Sunday, May 19, 2013

My closing letter to my students: I Passed Personal Finance, What's Next?

What happens after you pass Personal Finance? Does the knowledge you exhibited in your assessments and on your final examination guarantee you will live a financially sound life? Unfortunately it does not, because the financial choices you choose to make in the coming days, months, and years will be driven as much by your emotions as they will your knowledge.

So you passed Personal Finance, what's next? You have to bridge what you have learned to how you will apply it. To begin to do this you should first internalize that this course was not just another period in the day, but rather a series of tools and concepts that improved who you are and the choices you are capable of making.

Comparatively speaking, our overall test scores are competitive on a national level. Depending on which Personal Finance class you took, you have either passed a college level course or the first comprehensive semester long personal finance course of it's kind. You are capable of applying financial tools and concepts to your own goals that many adults do not even know exist. 

1. You are now the type of person who sets goals and makes wise and informed financial choices to reach your goals.

You understand the rewards and consequences of financial choices. You set financial goals for yourself and make choices to reach your goals. You will be motivated to make financially appropriate choices such as establishing three direct deposits once you get a job; a deposit into a dedicated emergency savings account, a deposit into a dedicated retirement account, and a deposit into your checking account...

2. You are now the type of person who knows how to put a financial plan into action.

People will recognize that you are studious and confident in the financial choices you make. You appear happy and secure to others... 

3. You are now the type of person who people identify as being financially savvy. 

Embracing and internalizing the previously outlined steps as a part of who you are matters, and is relevant to almost every aspect of your life. Let me explain... 

Imagine throwing a pebble deep into the center of a crystal clear pond. The result is ripples that wave one after another throughout the pond, deep from the center, slowly to the periphery.

Whether you want to hear it or not, your choice to both prepare for your final examination and apply what you have learned in this class to your everyday lives is much like the pebble hitting the pond. Your future financial choices will send a wave deep into every aspect of your life and the lives of others.

Your first wave will begin just after high school with your post-education choices and subsequent college debt. While at the same time, you will be testing your discipline with a credit card and future car debt.

Before you know it, you will be a young professional deciding whether to fill your bartenders’ pockets with your discretionary income or fill your own future pockets by adequately investing for retirement.

Sooner than you may imagine, it will shape your family’s quality of life and your subsequent peace of mind.

Eventually, it will guide your opportunity to reach financial freedom at a young enough age to enjoy retirement as others struggle to live on a fixed income, working well into their seventies.

In the periphery, lies the legacy for your future children, and your ability to prepare them for a world full of financial trickery and hidden wealth.

Just as the ripples in the pond get bigger and bigger, so will your financial responsibilities. Being financially responsible is not the result of a high school or college course, nor is it the result of being disciplined and conscience of your choices. It has to be both, and your financial education has to be ongoing.

Now as you have envisioned what you can expect as you move forward, I want you to imagine the waves of choices you will be faced with in a different lens. For a moment, envision shouldering a responsibility much greater than your own financial future. For this moment - - internalize your responsibility as a next generation American.

Our country desperately needs waves of economic change that will transform where we are and the direction we are heading. Our country needs a generation full of financially astute and responsible leadership that will guide us out of consumer and government debt massive enough to change the United States as we know it.

My challenge for you is to understand how to responsibly manage the waves of financial challenges that you will face throughout your life, while making waves for your country that will better the lives of the generations to come.

Let what you have learned in this course be the pebble that creates the first wave of change that we all need.

My Senior Baccalaureate Speech

I love our kids, community, and where I teach. So I was especially honored to deliver this year's Senior Baccalaureate speech. Here is the speech I delivered earlier this Sunday at Church...

Good afternoon class of 2013. It is a great honor to speak to you today.

You have experienced numerous ceremonies celebrating your academic achievements. These achievements have created more paths for you to choose from. You have experienced athletic ceremonies celebrating your “on the field” accomplishments. These achievements recognize lifelong memories nobody can ever take away from you. You have received character awards, celebrating your moral quality. These are traits that should guide you for a lifetime.

Before looking forward, I want to take a moment to look back and celebrate one more achievement.

Early last spring I was suffering from a painful ulcer. At times the pain was excruciating, and one particular day at school the pain was almost too much to bear. You would think that managing a classroom of students in visible agony would be tough, you would think the kids would see an opportunity to do what they wanted. Not our kids - - I lost count on how many times I was asked “Mr. Page, are you okay?” Many of you were in one of my classes that year. Your perfect behavior and genuine care that day were not an illustration of compliance but rather genuine compassion.

This is just one personal anecdote, and each of you can provide your own to best represent what we believe to be an achievement worth celebrating today. This achievement is not a State Report Card indicator nor does it derive from a bubble test. It’s far more important and it comes from within you.

You are a group of loving and compassionate students that will make the world a better place, and that is an achievement worth celebrating.

Your parents and your teachers want what is best for you. We want you to dream, set goals to reach your dreams, and provide you with the support you need to live your dreams.

As you have gotten older, the role your parents and teachers have taken in your lives have evolved. Early in your lives most of your choices were made for you, and as you got older you became empowered to make choices on your own. Whether you knew it or not, your parents and teachers were still there serving as bumpers softening the blow of bad choices, and serve as megaphones echoing to the world your good choices.

In only a matter of days you will embark on your own journey through life. Throughout your journey you will make choices, some trivial, some not. The results of each of the choices you make will now be independently amplified; not just in consequence or reward, but the life-long paths they may open or close for you. So I am honored to have the opportunity today to give you three pieces of advice to help you guide your journey.

First, have Faith…

Throughout your journey you will be faced with tough choices and ethical dilemmas. Nobody is infallible, but you can try to be. In other words, don’t get lost in your journey. Turn to the Lord for your moral compass, particularly when choices are toughest.

Second, prioritize your family…

We are a hypercompetitive result oriented society. You will experience this as a post-secondary student, an employee, or a future business owner. For some it is just as easy to get lost in the competition as it is for others to give up competing all together. I think both can be equally bad if you have a family. Have balance in your life, make choices that make your future families journey joyous and memorable, and put them in a position to make their lives better.

Third, control your personal finances, do not let them control you…

I hate the title of my class – “Personal Finance”. It doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of the impact your personal finances can make on your life. Let’s put your future personal finances into the context of your life’s journey.

1. You need to set a destination and have a financial plan to get there. Throughout your journey you will be faced with a multitude of choices. Know where you want to go, control your personal finances, and stay the course. If your spending choices are different than your goals, pretty soon your personal finances will control your journey and strip much of the joy that comes with it.

2. You need to be safe throughout your journey. Make sure you set up a direct deposit into three places: a dedicated emergency savings account, retirement, and checking as soon as you get a job. Making it automatic to put money aside for emergencies will usually shield you from relying on high interest credit if you get into a jam. Equally as important is investing for retirement right away. Starting early will give you the peace of mind throughout your journey that there will be a point in your life that you are financially free. Finally, make sure you always have insurance products that protect your way of life.

3. You need to enjoy your journey. Reflect on the values and experiences that matter most to you in your life and spend your money consistent with those. If you enjoy traveling, set savings goals to travel regularly. If you enjoy nice clothes, set savings goals and wear nice clothes. Money cannot buy happiness, but it can buy the things and experiences that make us happy.

Class of 2013, you are a special group of adults who in matter of days will be in charge of your own your own dreams, happiness, and journey. So have Faith, prioritize your family, and control your personal finances. Before you know it your personal responsibility will evolve into your own family responsibility. So choose your path wisely and make it a point to enjoy every step on the path in your journey.