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What Outcomes Are You Looking For?

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November is the month that many high school seniors are thinking about what they’ll do after graduation, applying for college, and collecting information to complete the Financial Application for Federal Student Aid that’s due January 1. This month, my column will be devoted to answering personal finance questions related to families with high school seniors.

One of the most important things you’ll have to think about this month is: what am I going to do after I graduate? You may be considering working, attending a trade school, attending college, or you may just still be considering. As you start thinking about your options you’ll have to consider the monetary cost of each of these options, but you’ll also have to consider what you’ll gain from each option as well as what you’ll lose by not choosing one of the other options.

According to the Census Bureau, in 2002 high school graduates earned $25,900 per year while college graduates earned $45,400 per year, but that’s not the end of the story. According to CollegeBoard.com, attending college in 2002 cost about $22,541 per year and most college students took out student loans to pay for it. Costs to attend college have increased over the last ten years. If you thought those numbers were dismal, take a look at the Occupy Wall Street protestors for final confirmation that graduating from a good college may or may not start you on the road to prosperity. Ending up with $30,000 in student loan debt and then getting a job that will pay $30,000 doesn’t sound like a good investment to me.

Instead of getting on the track that you think will take you where you want to go, make sure you start out thinking about the outcome you’d like to have (the career trajectory you’d like, the income you’d like to earn, or the debt you’d like to leave school with). Starting with the end in mind might help you choose which college to attend (in-state tuition versus out-of-state costs), what kind of school you’d like to attend (trade school, community college, public college, private college), or what tools you’ll use to pay for college (working, grants, scholarships, loans). Once you know where you’d like to be, you can start analyzing information to make a plan to get there.

Imagine deciding that you want to buy lotion. You can buy a bottle for $1 from a discount store or you can buy a bottle for $6 from a big-box store. Buying the cheaper bottle is obviously going to cost you less money upfront, but we all know that the quality of the cheaper brand is sometimes less that we desire. If we end up buying more bottles of the cheaper lotion over the same amount of time that we could have purchase the one bottle of more expensive lotion then buying the cheaper bottle is not cost efficient. Only you know what outcomes you’d like to have.

Whatever you choose to do, you’ll need to think about the value of that option, not just the monetary cost of that option. The more you consider the outcome you want, think about the best way to get there, create a plan based on value, and work to make it happen, the better off you’ll be.

Shay Olivarria is the most dynamic financial education speaker working today. She has written three books on personal finance, contributes to multiple online media platforms, and is a foster care alumni. She's been quoted on Bankrate.com, FoxBusiness.com, and The Credit Union Times, among others. Visit www.BiggerThanYourBlock.com to hire Shay to speak at your event.

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