Published in the Spring 2006 issue • Features
Sure, saving your pennies is tougher than spending them. But when it comes to cash, it pays to be in control.
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It’s true that money can’t buy happiness, but it does afford you personal freedom—from your parents, your partner, the government, the bank. Who can tell you that you can’t spend a year meditating in Thailand if you’re the one paying for it? Or go to whatever school you want for whatever course of study you want? Or give 10 large to the best women’s shelter in town? Or retire when you’re 45 to a custom-built cottage on Lake I-Can-Scream-Bright-Eyes-Lyrics-And-No-One-Can-Hear-Me?
Set a goal
Having an idea of what you want to do in life, even a vague idea, is wise. Spend some time daydreaming: what future excites you the most? Do you have a specific goal or is general financial security what you’re after? If you’re ultra-ambitious, you may be interested in borrowing and/or making enough money for a down payment on a house that you can live in and also rent out while pursuing your higher education, thus graduating in the black instead of in the red. Or you may have the travel bug and want to plan a ’round-the-globe trek, starting the day after you flip your high school the bird at graduation. No matter what you decide, being in touch with Future You will make mapping out your financial life much easier, especially when you’re standing at the MAC counter lustily eyeing billion-dollar sparkly gold shimmer powder.
Make a plan
Planning ahead and sticking to your decisions is the most important part of being in charge of your money. Planning should consider both the “now” and the “then.”
The “now,” as it is for most young women in high school and university, is about making, spending and saving money. Obviously, making money is primary, but the way the job market is structured, young people end up concentrated in part-time, low-wage, low-status gigs in food service and retail sales. This makes it harder to make decent money when you’re young. So, if you can pinpoint something that you love doing, something that there is a special need for, check it out. I made extra cash in university through freelance writing. Some friends of mine ran a landscaping company and raked it in all summer long. Another friend kept the same part-time job from Grade 9 until her college graduation, becoming so involved in the company that she advanced through the ranks much faster than if she’d checked in and out of a succession of part-time jobs. There are other ways of getting your hot little hands on money, of course. Allowance and gifts are nice, if you receive them, and spending a few hours in your school’s registrar’s or guidance counsellor’s office can also yield free cash in the form of scholarships and bursaries.
Find a bank
My dad, who was in the finance industry for 40-odd years and gives very sage advice, says that finding a bank is easy in Canada: all the banks are big and very competitive, so it’s likely that they offer similar services and fees. However, he recommends going with one that seems to actively want you to sign up, not one that is indifferent to the needs of its younger customers. (You may already have an account. I had one from kindergarten onwards that I stashed my allowance in until I went to Disney World and spent all of it on porcelain Mickey Mouses.) Banks in the U.S. are more varied. Sometimes the smaller ones are more apt to offer personalized service, but can be less reliable and offer fewer banking “products” (i.e., plans and accounts) than big banks. Talk to a bank representative, read their literature and inquire about youth accounts and what deals you can get. Smart banks will respect you as much as their richest clients. Smart banks will also have those striped mints in bowls.