Parenting Tips for Financial Freedom
Charla McKinley

This past year Charla McKinley of The Artisan of Adulting and Beyond Personal Finance has joined us as a featured columnist. Providing practical help for teaching finances, Charla shares tips for parenting that instill financial wisdom in children and teens in a natural way.

Not All Degrees are Created Equal

remember a time when there was a predominant belief that going to college was the key to achieving the “American Dream.” We know better now. We’ve heard so many stories of young adults with undervalued degrees working in retail while there is a shortage of skilled labor in well-paying trade professions. The fact is, if we don’t help our teens develop a realistic plan to support themselves, they will face heartache and frustration when they are starting a life on their own.

The Real Endgame
I think somewhere along the way we lost sight of the true purpose of college. You go to college to get the skills you need to get a job. Education is not the endgame—a job is.

If our expectation of college is to gain knowledge, 99% of our students will meet that goal. But if we look at going to college to get a job that will allow for financial independence, the numbers are much lower.

Getting our money’s worth out of higher education means making well-informed, thoughtful decisions about college and degree choices.

Beyond the Brochure
Imagine going to an investment advisor who asks you to write a check for $80,000; you would have some questions. What am I investing in? What are the risks? What is the expected return? These are all fair questions.

But when it comes to picking a college—arguably one of the most significant investments we will make—many parents don’t research the answers to these questions. Sure, they might read the brochure or listen as the admissions staff lists highlights of the school, but deeper questions must be asked.

  • How effective is the college in helping the students determine their career options within a field of study?
  • How does the school help the students with internships and career placement?
  • What percentage of recent graduates find employment in their field? (This is called the “placement rate,” and it is a great term to use when researching schools online.)
  • What companies come to campus to talk with the students?
  • How prevalent are the opportunities for students to participate in projects related to their career interests?
  • How often are relevant job placement events held on campus?
  • Does the school offer alumni mentoring programs that help current students connect with professionals in their field?

Any purchase with a price tag as high as college requires a significant amount of research. And it is not just money at stake. Your student will be investing over 20% of their life so far in college; it is important that the college experience sets them up for a bright future.

“I am fortunate to have the opportunity to teach ‘adulting’ to teenagers. One of the first myths I have to debunk is their belief that getting a degree means getting a job.”
The Other Half of the Equation
I am fortunate to have the opportunity to teach “adulting” to teenagers. One of the first myths I have to debunk is their belief that getting a degree means getting a job.

The example I use for a reality check is a degree in art history. There are over 350 colleges in America offering a degree in art history but only 1,800 job openings annually for museum curators. Meaning many graduates will work in some other capacity after graduation. This would be good to know before spending years preparing for a career in this field! Further, as most museums run on modest budgets, those 1,800 jobs generally do not pay well. These are facts accessible on the internet and are probably not what you will hear from the school’s admissions department!

Your teen’s ability to narrow down future career options before selecting a college and degree is essential to making the most of your college investment. After all, how can you judge which college will best equip them for a career if they are still undecided about what that career will be?

If your teens are anything like the teenagers I teach, you know how hard it is to get them to show much interest in their future. The first step is to introduce your teens to various career options by having them take an interest assessment. I recommend this short (and free) tool: Career One Stop.

This survey will generate a list of careers that might be a good fit based on the answers provided. Fair warning: the database contains over 70,000 jobs, so your student might be matched with something a little strange. (One of my “best” matches was an amusement ride attendant!) But don’t worry, your teen will get a list of 150+ possible careers, each with a hyperlink for more information on the job, its education requirements, and the expected pay. Spend some time with the information provided in these links to help them find the intersection of their skills, interests, and a wage that can support a comfortable life.

If you are looking to take the next step once you have identified your student’s skills and interests, I recently wrote an article on 5 questions to ask ChatGPT to help narrow down the research.

What is the Cost of Comfort These Days?
When looking for career fields, we cannot disregard the salary associated with the choices. Sure, money isn’t everything, but setting your children on a path which lets them live independently and comfortably should be high on our list of priorities.

Take, for example, careers in the arts. The truth is that our society generally does not pay artists enough to make a living without the need for a second (or even third) job. We have all heard the term starving artist. “Starving” is not an image we want for our children. Instead, we prefer a future where they have financial stability and use their talents to pursue hobbies that bring them joy. Nothing kills creativity like financial strain.

Our teens must understand that not all careers will provide them with the money they need to survive and thrive as adults. By using your experience and the resources available on the internet, you can help your students translate their passions into careers that generate income. For instance, artists can use their skills in special effects/animation (starting salary $50K+) or digital interface design (starting salary $43K+). Or musicians can use their skills as sound engineers (starting salary $31K+) or music teachers (starting salary $41K+). Meanwhile, artists and musicians can use the nights and weekends to develop their craft, give back to their community, and even build a side business. Who knows, that side business could grow and become the main source of income one day! You can discover what the minimum living wage is in your state at Business Insider.

We Can Help
If you have a teen who needs your guidance and you feel ill-equipped to help, check out Beyond Personal Finance. We put teens in the driver’s seat of their future from age 22–42 and let them design their life by making choices like career, car, apartment, spouse, house, investment, etc. all while creating twenty budgets to see how those choices will impact their financial picture. We have helped thousands of families get their teens ready for the real world, and we can help you.
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harla McKinley graduated from the University of Texas with a degree in Finance. She went on to become a Certified Public Accountant with over 25 years working in both the corporate and private sectors.

While homeschooling her two children, Charla was inspired to write an interactive personal finance curriculum that opens the student’s eyes to the high costs of being an adult. After retiring from homeschooling, Charla continues to write and teach using her Beyond Personal Finance curriculum.

Charla’s passion is teaching teens that their choices matter. She is a firm believer that in order to prepare teens for the road ahead they must be given the opportunity to practice making good (and not so good) choices using real dollars before they get out into the world and have real regrets.