Money Tips for High School Graduates

  • high school graduates

Graduation marks the end of an old chapter.  And the beginning of a new one.

I would have had a totally different money strategy upon graduation, in hindsight.  Unfortunately, these tips are tips that either I never heard, or didn’t pay attention to back then.  coulda woulda shoulda, right?

18 years later, I now understand the value of this advice. Below I will share my money tips for graduates.  

You can learn it from the school of hard knocks (like I did), or here, reading these financial planning principles.  




I’m talking the money you receive in graduation cards from friends and family.

Are your parents paying for college?  

Then put your graduation money in an investment account.  It will grow exponentially. Someday, it may be your main retirement asset, because you allowed it to grow for so long.  Einstein called compound interest the 8th wonder of the world. You have what most people don’t have: time on your side. So, even if it’s $500, invest it.  

Are you planning to go to college, and paying your own way?

Put your graduation money toward tuition. It may not seem like it’s putting a real dent in reducing the overall amount of your student loans, but every dollar counts.  

Not to scare you, but, did you know that student loans are now considered to be a social epidemic in the US?  This Forbes article sites that the average student loan debt for a 2016 graduate is $37,172.

Be aware of how student loans will affect your financial future

I went to to estimate what that average student loan debt for a 2016 graduate ($37,172) would look like, in terms of a monthly payment.

Ouch.  Can you imagine paying $314/month, immediately upon graduation from college?  Worse yet, even if you didn’t receive the college diploma? (40% of college students pursuing a bachelor’s degree drop out).

Exiting the valley of doom & gloom and returning to the land of positivity…

Use this information to make good money decisions.  The more you can reduce the total amount of student loans, the better you will set yourself up for the future.

My silly money decision upon graduating high school

I spent my graduation money on an SLR camera.  (for stupid!)

My friends bought computers with their graduation money or paid for a fancy trip.   (slightly better than my camera choice, but still stupid)

Your graduation money is probably the most cash you have ever had access to.  It’s VERY TEMPTING to spend it quickly. You can finally afford what you really want!

Don’t do it.

Bypass the shiny new laptop.  Use your dad’s old work computer, it’ll get the job done.    

Say no thank you to the senior trip to Mexico.  Go camping with your girlfriends instead.

Don’t make that mistake that so many of us made -- by blowing your money on “fun stuff”.  

Put your graduation money toward your future.  I know you want to grow up and spread your wings, so do so by making an adult decision.  

Invest it in your future.  Avoid student loans as much as possible.




Now that you are ready to start a new chapter of life (as an adult!), it will be tempting to live as other adults do: in luxury.  

It is going to be tempting to put clothes, groceries, and your bar-tab on a credit card.  You will figure out a way to pay it off later, right? That cycle catches up with you fast.  Avoid the agony of dealing with credit card debt all-together.

Credit card companies will do their best to lure you in.  Fancy reward programs. Cashback. Air miles.

You’re smarter than that.  Credit card companies make A LOT of money off of people like you, who put money on plastic and PLAN to pay it off at the end of the month.  

Unexpected bumps in the road will likely keep you from being able to pay off that credit card one month, and then BAM.  You’re hit with 20%+ interest.

Stick with only using a debit card.  This FORCES you to develop the habit of living within your means.  

I understand the predicament I am putting you in.  How do I build credit then?


Here is my easy 1-2-3 credit building formula:


  1. Get ONE credit card
  2. Put ONLY your cell phone bill on it
  3. Set up bill pay from your checking account to pay off each month


You can get pretty far in the weeds trying to figure out the perfect way to establish credit. But, in my opinion, it’s not only too time/energy consuming, it’s also very easy to slip up.  Stick with my easy peasy lemon squeezy formula.



(for now)


You may think people will respect you more if you drive a nicer car. I remember the temptation I felt every time I would pass my coworkers shiny black Nissan Maxima.  I thought she makes the same amount of money that I do.  If she can afford, well, then I can too. (hands on hips)

And, you can probably afford to pay for a new car, because the dealership offers enticing payment plans.  

Never financially compare yourself to others

I had no idea what my coworker’s money situation was.  I didn’t think of rational justifications, such as she is the only daughter of a wealthy couple -- they bought that car for her as a graduation present.    Or, she is married and her husband is a physician, so they can afford a Nissan Maxima, plus a Mercedes.

See what I’m saying?  My financial situation did NOT warrant buying a new car.  So, I shouldn’t compare myself to my peers and feel like I should be able to afford what they have.  Because their financial is guaranteed different from yours. Unique financial situations call for unique financial plans.

You will upgrade from the hooptie, I promise

Comparing yourself to your peers is short-sighted. Drive a decent car for now, and save up your for something else.   The “new car” pride will wear off within months, anyway.  The hefty car payment isn’t worth it.


Best wishes, and congratulations graduates!

Christina Lynn