Save or Spend: How to be Financially Independent

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Sneha Raghavan (2020-2021), Editor-in-Chief

As students enter and progress through high school, they become more aware of their financial future. Many students take on jobs in addition to their education, and the passage through multiple grade levels into a world beyond regular schooling compels students to consider how money will play a part in their lives. Dollars and Sense teacher Kelly Boldt explains that most students have many of their financial needs provided during their time in school, and that this time can be useful to develop a sense of financial independence for the future.

“Financial independence allows you to pay for your needs yourself and hopefully have something left over for wants,” said Boldt. “It should be your end goal whether you’re going to college, straight to the workforce, or into the military.”

Since many expenses are handled by their parents or guardians, students have a unique opportunity to begin saving the money they make. Boldt recommends that students put away any birthday money, paychecks and other income in order to build up a financial buffer. In the future, expenses like paying for gas, entertainment and insurance can become much more impactful when basic living expenses are also added on, and having these savings can make it easier for students to transition into being more financially independent.

“Now is the time to save if you can,” said Boldt. “When you start to have expenses of your own, you will have a cushion while you find a job or other ways to earn money.”

According to Boldt, budgeting is one of the most important aspects of managing personal finance. With a well-made budget, students can practice balancing their spending and saving habits, which prepares them to make good decisions once they start making more money. In her Dollars and Sense class, Boldt stresses the importance of planning and maintaining a realistic budget, in addition to other learning topics like savings, investments, and credit. Boldt believes that all of these topics become impactful in her students’ financial lives, and that learning to budget is the most essential skill to practice when working to become a financially independent adult.

“I wish that we required at least one semester of personal finance,” said Boldt. “There is such value in working hard and learning how to budget.”

In addition to budgeting, Boldt’s advice to students is to figure out a solid career path. She encourages students to find their own personal interests and skills, then research how to turn those interests into a supportive career. Doing this allows students to realistically live without debt and financial stress, and planning ahead with a proper budget and financial goals will be more successful than assuming that the highest-paying job is the best fit. Boldt states that one downside to being financially independent is that it is easier to make negative decisions without accountability. To combat this, setting up and following a realistic budget can allow the person earning to hold themselves accountable for their spending.

“It’s very hard to resist the temptation to buy things on credit, but practicing self-discipline remains one of the most important qualities you can exercise in so many parts of your life,” said Boldt. “You can’t achieve independence until you know how to budget the money that you make. Sometimes it involves making sacrifices and determining that things you think are needs might really be wants.”

Students working towards an independent future can put these positive habits into practice to increase their chances of financial success and security. Boldt states that living within one’s means is a great way that she maintains financial independence in her own life, and implementing skills like proper budgeting and planning ahead will allow students to achieve a financially strong lifestyle in the long run.

“Understanding these basic concepts is so important,” said Boldt. “It is a huge accomplishment to be able to support yourself.”