The break is over. Goodbye leisurely days of lounging in the heat of Florida in December. Goodbye stretched out naps in beach chairs. Goodbye mindless self-indulgence.
It is once again time to drop into the old routine and come to grips with hard reality. In some – maybe most – cases, that also means coming to grips with a mountain of brand new shiny debt thanks to the season of giving and those all-too-tempting student loans. So what does one do? Panic! Just kidding. Debt is a serious problem, but with a little common sense and self-control, you can knock that mountain down. The key is to start now.
According to an article from moneycentral.msn.com, the average college student has more than $20,000 of debt when they graduate. Credit cards, student loans and frivolous spending are all contributing factors. The prevalence of plastic in the wallets of young adults makes it easy to disassociate spending and actual loss of money. They just slide the cards and whatever they want is theirs, like magic. The bill comes, the minimum payment is paid and the spree continues. The debt piles higher and higher thanks to a friendly concept known as compound interest.
Wait, don’t turn the page – it’s not as boring as it seems. Albert Einstein once said, “The most powerful force in the world is compound interest.” If a guy with that kind of brain power is attaching high praise to something, it has to be at least a little important. Because of compound interest, the money invested now by young people will be worth much more when they retire than it would be if they invested at, say, age 50. That’s because compound interest causes money invested at an interest rate to grow exponentially over time.
To break it down in easy-to-understand terms, take a look at the rule of 72. It’s pretty simple. Divide 72 by any interest rate and that’s how many years it will take you to double your money.
So, say you invest your money at an interest rate of six percent; it will take 12 years for your money to double; the same time frame applies if you are paying off debt at an interest rate of six percent.This is a very basic financial concept that can motivate one to both invest and to pay off debt early. It is also a glaring example of why it is increasingly important to become financially savvy as you grow older.
If all of this seems like a lot to take in, that’s OK. There are plenty of tools available to help tackle financial ignorance – you just have to find them and use these resources to your advantage.
For those just starting out, an easy and free tool to take advantage of is the Internet. Investopedia.com offers tutorials centered on a variety of different financial topics. The lessons are divided into categories based on the level of financial knowledge of the user. They even offer an option to start a mock portfolio that paces the real stock market. Students can get their feet wet in Wall Street without spending a dime.
The Motley Fool, fool.com, is another online resource aimed at educating those who are mystified by money matters. This site uses an honest and amusing perspective on the confusing world of personal finance. According to the Web site, the name comes from Shakespeare’s As You Like It. In the play, jesters – or fools – entertained the king. They were also the only people who could tell him the truth without risking execution. The writers of the Web site see themselves as jesters and the reader as the king.
The Wall Street Journal Complete Personal Finance Guidebook by Jeff D. Opdyke is an easily readable breakdown of personal finance concepts. The book is separated into five sections: banking, borrowing, budgeting, investing and planning. The simple approach breaks down complicated concepts into bite-sized, easy-to-understand pieces. There is also an optional companion workbook that allows readers to apply the concepts they are learning.
The tools are out there, but it is an individual’s decision to use them. Becoming financially literate may not be fun, but it is extremely important. By learning the hard lessons now, students can avoid disasters later in life. Instead of considering it as a chore, think of it as a gift to yourself.