This holiday season, we asked some of St. Pete’s best and brightest citizens to share one catalyzing idea for making St. Pete a better place to live. We asked not for lists of problems, but for meaty, actionable and impactful solutions, no matter how big or how small.
Each year, millions of high school students make a decision that will impact them for the rest of their lives. It is the decision to take out thousands of dollars in student loans. I made the same decision and wound up with over $20,000 in student loan debt before the age of 21.
When I started accumulating the debt at 17, I didn’t know how that decision would impact my life. Since founding The Penny Hoarder, I’ve since heard from several people in the community who share a similar story. Whether it’s accumulating mountains of debt, waiting to invest in their company’s 401(k) or putting off building an emergency fund, too many people talk about money lessons they wish they would have learned when they were young.
Earlier this year, Florida legislators took a step in the right direction by passing House Bill 7071, which gives high school students the opportunity to take an elective course in personal finance. Under the bill, all Florida districts must offer a financial literacy course of at least a half credit as an elective, and all high school students will be required to take eight electives to graduate.
I was thrilled to see HB 7071 pass, but I know there is much more work to be done and there is a prime opportunity for St. Pete to take the lead in this conversation. I’d like to see a required course where young people can learn the basics of using money in everyday life: how to budget so the rent gets paid, why compound interest provides a unique opportunity while you’re young, and how to pay with a credit card without falling into debt.
Beyond that, there is room for more programming at the local level for people of all ages to learn more about personal finance. Relevant and tailored workshops and seminars around the basics of investing, salary negotiation, how to generate multiple income streams, taxes, and more of the like is needed.
There are several Tampa Bay initiatives that have me encouraged about the state of financial literacy in St. Pete, including USF St. Petersburg’s Advising Financial Literacy Objectives and Training Program (AFLOAT) initiative and Junior Achievement’s BizTown and Finance Park initiatives, which offer financial literacy stimulation exercises meant for the real world for elementary school students. For families and individuals, United Way Suncoast financial stability and workplace development programming offers job training initiatives and financial incentives to help fellow community members learn how to better manage their money.
The earlier we start educating ourselves about money, the better off we’ll be not only as individuals but also as economically-engaged members of the community. The research shows that investing in personal finance literacy leads to higher credit scores and better money management skills as an adult. Think of the impact that could have on St. Pete’s housing market and broader economy.
In 2020, I’m supporting and working toward a more financially literate St. Pete. I know the results would be powerful and for the greater good of our beloved community.