By Don Silver
Reviewed by Gary W. Silverman, CFP®
It has been a while since I was in high school (when I graduated, Elvis was still singing). To aid in the review process of this book, I enlisted the help of Chance Jarrett, a student at the local Burkburnett High School. He gave it a good endorsement: "I think that the High School Money Book is perfect for people just starting to learn about money-saving ways. It is packed with lots of important information. I really enjoyed reading the book. I will definitely recommend this book to another high school student."
The author, Don Silver, writes for the Internet on personal finance and has written several introductory books on money subjects such as The Generation Y Money Book (a precursor to this book), and Baby Boomer Retirement. His education includes a BA in economics and a law degree from UCLA. Vocationally he spent over 20 years as an estate planning attorney.
The book itself is divided into 12 parts (chapters) and further divided into 101 subjects. This keeps the reading in short bursts, which should make it more palatable to a younger audience. It is also designed to allow the reader to jump from subject to subject, much like you might go from link to link across the Internet without ever reading a page all the way through.
I let Chance read the book first, and then I hopped around to the subjects he found interesting. For some reason, allowances made the list. "I learned that some parents don't like to give allowances, because it can make your child more independent," Chance found. Looking at the "Making Allowances for Allowances" topic, the book did not give any allowance guidelines. Rather it explained why kids will have different allowance levels or no allowance at all. I like seeing the book say that "You should feel free to discuss the subject of an allowance with your parents." It also stated that parents might see the allowance as a gift, a payment for work, or a reward. Parents will enjoy the sentence, "You're receiving food, shelter, clothing and extras while living with them. That's an allowance." A final thought turned the tables and suggested that once they get a job, the reader (student) might think about giving their parents part of the earnings—an allowance in reverse.
As in the above example, none of this is deep. But it does seem to aim at the subjects high school students might have an interest in, or might hear about on TV or from their parents. And sometimes it's a tiny lesson that can make a great difference in life. Chance found that "it is good if you keep records of your bills, because you have proof if someone thinks that you didn't pay for something." That lesson, useful in Chance's present, will help him later in life when an IRS auditor comes knocking at the door.
While Chance continued reading in the direction of credit and debit cards, savings goals, and identity theft, I took a stroll over to college savings and investing. My opinion of the college section was mixed, but mostly positive. It talked about the importance of planning early for college and discussed the wide range of costs involved. While it gave very brief mentions of ways to save for college, it did cover just about everything and did not attempt to steer the student toward a particular vehicle. It's probably of most use in allowing the student to look up what a parent was overheard talking about. In the investing sections, rather than talk about how to read stock pages, a discussion of Google or Yahoo finance resources may have been more useful.
Chance and I both found the book valuable. However, I do question how many of these books, if handed to a high school student, would actually be read. Silver, in his introduction, stated, "There should be a class in high school called "Money Smarts 101" to teach you how to handle money. That's what this book is designed to do." He's right on both accounts. A minority of kids are willing to read through 150 pages to learn how to be money smart. I can remember many of my preoccupations in high school, and this wouldn't have been high on the list. But if placed in their hands, I think many of the pages will be turned.
Gary W. Silverman, CFP®, owns a fee-only financial planning firm in Wichita Falls, Texas. He is the host of the television show Falls Informer, editor of the financial newsletter Personal Money Planning, and a frequent contributor to the print and broadcast media.