No Manatee or Sarasota County high school asked me to give a commencement speech this year. But if a high school asks next year, here's what I'd say:
"Moms, Dads and grandparents, congratulations on getting your kids here tonight. You've helped with homework, driven carpools, and, maybe even, coached sports, but you're not done yet. There are a few things your graduate still needs to know.
"I think it's a disgrace that many graduates leave school with little or no understanding of personal finances. Many are clueless when making financial decisions.
"Simple money skills, I believe, are one of the most important skills needed for success after high school. One big weakness in education is that personal finance isn't sufficiently emphasized. Consider all the financial topics that aren't taught in high school. Budgeting for monthly expenses, such as groceries and rent, and allocating income are few lessons that come to mind.
"Many of you grads are about to get sucked into student loans you can't afford and don't really understand. Others of you will fall victim to credit card traps and credit scores. Many of you know nothing of investing or taxes.
"Getting your diploma is a good start, but you need to do much more. Making smart career choices is ob
vious, but you also need to master personal finances, and choose the "right" spouse, too."
Then I'd talk briefly on, potentially politically incorrect topics like, navigating progressive ideologies and taking personal responsibility. And then, to get the most bang for my buck, I'd spend most of my time talking about personal finance.
I'd continue by offering a solution. "Many of you here tonight have been shopping for gifts for your grads," I'd say. "Some of you are buying new laptops to help your grads in college. Others may have bought digital cameras or gift cards for places like Starbucks and iTunes. Those gifts are okay, but you can do better. Why not give super-practical book offering real-world advice that won't fade into oblivion?"
"Buy the 'The Graduate's Survival Guide' a book and CD set by Dave Ramsey. Ramsey's book is a Cliff's Notes version to personal finance. I recommend this set for any new high school graduate preparing for all the financial challenges that lie ahead."
Some parents expect, erroneously, that schools are teaching personal finance. Most don't. Sadly many parents didn't get these lessons in high school to pass on to their offspring, either. That's why I believe in giving new high school graduates a gift that makes a lifelong impact. And while you're at it, some of you might benefit by buying a copy for yourself.
"When I first got the book, I was disappointed," said Melissa, who I gifted this book last year. "I was expecting a check or gift card, but the book was great. I read the book, and I learned about minimizing student loans, buying first cars, and ways to cut apartment expenses."
In 10 years will your new high school graduate remember a gift card? Ramsey's Graduate's Survival Guide can likely go the distance, and with shipping it costs less than $25.
Jim Germer, CPA and financial adviser at Cetera Financial Specialists LLC, can be reached at 746-5600 or firstname.lastname@example.org