The statistics are scary.
The average college student graduates with student loan debt of around $27,000. That's just the average, meaning some students leave school with $50,000, $75,000 and even $100,000 of debt.
Currently there is more than $1 trillion in total outstanding student loan debt in the United States. Yes, we officially have a student loan crisis. On top of that, student loans have passed credit cards in total debt owed.
The average 22-year-old is stepping out into the "real world" for the first time nearly $30,000 in the hole. Instead of getting a jump-start on life, they've got an anchor tied to their feet. Soon after, most of these students will probably marry someone with their own student loan problems and the pile of debt gets even higher.
So how did this happen? As I've traveled across the country, one of the things I hear most often from parents is this: "I wish I heard this stuff when I was younger."
That's my mission: I want to teach kids, college students and young adults about the basics of money management so they don't grow into the adult asking, "What happened?" Youth need to know why debt is bad, how important budgeting is and how to balance their checking account online.
If you're a youth minister, teaching pastor or church administrator, you're in a position of incredible influence. You have the opportunity to partner with parents in teaching basic financial principles that can change the lives of the youth in your church.
Howard Dayton from Compass, a Florida-based financial ministry, notes that the Bible has 2,350 verses that deal with money and possessions. And Jesus talked about those topics more than love, heaven and hell combined.
How you manage money isn't a salvation issue, but it's clearly an important topic if the Bible talks about it so much.
As a refresher, here are a few examples:
"The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender" (Prov. 22:7).
"For who among you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost to see whether he has resources to complete it? Otherwise, perhaps, after he has laid the foundation and is not able to complete it, all who see it will begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to complete it.' " (Luke 14:28-30).
"There is treasure to be desired and oil in the dwelling of the wise, but a foolish man squanders it" (Prov. 21:20).
The Bible even talks about co-signing. The Contemporary English Version (CEV) puts it this way: "It's stupid to guarantee someone else's loan" (Prov. 17:18).
As a church leader, you can step in and make a major difference. So, what should you teach? When it comes to teaching kids and youth about money, there are three main categories: giving, saving and spending.
One of the most important things you can do with your money is give, so give off the top. Before you do anything else, give 10 percent to a church or a charity you believe in.
Proverbs 3:9 says to "Honor the Lord with your substance, and with the first fruits of all your increase" (MEV). That means, when you get your paycheck, the first thing you should be doing is giving some of it away.
Why? Something about giving changes a person's spirit, and it's best to start young. The young person who gives will begin to see life differently, and it doesn't just happen automatically. It happens when giving becomes a habit, and that means building giving into a money plan (aka budget).
As you teach your youth, remind that them that if they're giving to a church, they should know that God doesn't need their money. He owns it all. As Psalm 50:10 says, "For every wild animal of the forest is Mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills." It's all His. It's just our responsibility to manage the things He's given us, and one of the best ways to do that is by helping others.
Make a point to talk with your youth about saving. You're never too young to learn the basics of saving. When you're young, it doesn't have to be complicated. For a teenager, just a simple savings account will do. This money should be used for small emergencies and purchases.
The important thing is that they're learning why saving matters. Saving teaches patience, and don't we all know that kids aren't naturally patient!
When I was a teenager, my dad told me he would match whatever I could save up for my first car. I watched him do the same thing with my older sister, so I knew he wasn't kidding.
In a couple of years, I managed to work hard enough to save $8,000 for that car. So then, after I turned 16, my dad and I went to the dealer with $16,000 in cash. I walked away with a nice used BMW 323. I loved that car because I worked so hard to save for it!
Learning to work and be patient while saving was valuable for me because it translated to other areas of my life, not just how I managed money. That's why it's important to teach your youth the value of saving.
Finally, spending is the fun category. Who doesn't like to spend? The hard part is learning when not to spend.
I'm a natural spender, so this doesn't come easily for me. My husband has to bring me back to reality all the time or there's no telling how many purses or pairs of shoes I would buy!
The best way to teach kids about spending is to be an example. More is caught than taught. The youth in your church are watching you.
If you're reckless with money, they will know. If you're plopping down a credit card at Best Buy once a week, they will know. They'll see the bills and, eventually, the stress on your face as they pile up.
Teach kids how to spend wisely by spending wisely yourself. And, every now and then, it's OK to let them make a mistake. That's how they'll learn.
If one of your youth spends $50 on a video game, that means he might not be able to go to the movies the next day. Help them see that if they spend money on this, they won't be able to spend money on that.
Help them make a plan for their money with a budget. The budget will help them take a look at the whole picture and see where they truly want to prioritize their money.
Have them list their income at the top—even if it's just $50 a month—then all the expenses under that. They shouldn't have too many at this stage of their life. Income minus expenses should equal zero. A zero-based budget is the best way for a young person, or anyone, to make a money plan.
You might be thinking: How can I teach youth about money when I don't even have all of this figured out? But what if you learned and changed habits with them?
It's OK to be honest about your mistakes—those mistakes could be great lessons for kids! You don't need to be an expert on money. Simply make sure the kids and teens in your church understand these budget basics.
Student loans and credit cards don't have to be a way of life, and youth need to know that. The earlier you start talking with them about these principles, the better off they're going to be when they head to college and enter the real world.
Take this opportunity to make a huge difference in the life of your church youth!
Rachel Cruze is a seasoned communicator and presenter, helping Americans learn the proper ways to handle money and stay out of debt. Her book, Smart Money Smart Kids, co-authored with her dad, Dave Ramsey, released in April 2014 and debuted at No. 1 on the New York Times best-sellers list. Follow her on Twitter at @rachelcruze and online at rachelcruze.com or facebook.com/rachelramseycruze.
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