Financial Planning Tips for High School Students

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Your child's high school graduation is a big milestone in their lives and in yours. As they take their first steps into the world as an adult, they have a number of options to choose from. They may be planning to go to college in the fall or they may be thinking about working full-time. They may decide to join the military or plan to take a year off to decide what to do with their life.

As a parent, you may be willing to help them get set up or you might let them find a way to cover their expenses on their own. No matter which approach you take, you can prepare them for what to expect. Talking to your child about finances may help them make better-informed financial decisions, especially as they start out on their own.

Here are 10 financial planning tips for high school students that can help set them up for success.

Key Takeaways

  • Teaching budgeting for high school students helps them learn how to prioritize their spending.
  • College can open doors to a solid future income, but it's important to be realistic when it comes to paying for it.
  • Teach your student how to build credit responsibly so they can avoid debt later.
  • Planning for retirement now gives teens a long time to save up, and lets compound interest work in their favor.

Setting Up a Budget

Budgeting is a great first step in taking control of finances. You can teach budgeting to your high school student way before their finances need to be separated from yours.

For example, you could conduct a budgeting exercise with them. Help them earmark their allowance according to their needs, such as paying for going out with friends, saving up to buy something, and so on. Or you could lend your child money for a large purchase, but charge them interest to drive home the concept of borrowing costs. Such exercises, though basic, can help your child start thinking about financial decisions and the trade-offs that result.

Note

There are many budgeting apps and tools that can make it easy for your high schooler to create a budget and track their money.

Once they get comfortable with the idea of budgeting, you can then have more informed conversations about real-life financial situations. For example, if your high schooler is planning on going to college, create a college budget that includes their school expenses. If they are planning on working, help them estimate how much it will cost to live on their own. Show them how much they need to save up for a deposit on an apartment. They will also need to budget for expenses such as utilities, clothes, food, and fun. 

Prioritizing Spending

Merely creating a budget is not enough to achieve financial goals, and sticking to it is not easy, either. It is important to talk to your teen about prioritizing their expenses. Clarify the difference between essential expenses for needs and non-essential expenses for wants to help them classify their spending.

Another approach is setting financial goals. You could have your high schooler set short-term goals, such as saving up for a deposit on their first apartment or for the down payment on a car. Then encourage them to put money aside for those goals.

"Reviewing expenses can be a valuable process, and you may be pleasantly surprised as your [child] gains more independence and becomes more mature," said David Haase, a private wealth planner at New Jersey-based retirement planning company RPT Wealth Strategies, in an email to The Balance.

Making Plans for College

Completing a college degree or pursuing vocational training can improve your child's financial future. If your high schooler is planning on college, experts suggest you have some serious conversations about money—even before they fill out their applications.

College tuition is a big financial commitment and other related costs can quickly add up as well. Student loans, scholarships and financial aid, and parent contributions are some options to meet the expense, but they may not be enough.

"Have an open discussion about this before the child winds up applying to only dream schools that parents cannot afford, and that would take way too much in student loans to accomplish," said Catherine Valega, a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) and Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst (CAIA) with Green Bee Advisory, in an email to The Balance.

Over four in 10 adults who attended college in America have had to take out loans to finance their education, a 2021 Federal Reserve survey found. According to the New York Federal Reserve data, outstanding student debt stood at $1.59 trillion in March 2022, and nearly 5% of that debt was delinquent or in default for more than 90 days.

Note

Encourage your child to take the college-offered student loan counseling seriously because the loan choices could significantly impact finances, theirs or yours, for years to come. 

While all of this sounds daunting, careful planning and preparation by both the parents and the child can help. You can help your high schooler create a college budget and determine how much money would be required to cover college costs. Then you can work together to devise a plan for them to stick to that budget.

Establishing Their Credit

It is important for your teen to establish credit at this stage in their life. Making on-time payments for a car loan or on an apartment can help them do this. One option is for them to build their credit using a credit card, but if they just run up a balance they may end up hurting themselves in the long run. Impress upon your high schooler that part of establishing good credit is making sure that they pay off their balance in full and on time each month.

Minor children under 18 years of age cannot apply for a credit card at all, and if your child is under age 21 they will need to show proof of ability to repay. One way to do this is for the parents to add children as authorized users to their cards. In fact, a number of experts suggest going that route.

Jan G. Valecka, a Dallas, Texas-based investment advisor and Certified Financial Planner, added her college-bound children as authorized users to her credit card with a monthly limit.

"They can use the card, establish their own credit score FICO, we pay and can talk to them about budgeting. The limit protects us if they lose their card. I show them the bill and how much they have spent vs their budgeted amount. [It] works great," Valecka said in an email to The Balance.

Thinking About Insurance

When they are in high school, your high schooler can be on your health insurance and car insurance. It is important to explain to them that they need the proper coverage once they graduate.

You have the option of keeping your kids on your health insurance even after school. Same goes for car insurance. But have that conversation as a family. Talk about the reasons why that may or may not work for your family. There are age limits and other restrictions on how long children can be covered by their parents' insurance. Remember, your kids will have to get their own insurance at some point. Keeping them on your policy just delays that step.

Note

If your child is planning to rent off-campus during college, they will also need to consider renters insurance. It should cover any theft or damage that may happen to the possessions in their apartment.

Planning for Future

College could offer the first taste of financial freedom to your child. Financial decisions and habits they get into now could have effects on their future finances. Creating a financial plan is a sound practice that could benefit your child now and even years later.

Creating a financial plan brings together values and financial goals. One way is to start early and communicate the family's approach clearly to your children. You can do that by identifying spending priorities or reviewing financial decisions if they diverge from family values.

A teen heading to college will likely make bigger financial decisions in the coming years. This can include things such as buying a new car, purchasing a home, or getting married. Although these events may sound like they are in the distant future, planning for them sooner rather can later can be very beneficial. You could suggest creating a five-year plan that will outline the steps they'll want to take to meet those goals in the next few years.

Creating an Emergency Fund

Your child will incur expenses that they do not expect—from car repairs to medical bills. You may be willing to chip in on these now, as their parent, but soon they will be responsible for these expenses.

An emergency fund can help them cover the unexpected and take the pressure off. You could suggest they start by saving one or two months of income. Then, they can build up to a year’s salary as they work on meeting other financial goals.

"If the student is working a part-time job, share with them that they need to put aside some money each pay period (at least 10%) into a savings account for emergencies," said Haase.

But he added a word of caution for the parents as well. "I will leave it up to you to determine if the emergency is truly an emergency. Usually, a midnight pizza is not an emergency," Haase said.

Thinking About Retirement

For teens heading off to college, retirement may seem too far off to worry about. But when it comes to retirement planning, it's better to start now. One way to do that is to talk to your teen about the power of compounding.

Note

Using a compound interest calculator can help your child visualize how small contributions towards their retirement can grow exponentially over time.

If your minor child is earning income doing small jobs or working part-time, consider helping them set up a custodial brokerage or individual retirement account. If they're working full-time and qualify for their employer's 401(k) plan, encourage them to make contributions each month. Explain to them how those contributions will come out of their paycheck automatically. The sooner they start saving, the more likely they'll meet their financial goals at retirement.

Balancing Checkbook and Using Money Apps

While a lot of banks are now moving away from overdraft fees, they haven't quite gone away yet. Getting your child to understand the importance of balancing their checkbook each week can go beyond helping them save money in overdraft fees.

It's a useful way to monitor their bank account. Not only will it help your teen understand how the money is flowing in and out of their bank account, but it can also alert them of any unwanted or fraudulent charges. Using an app that handles both budgeting and balancing your account can make it much easier.

Being Smart With Money

Lessons in becoming smart about financial decisions don't need to start when your teen is getting ready to head to college. It also doesn't mean merely talking to them about financial pitfalls they need to watch out for. Modeling sound financial behavior will provide a good example for your high schooler. This includes paying your bills on time and carefully evaluating decisions such as when to take on additional debt for a car or on credit cards.

Starting out with solid financial habits can help build a good foundation. Instead of spending years recovering from their mistakes, your child could start out ahead thanks to their wise choices. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Why is financial planning important for college?

Attending college is a big financial decision. While tuition is the biggest component of college expense, there are many related costs that can add up. Students and their parents should have clarity on how to fund those expenses. Without proper financial planning, college can have serious financial consequences for both students and parents.

How can teens start saving for retirement?

Most financial institutions will not open a bank or brokerage account for children under 18 years of age. Teens can start saving for retirement using a custodial account, such as a Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA) account, with the help of an adult acting as a custodian. Teens can also start contributing to specific custodial retirement plans such as a custodial IRA or a custodial Roth IRA.

How can I manage college expenses while in college?

You can start managing your expenses at college by creating a monthly budget to track them. A budget can tell you not just how much money you need to cover those costs, but it can also give you insight into prioritizing those expenses. With that information, you can come up with a plan to set aside money to meet essential expenses and consider cutting back on non-essential ones.

Updated by
Mrinalini Krishna
mrinalini krishna
Mrinalini is the senior investing editor at The Balance and is an expert in investing, financial journalism, digital media, and more. She's been a journalist for more than 10 years at organizations such as the Financial Times and Investopedia, and she has a master's in business and economic reporting from New York University.
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Sources
The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. "Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2021," Pages 71, 91.

  2. Federal Reserve Bank of New York. "Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit, 2022:Q1," Page 3.

  3. Montana Code Annotated 2021. "Issuing Credit Cards to Minors — Collection of Debt."

  4. Progressive. "How Long Can I Stay on My Parents' Car Insurance?"

  5. Healthcare.gov. "How To Get or Stay on a Parent’s Plan."

  6. J.P. Morgan Private Bank. "Help Your Teens and Young Adults Get on the Financial Right Track."

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