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Personal Finance Basics for High School Students (& Resources)

The personal finance basics for high school students to learn that will help them manage money both now and in young adulthood.

What do high school students need to know about personal finance?

teen girl using debit card to pay at restaurant, text overlay, "personal finance topics and basics for teen students"

Before we get there, let’s back up for a moment and remember the end goal of a money education: to raise a child who feels confident managing money.

That means they enter young adulthood as a person who:

  1. Is financially resourceful
  2. Can make financial decisions

To get to that point, students need to learn a whole bunch of personal finance topics and basics.

The best way to figure out a list of financial basics is to work backwards from how your teen currently uses money, and how they will need to be able to use money as a young adult.

Let me show you what I mean.

Personal Finance Basics for High School Students

You’ll want to cover basic money skills to help them manage their money both now and in the future.

Currently, what skills do they need to know to do things like budget for prom, fill out a teen budget worksheet, or save up for a goal, like their first iPhone?

And for the skills they’ll need to know to manage their money in young adulthood? Let’s look at grocery shopping.

Going grocery shopping is a real-life event high school students will soon be doing on a weekly or bi-weekly basis (heck, some people go daily!).

If I walk through a typical grocery store trip + prep, then I can see the personal finance basics students need to learn to complete it.

Personal finance basics to be able to complete a grocery shopping trip:

  • How to pay for something/make a store transaction
  • Different payment options + how to use them
  • How to organize their wallet/find what they need
  • What coupons are vs. sales vs. clearance
  • Digital coupons, manufacturer coupons, store coupons, and how to use each of them together to save the most money
  • The difference between needs and wants, and which foods fall into which categories
  • What a refund is, and when it’s appropriate to ask for one
  • Understanding store loyalty and reward programs
  • Being able to manage receipts
  • Know how to create a shopping list
  • Being able to compare prices of same-sized products vs. how to compare prices of different-sized products (by unit)
  • Knowing opportunity costs (if I spent my money on this thing, then I can’t afford that thing)

What else do high school students need to know about personal finance?

Let’s go through one more example of something they’ll likely do in adulthood: buy a car.

In order to successfully buy a car, your students will need to know:

  • How to save up money (at least for the down payment)
  • How to compare between offers
  • How to shop around for loan rates
  • How credit scores and credit history can affect loan rates, and what to do if theirs is too low
  • The role a co-signer can play in getting a car loan
  • How to calculate the estimated maintenance and repair costs for a car to make sure they can afford its

Hint: Like these breakdowns? You should definitely check out my checklist of 119 money management life skills for students to get the full set.

Financial Topics for High School Students

Looking for a straight-up list of financial topics for high school students to learn?

  • Digital Financial Literacy
  • How to save money
  • How to spend money (yep – this one rarely gets any attention)
  • How to protect your money (insurance, FDIC-insured accounts, prevention of identity theft, etc.)
  • How to earn money
  • How to organize your money (account organization, wallet organization, financial documents maintenance + organization, etc.)
  • How to use banking (interest on loans vs. interest on savings, how to open/close bank accounts, how to shop around for interest rates, etc.)
  • How to grow your money (investment risk, savings + interest rates, retirement, etc.)

Personal Finance Resources for High School Students

I didn’t want to leave you hanging with how to start teaching these personal finance basics and topics.

So, here are a few of my favorite personal finance resources for high school students:

These personal finance basics for high school students should cover the basic money skills to help students manage their money both now and in the future. Cover even half of them, and your students will be well on their way to becoming both financially resourceful and capable of making complex financial decisions as a young adult.

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Amanda L. Grossman is a writer and Certified Financial Education Instructor, a 2017 Plutus Foundation Grant Recipient, and founder of Money Prodigy. Her money work has been featured on Experian, GoBankingRates, PT Money, CA.gov, Rockstar Finance, the Houston Chronicle, and Colonial Life. Amanda is the founder and CEO of Frugal Confessions, LLC. Read more here or on LinkedIn.