Looking for high school student financial advice that works for college students, too? Check out my 17 financial tips for high school students.

Financial tips for high school students are so important.

That’s because high school students – teenagers – are in a whole different ballpark when it comes to finances.group of high school students walking in hall, text overlay "17 financial tips for high school students"

They’re no longer dallying in allowances, making their first store transactions, and earning some extra cash by mowing lawns.

High school students are nearing the time when financial decisions they make can have a real impact on their adult lives – whether they made the decision knowing that, or not.

And they’re approaching this important time in life when they may not be entirely open to listening to Mom and Dad about their own money mistakes and about how they should be managing their money.

Hint: that’s why I’m writing this article – so that you don’t have to be the bad guy. Let them read financial tips for high school students from someone else!

We want the best for our high schoolers, and we don’t want them to get into disastrous consequences that will haunt them for years to come.

So, let me see if I can help with my own take on the most important student financial advice that I can give.

Financial Tips for High School Students

Ready for some awesome financial tips high school students need to be hearing (and taking action on)?

I promise – there’s no fluff here.

None of the sort of “learn how to write a check” and “stay away from credit cards” canned responses you’ll read elsewhere.

This is solid student financial advice.

Tip #1: Don’t Rack Up Debt Now Because You Think You’ll Get a High-Paying Job Soon

I used to hear this a lot when I was in high school (as well as college)…and I suspect it’s still going around.

This idea that you can get a student credit card and spend several thousand dollars on it OR that you can blow through all your after-school job money because soon you’ll be getting that really well-paying job.

After all, you’ll be able to pay it all off/back in just a few real-world paychecks, right?

It’s tempting, that’s for sure.

But rarely does it pay off to spend against your future, especially when that future is so unknown. Think about it: you’ve got minimal job experience, and you’re basically right out the gate when you go job-hunting. How do you know how much you’ll be making? How do you know that you won’t need that money desperately to pay rent in the not-too-distant future?

Tip #2: Choose to BE Cool, Not LOOK Cool

Spending all your money to look cool? That’s not so cool.

Saving up your money for things like a first apartment, a first car, or college textbooks so that you can establish independence before your peers? Now that’s being cool.

Big difference. 

If you spend all your extra money while a teen trying to look cool (whatever that means!), then you will likely have little money leftover for actually being cool later.

Meaning, don’t spend all your discretionary money – from allowance, chore commissions, weekend jobs, online jobs for teens, etc. – on clothes and things that will not out last your second year in college.

Instead, save up money towards your apartment, your first car, and other things that will actually help you BE cool because you can be independent.

Tip #3: Develop Real Relationships with Teachers

Aside from just being a good person, developing respectful and friendly (appropriate) relationships with your teachers has another benefit: being able to ask for referrals.

Remember that in a few short years, you’re going to need a lot of recommendations and referrals for things that you want to do.

Like:

  • Jobs you want to get
  • Colleges you want to attend
  • Scholarships you want to get

Your teachers are amazing resources to help you with this. And they’d like to…but not if you’re goofing off in classes all the time, nor if you’re disrespectful.

When I applied for the colleges and scholarships I wanted to get, it was much easier to ask for teachers to write recommendations for me because they knew my work, they knew I was a stand-up student, and they genuinely wanted to help me succeed.

This continued on in college, where I was able to secure a $2,500 grant to study abroad, the only spot our college had available in the Hansard Scholar program where I got to intern for the British Parliament, and a two-week, all-expenses paid for trip to Europe for a conference.

You definitely want to be in that same position.

Tip #4: Extend Scholarship Searches Beyond High School

I wish I had known this when I was a freshman, sophomore, and junior in college. I mistakenly thought that I could only search for scholarships while in high school (my senior year, at that).

Ooooohhhh no.

There are tons of scholarships available for you to use in college that you can apply to WHILE you are in college. Amazing!

My overall student loan bill upon graduating was $36,000. Even though I was able to pay this off within 5 years, I now wonder how much less it could have been if I had just continued applying for college scholarships!

For more info, see Strategy #2 in my article on how to save for college in four years.

Tip #5: Get Your Feet Wet with Short-Term Financial Goals

Look – you’re going to be setting a lot of long-term financial goals in your lifetime. Like retirement. Or, saving up to buy a home.

But it will be much, MUCH, harder to actually work through these long-term financial goals if you don’t have any experience seeing a goal through to a successful ending.

SO, one of your top priorities as a teenager should be setting a short-term financial goal and actually meeting it.

You’ll get the experience of how a money goal works, and get some sweet gratification to see that it actually DOES work.

And that will set you up for slightly longer-term goals each time (like buying your first car, or saving up rent for a first apartment).

Eventually, you’ll be able to dive into the really long-term financial goals that many adults struggle with, simply because you’ll know this goal-setting thing actually works.

Examples of short-term financial goals for high school students:

  • Saving some money from next week’s paycheck to last until your next payday OR saving up allowance money from this week into next week
  • Saving up enough money to pay for your prom dress (this was my goal my senior year, and I saved up over $80!)
  • Saving up a few hundred dollars to go to the summer camp you’ve been dying to try out
  • Saving up for concert tickets for you and your girlfriend/boyfriend
  • Saving up for a new iPhone

Psst: for actually HOW to save up for any one of these goals, or even a long-term goal, in your life? Check out my article on how to save up for an iPhone as a kid.

Tip #6: Redefine the Value of Your Money

I’ve been a saver my whole life. And I think one of the reasons is because I have a different value system for my money.

I don’t see it as the way to get the things that I want in the store.

Sure, it’s nice to be able to walk into a store and buy what I want with my own money.

But I take it way further than that.

I see my money as the gatekeeper to an endless number of possibilities for my future.

If I have enough of it saved, then when an opportunity strikes – like getting an apartment with a friend, going on a study abroad trip in college, or moving to take a cool job position – I can say “yes” to it.

And if I haven’t saved enough? Then my possibilities are limited.

See your money for what it actually is – a tool to open up possibilities for you, instead of what most teenagers see it as – as opportunity to buy the things that you want.

Stuff and things last a few years (maybe). You take the right opportunity because you could afford to do so at the time? That could have lifetime-lasting, positive consequences.

Tip #7: Look at Your Digits. Regularly.

What you give attention to, grows. I don’t really have a quote from some guru to back that up, but I do have 37 years of personal experience with it.

You want to keep on top of your digits. Don’t obsess over them, but get in the excellent money-habit of checking in with your:

  • Checking account
  • Savings account
  • Investments

How often should you be checking in? I have a general rule of thumb.

The more often you need to use the money in the account? The more often you should check in on it. The less often you need to use the funds? The less often you need to check it.

Meaning, a checking account is used weekly or even daily. So, you need to check in with it weekly or even daily.

But investments? You hardly ever tap those. So, check in with them every few months. Once a month is fine, as well.

And your savings account is somewhere in-between those two.

Tip #8: Make Decisions Based on the Outcome to Your Future Potential

You are young. Very young. You’ve got a lot of years left ahead of you.

Whenever you make ANY decision – financial or otherwise – you need to filter it with this one question:

Can this decision limit my future potential, or expand it?

Let me give you a few examples.

Decisions that can LIMIT your future potential:

  • Doing anything illegal
  • Something that makes you location-dependent (like buying a home)
  • Taking out lots of student loans

Decisions that can EXPAND your future potential:

  • Going through training (job training, vocational classes, certifications, college, mentor relationships, internships, etc.)
  • Starting an online business
  • Taking out lots of student loans

You should see two things from the examples above.

The first is that not all limits are bad. I mean, from the examples above, buying a home is often seen as a positive thing. And it certainly can be! But when you’re deciding whether or not to do it? You need to remember that you are now tied to a location more strongly than if you were just to rent. It can be harder to sell a home then to get out of a lease on an apartment should you get an opportunity in another area, state, or even country.

And the second? Some decisions actually belong on both lists. Such as taking out a lot of student loans – this can limit your future potential because you  have to pay them back and the amount you pay each month might be so high that you have to live at home to pay them off or you have to take a job you’re not interested in (that pays more) to get them paid down. But it also can EXPAND your future potential because of the training you receive.

Making decisions is hardly ever about choosing between a clear winner and a clear loser. It’s more about analyzing the entire situation and outcomes, and making the best decisions with the choices and circumstances you are in at the time.

So, how should you decide when making any decision?

Glad you asked. That’s my next tip.

More Financial Advice for High School Students

Yep – keep reading. I've got 9 more pieces of financial advice for high school teens. 

Tip #9: Learn the 5 Degrees of Decision-Making

Choose the option that will get you the best possible outcome.

Which, by the way, is not always easy to do because sometimes every option gets you a bad outcome.

Filter your options through my “5 Degrees of Outcomes” list, in order from the best possible outcome to the worst.

Your best option in any circumstance is the one that:

  1. Gets you a positive outcome
  2. Gets you a neutral outcome
  3. Mitigates any negative outcomes
  4. Makes you take a hit now, but sets you up for better options in the future
  5. Allows you to recover quickly

Tip #10: Learn How to Budget with a Small Amount

You might be tempted to skip budgeting at this time in your life because, well, you either:

  • Don’t make much money
  • Don’t have many or consistent expenses
  • Or both

But, the cool thing about budgeting for high school students?

Budgeting skills are scalable.

What I mean is, if you learn how to budget with a small amount of money, then you’ll be able to budget with a large amount of money.

So, start with what you have right now and budget with that. The lessons you learn right now will cost you MUCH less then having to learn them with a larger amount of money (like, when you get your hands on a paycheck from a job-job).

You’ll need some sort of income, and you’ll need to know your expenses in order to budget.

Psst: Check out my roundup of teen budget worksheets to get you started.

Tip #11: Don’t Let Not Having a License Hold You Back

You live in this incredible age where you can still make money even if you don’t have a driver’s license.

When I was a teenager, there were few opportunities for teenagers to earn money from home.

But now? Well, I’ve written an entire article on 25 different online jobs for teens that actually pay. Not only that, but I’ve written about how a teenager can get a job without a driver’s license.

Tip #12: Get Comfortable with Banking

Just about absolutely everyone will need to use banking as an adult.

Doesn’t matter if you’re into Bitcoins, digital apps, or anything else that gets created to shake up the banking industry in the next 50 years – you still need to understand how your accounts work, and how to WORK your accounts.

Start with the two basic bank accounts: a checking account, and a savings account (you’ll need your parents to help you open custodial accounts, assuming you’re under 18).

Already have those?

Next, I want you to try out (and get comfortable with) the following:

  • Downloading your bank’s mobile app and starting to use it
  • Learning how to use the ATM machine
  • Learning how to deposit checks from your phone
  • Learning how to deposit checks from the ATM machine
  • Learning how to shop around for banks
  • Learning about compound interest

Here’s a great money life skills checklist I created, which has lots more nitty-gritty banking and other money skills you’ll need to master before moving out of your parents’ home.

Tip #13: Pick Up Skills that Will Save You Money Later

I cannot tell you the number of 20-something-year-olds that do not know how to cook.

I mean, it may not seem like such a big deal to cook anything right now – after all, your parents probably do this.

But you are doing your future self a huge disservice by not learning how to cook. Because guess what? Eating out every meal – even just dinners, at the fast food restaurant – will eat into your paycheck big time.

Not only that, but there are many other skills you can pick up now that will save you money in your 20s, a time when you’ll be making the least amount of money in your career.

Other skills I can think of off the top of my head that will save you BIG:

  • How to comparison-shop
  • How to do laundry
  • How to change your oil
  • How to entertain yourself without spending a bunch of money (AND without wasting your life away in front of a screen)
  • How to cut back spending
  • How to budget

Tip #14: Resolve to Pay Cash for Your Cars

People are typically astonished when I tell them that I’ve never “owned” a car payment in my life.

And I’ve owned a car since I’ve been 17. Not the same car, but I've always had a car.

How could I do this? I started wayyyyy in the beginning when I was a teenager, and saved up for my first car. That’s right. I didn’t own a car until I was 17, because it took me most of my teen years to save up the $1,300 I needed to buy the beater car, plus pay for insurance and everything else I needed.

After that car went the way of the dodo bird? I had already set aside some money to buy my next one. Again, it was quite a used car. I sold my first one for a few hundred, and took $2,600 out of savings, and bought my second car.

Each car I have owned has been better than the last (our current one is a 2009 Ford Focus with 66,000 miles on it at the time of purchase).

Psst: here's my whole beater car buying and maintaining strategy

I would love, love, love for you to get on the same track. Because the fact is – I was able to save up $14,000 at 27 towards a house down payment (as well as pay off those $36,000 in student loans) solely because I wasn’t making monthly interest payments on a car loan.

And that was while making less than $40,000/year in my 20s!

Do not underestimate the power of this one tip to make things happen in your life.

Tip #15: Understand the Pay Now or Pay Later Principle

You need to be able to categorize your “spending vehicles” (all the different forms of payment you can use) by whether or not you’re paying for what you want/need NOW, or later.

Either way, you’re paying for it.

However, if you use cash, then you’re paying for it now, and if you’re using a credit card, then you’re paying for it later.

And you should also know that when you opt to pay for something later and take the instant gratification instead, then you’ll also (likely) be paying more for it in the form of interest or lost opportunities, or both.

Pay for Something NOW: Forms of Payment

  • Cash
  • Debit card (it’s attached to your checking account)
  • Check (it comes out of your checking account)
  • Grants
  • Scholarships

Pay for Something LATER: Forms of Payment

  • Credit Card
  • Loan from family/friends
  • Loan from bank/credit card
  • Student loans

Tip #16: Remember that Money = Life Energy

One book that I've read in my money journey that made a HUGE difference to how I relate to money is Your Money or Your Life

What I want you to take away from this book is: your money really equals your life energy. 

So, spend it wisely. 

One way to do that? Take any purchase you're debating about making, and divide the cost by the amount you earn per hour at your job. That is how many hours you have to work to own whatever it is that you want. 

For example, you want a pair of $120 Nikes. You work on the weekends at a job where you earn $11.50/hour. You would divide $120/$11.50, and find that you would need to work 10.43 hours in order to buy those pants. 

Is that worth it to you? 

By the way – this isn't a guilt trip, nor am I making any judgments.

Those jeans or fill in the blank might be entirely worth it to you. But you can only know if you actually figure out how much of your life energy (money and time) you have to give up to buy whatever it is you want, and then decide your priorities that way.  

Tip #17: Get a Clear Understanding of Assets Versus Liabilities in Your Life

Most people get assets and liabilities mixed up, and a great book for teens that can help open your eyes about this is Robert Kiyosaki's Rich Dad, Poor Dad (For Teens)

You won't believe the kind of difference having this mindset shift NOW can make to the rest of your life.  

I really hope these financial tips for high school students become a money-northern-star for you and your teenagers. Meaning, they help guide you through your financial decisions so that you can come out ahead, whether “ahead” be next month, or help you make the kinds of financial decisions today that will set yourself up to come out ahead a few years from now. 

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Amanda L. Grossman is a Certified Financial Education Instructor, a 2017 Plutus Foundation Grant Recipient, and founder of Money Prodigy. Amanda's kid money work has been featured on Experian, GoBankingRates, PT Money, CA.gov, Rockstar Finance, the Houston Chronicle, and Colonial Life. Read more here.