I have a distinct memory of convincing a friend to stand guard outside of a public restroom while I tried to break into the seemingly impenetrable toilet paper dispensers to steal a roll for our dorm room. At the time, $7.00 for a pack of toilet paper seemed like highway robbery. In other words, literally throwing money down the toilet.
We were constantly trying to find new ways to make and save money. My roommate and I both had jobs at the phonathon on campus where we spent hours in a windowless basement doing data entry, calling alumni during their dinner hour (because of course they'd be home!) and addressing and stamping hundreds of letters each day. The worst part of it all was that at the end of the month, my paycheck would magically disappear. And by that I mean I'd mindlessly waste it on things that seemed important at the time. I had no idea that I should be saving at least some of the money I was making and had very little concept of how to invest.
Am I embarrassed by my lack of financial knowledge (especially considering I was a business major)? Yes. Was I the only business major in college who knew very little about personal finance? No, I wasn't. Seventy percent of college seniors graduate with student loan debt, averaging $29,400 in 2013, and according to the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, 36% of recent college graduates are mal-employed, meaning they work in positions that don't require a degree, like on a wait staff or in the service industry. There is a monumental gap between the average college graduate's debt and their knowledge of how to manage it. Much of it can be attributed to an inability to understand and make tough financial decisions and a lack of personal finance education in high school and beyond.
For the second year, DoSomething.org, the largest not-for-profit for young people and social change, is combating that issue and informing young people on financial education through a text-messaging experience in partnership with H&R Block Dollars and Sense. The experience, called Would You Rather, uses text messaging to challenge young people to make decisions about how they'd manage their money, and provides real world financial tips. Last year, 44,238 teens participated in the campaign, delivering 62,435 tips to their friends.
Here's how it works:
● Teen receives a text message like this: "What would you rather do to save $$? A) Share your spring break hotel room w/ your entire extended family OR B) Not go on spring break."
● They respond: "A"
● They receive: "Hope the bathtub's comfy!"
● After this and throughout the game, they receive actionable financial tips relevant to the question, such as: "Going on spring break? Create a travel budget so you come back from vacation with happiness and a tan, rather than regret."
Teens get the opportunity to send this game to friends, compare answers, and share valuable financial tips directly relevant to their lives. Focusing financial education on short term decisions and small behavior changes with big impact is the way to get young people thinking about their financial futures, even beyond toilet paper.