H&R Block recently contacted me to tell me about their Budget Challenge — a teen financial literacy program that simulates an adult’s financial life and rewards students for mastering real-world financial decision-making. It looks so helpful and fun and I love that they are committed to encouraging kids to learn important financial lessons from a young age.
They recently awarded Sean Lawrence, a St. Clair, Michigan, high school senior, $120,000 in college scholarships as grand-prize winner of the H&R Block Budget Challenge.
Sean earned the $100,000 scholarship for having the most “real world ready” financial skills out of 93,980 high school students in 5,621 classrooms nationwide after participating in the 2014-2015 Budget Challenge program. He received an additional $20,000 scholarship for placing in the top 22 of his simulation, earning a total of$120,000 to apply toward his education.
Sean said this about the Budget Challenge: “Learning about money management before going into the real world allows teens to make the right choices, or have the correct knowledge so they don’t end up as the typical American with mountains of debt.”
As I thought about this challenge and their goals to help students learn real-world money skills, it made me think about how grateful I am for my parents and the wise money management they not only modeled before us, but also taught and instilled in us.
Me with my parents when they attended one of my speaking events
I wanted to share 3 of the most important lessons my parents taught me about life and money:
1. Debt is Often Avoidable
My dad’s dad raised my dad with the belief that you should never go into debt for anything except a house. From the beginning of my parents’ marriage, they followed this principle.
And then they took it one step further.
When I was around six years old, my parents decided to do something radical and work hard to pay off their house. They then saved up everything they could.
When I was ten years old, we sold that house and bought land out in the country and moved a single-wide trailer onto it for us to live in.
The trailer didn’t have an oven, didn’t have heat or air conditioning, leaked crazily every time it rained, had a bad mice problem, and was in fairly disgusting shape when we got it. But after days of elbow grease, we got it in livable shape, moved most of our possessions into a storage unit, and moved the basic necessities into that trailer.
We spent seven months in that trailer while we were building our house. I could write a book of stories from that experience. But most all of the memories are very happy memories and I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world.
At the end of seven months, our new house was finished enough that we could move into it. And it was a huge celebration to make it to that day… and for my parents to have realized their dream of building a house debt-free.
Seeing my parents’ sacrifices and creative commitment to living debt-free and how it put them in position to be able to give generously because they worked so hard to no longer have a house payment was a huge inspiration to my husband and me. I know beyond any shadow of a doubt that we would never be in the position we are in financially nor would we have paid cash for our first house were it not their example and influence. And we are eternally grateful.
2. Money is a Tool
My parents taught me that money is a tool. In the hands of wise stewards, it can be put to good use and make a huge impact. In the hands of those who are unwise, it can be wasted and blown with nothing to show for it.
With their lives and checkbooks, they modeled the importance of being wise in how you use and manage money. It wasn’t about saving money for saving money’s sake, but so that you could use that money saved to impact and help other people. To invest in things that matter, to bless people, to donate to causes you believe in, and to give generously.
3. A Strong Work Ethic Will Take You Far
My parents wanted their children to leave home with three things: a deep love for God, integrity, and a strong work ethic. They were so motivated to teach us the value of hard work that they set a goal to move out to the country by the time we were in our early teens.
With much prayer and effort, their goal was realized. And boy did we learn how to work! I have fond and not-so-fond memories of lots of back-breaking work: gardening for hours on end, dragging hoses all over the acreage to water the new trees we had planted, and spending much of the day on Friday taking care of the seven acres of the land that were planted in grass.
Truth be told, I wasn’t always so thrilled at all the work they expected us to do. Sweating in the heat and developing sore muscles on a regular basis weren’t necessarily what I’d consider fun. But looking back, I’m so thankful for the character I developed through all those hours of laboring in the hot Kansas sun.
The lessons in diligence and perseverance have been invaluable to me as a wife, mom, and business owner today. Truly, I believe one of the greatest gifts my parents gave me was instilling in me a strong work ethic from an early age.
I’m so grateful for how my parents taught me these three lessons and have they’ve impacted my life in profound ways.
Would You Like to Help Your Kids Learn Real-Life Money Skills?
I’d encourage you to check out the H&R Block Budget Challenge — a learn-by-doing educational approach that allows students to experience personal finance activities in the safety of a classroom, before heading out into the real world on their own. Participants play classroom against classroom and student against student, competing for $3 million in grants, scholarships and cash prizes.
“Our goal with The Budget Challenge is to arm teens with the personal finance skills and confidence they need to succeed when they’re out on their own. It’s an investment in American teens,” said Bill Cobb, president and chief executive officer. H&R Block awarded more than $3 million in grants, scholarships and prizes through the Budget Challenge in the 2014-2015 school year. Teachers who are interested in registering for the program can find details on the program starting in August here. Or, read more background on the program here.
(Note: This post was underwritten by H&R Block. Read our disclosure policy here.)