the state curriculum. But there’s a silver lining. It IS mandatory now that they take personal finance to gratuate from high school now. So that does help matters.

    • Millennial Money Man Jan 30, 2017, 12:46 pm

      Oh I totally agree – the lack of personal finance is more of a state/district problem than a teacher problem. You teach what you’re supposed to teach. Pretty simple. I probably could have gotten in some trouble for doing what I did….but I didn’t really care haha!

  • Nick True Jan 30, 2017, 3:20 pm

    LOVE THIS!! I’ve been saying this for years, and I tried to get a personal finance course added to our curriculum even in College. Unfortunately, there are 2 problems.
    1) As a lot of people have pointed out above, it’s a state/district issue and it’s just not a priority. So the teachers don’t even get the opportunity to teach it.
    2) Even if they could, a lot of teachers just simply aren’t qualified… And I don’t mean by certification, I mean by simply good at handling their own finances in real life.

    So many American adults struggle with their own finances, they aren’t good at teaching it either.

    It’s tough man. Love the mission Bobby, keep up the good work.

    • Millennial Money Man Jan 30, 2017, 3:33 pm

      Thanks Nick! Yeah it’s a tricky situation, although I was told that Texas was going to start adding some personal finance education into the curriculum. The average teacher might not be interested enough to teach it, but I met plenty of teachers that were super frugal and would probably love it!

      • Nick True Jan 30, 2017, 9:43 pm

        No Way! That’s awesome to hear. I wish TN would do that.

        We desperately need it.

  • Jason @ FamilyDollarMan Jan 30, 2017, 5:06 pm

    Debt education – good and bad uses. It took me 5-6 years out of highschool to pay attention to a credit card statement and personal loan statements. When I found out the motorbike I purchased (and got a loan for) for $5000 that I then paid over $10,000 in total for including the interest and fees I was staggered. I couldn’t imagine that the bike I owned was worth that and then I thought if I had of waited a few years I could have spent that $10,000 on a motorbike that was even better!
    For Australian people our superannuation system, its compulsory to be paid so we know we get super for retirement but how much, investments, fees and options etc I would think the majority of people do not pay any attention to this until a lot closer to retirement

  • Kraken Jan 30, 2017, 5:17 pm

    I was lucky enough to take a personal finance class back when I went to high school. It was an elective, and I took it because a friend’s mom recommended it to me. It is second to my typing class on the list of courses I took that I unquestionably use on a daily basis.
    I think every person needs a handle on the concept that “Cool stuff doesn’t usually equate to rich person” Everyone who knew anything told me this and it wasn’t until years later that I finally ‘got it.’
    Thanks for continuing to teach these things.

    • Millennial Money Man Jan 30, 2017, 5:49 pm

      No problem! The school I worked at offered a money management class, but unfortunately it was known as the senior blow-off class. :\

  • Jalpan Dave Jan 30, 2017, 8:07 pm

    I would teach them what money really is and what role it plays and what mindset to have around money. It is found that our money blueprint is usually developed in our childhood so some of us grow up with a lot of negative connotations about money which stays with us for our lives.

    I would tell them that money is simply a form of exchange of value. You can choose when and how much value you want to create and therefore how much money you would like to attract.

  • Go Finance Yourself! Jan 30, 2017, 9:56 pm

    We need to get you on the school board to assign required learning for these students! Seriously, money and personal finance is something we should be teaching these kids in school. I just don’t get that we make sure they know about the Spanish Inquisition or some tribe from thousands of years ago, but we don’t teach them how to be an adult and survive on their own.

    I love the topics you’ve listed out. Like you, I would teach the kids that money doesn’t lead to happienss, but money does lead to having control over your life which does lead to happiness. I would also teach them about choosing a career, and thinking about how much student loan debt they’re going to take on compared to the average salary of a job in their chosen field.

    • Millennial Money Man Jan 31, 2017, 8:58 am

      Haha as much as a school board sounds awesome….probably not for me! I don’t think I could hang in a political atmosphere like that. The happiness thing is probably the most important. Just no point in going through life doing crap you hate.

  • Kimberly D Svestka Jan 30, 2017, 10:18 pm

    Budgeting! So many people do not know how to live within their means and have no idea where they are spending their money. I think this is very important in order to save for what you want and seeing where your money goes. Crazy how people throw everything on a credit card these days and don’t understand how much they actually pay for things when paying 20 % or more in interest. It’s crazy!

  • Primal Prosperity Jan 30, 2017, 10:20 pm

    Wow, how timely! I just actually held a personal finance workshop last week with high school kids. I used to tutor math and substitute teach and I’ve felt like it was crazy that we make them learn how to solve a quadratic equation or diagram a sentence, but we don’t teach them the basics of personal finance? We teach them to make money, but not to make meaning…. which brings more happiness.

    I definitely emphasized freedom first, then go after more wealth. I went over assets and liabilities and net worth…. they loved it. Entrepreneurship and real estate investing, which I like to reference as “how to make $1,000/hour”.

    At I end, I made sure the emphasize ‘people over profit’…. no exceptions. Money is to be respected, people are to be loved. Money won’t hug you back when you need one, so you shouldn’t ruin relationships or upset your community to chase more wealth.

    I had them do fun activities and money art. If you want to learn more, there is a brief summary (with pictures) on the Rockstar finance forum here: http://forums.rockstarfinance.com/t/success-first-personal-finance-workshop-for-youths-was-held/1762/22

    • Millennial Money Man Jan 31, 2017, 8:59 am

      Congrats for getting the workshop started! Definitely a need for a lot of our high school kids. Sounds like you structured it pretty well 🙂

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