- Do not get a credit card! If you need to use plastic, put money into your bank account and use your bank-issued ATM card which has a Visa or Mastercard logo on it in order to swipe your purchases. This tip alone would have saved me many thousands of dollars over the years.
- Do not go to college unless you can pay for it without loans. Most people think this is impossible but it isn't and if you graduate with a degree and zero debt you will be one happy grad. Apply for every scholarship possible, go to your local community college for your first two years and work to pay for college as you go, then switch to a state school or online degree program with a reputable university and PAY AS YOU GO.
- If you want a car, save the money and pay cash for it. Better yet, use public transportation or ride your bike and save the expense and hassle of owning a car.
- Stay as far away from any debt, especially contract debt, as possible. A pre-paid cell plan will keep you from getting a huge surprise bill some day. Renting a room from a friend is better than tying yourself down to an expensive apartment lease. Payday lender loans are just stupid. The only time you should acquire debt is to buy a house (and only then with a 25% down payment).
- Save 10% of every dime you earn for your old age. This is in addition to other money you are saving for different things like cars, houses, etc.
- Work through high school, save your money, and travel the world after you graduate. There is no better time to travel and expand your horizons than right after high school. You become independent, your open mind is opened even wider by world travel, and you will not be tied down by a spouse/kids/mortgage/serious job/etc. that you will have when you are older.
- Stay away from financial entanglements. This includes but is not limited to: co-signing loans for anyone, loaning people money, gambling, "get rich quick schemes", etc.
- Stay away from social entanglements that could land you in financial (and other) trouble. This includes but is not limited to: having babies (18 is too young!), getting married (if you are really in love, why not wait a couple of years?), DUIs (plain stupid and really expensive), other illegal stuff (like drug use, assaults, etc).
- About work...everyone has crappy jobs when they are young. You don't want to take your job SO seriously but you do want to have a good attitude and work ethic and use each job as an opportunity to learn new skills and work on new projects. However, don't let your job stop you from exploring other places, traveling, taking another job that may be more interesting, etc.
- About boyfriends/girlfriends...when you are young (and to us old people, 18 is young), people tend to think their boyfriend/girlfriend is the be all and end all. Because of their relationships they will do all kinds of stuff that can negatively impact them both financially and otherwise. Never let your relationship stop you from achieving your goals. At this point in your life, YOU are the most important person in your life (which will change when you have kids). This means that you do take opportunities that come along (a great full ride scholarship at a school across the country), and you don't make yourself responsible for the other person (if I had a quarter for every girl I knew who supported their boyfriend, gave their boyfriend a cell phone/clothes/money, didn't take an opportunity because of their boyfriend, co-signed for their boyfriends loan and got stuck with it, bailed their boyfriend out of jail...you get the idea...I would be RICH!).
How do I know all of this stuff? Simple, I made ALL of these mistakes. By the time I graduated from high school I had a wallet full of credit cards (most on their way to being maxed out), student loans, and an expensive car (with payments of course), other debts (apartment lease). I would spend every penny I made and save nothing, took my first jobs way too seriously, was engaged to my boyfriend, loaned people money/bailed them out of jail/co-signed for people...basically if there was a stupid money mistake to be made, I made it. Needless to say, starting out in sinkhole of debt (and the continued money mistakes) took years to fix (I'm still fixing my mistakes but making good progress).
Graduating from high school is literally the beginning of the whole rest of your life. Take this opportunity to make good choices, start off on a good financial footing, and give yourself the gift of a solid foundation for your later years. And congrats for graduating high school!