I can remember, back in college, taking courses I didn't care about and would never need for my future, simply to satisfy credits I hadn't yet fulfilled. A couple years later, I would graduate in horrific debt and not knowing how to properly write the resume I would need to get the real job it would end up taking me years to obtain. To say I felt ill-prepared would be an understatement, and to this day, I'm still shocked there are so many basic life skills they don't teach in school.
It's a fine line, in many cases, because there are certain things we're responsible for learning ourselves. Life lessons can't be spoon-fed to us. I guess my question is more this: how is it that some students are graduating with six figures of debt and don't know how filing taxes works?
The research is possible to ignore: younger generations are educated and book smart but lack basic skills we all need to be successful adults. They don't know how credit cards work. They don't know how to maintenance their cars. They don't even know how to be happy.
It's a real problem — and if we're going to come up with solutions, we need to acknowledge exactly where those gaps are. Here are eight of the areas in practical life skills that we're totally falling behind in.
1How To Manage Money
In college, some of us scrape by with hardly any money in our pockets. I personally used to visit Jimmy John's late at night and buy their day-old bread for $1 plus a pickle, and that was dinner. When you graduate and get a job, though, everything changes — except we're not anywhere close to well-versed in the ins and outs of this new financial situation.
How much of your paycheck should go to savings? What's the smartest way to pay back your loans? If you have money left over to invest, how do you go about doing that? Should you have an IRA? Do you need a credit card? How do you use it? Is there decent health insurance out there you can actually afford?
How do you plan for the future? A home, a family, travel?
We have so many questions, and so many remain unanswered.
In fact, research from Lendedu revealed some scary findings, including:
- 43 percent of students didn't know the difference between a credit card and a debit card.
- 23 percent couldn't name a difference between a checking account and a savings account.
- 68 percent didn't know what 401ks and IRAs are for.
In other words: we need to get on this, STAT.
2Taxes = ???
Did you ever eat a corndog at a theme park and then head straight to the Tilt-a-Whirl? That's what trying to understand taxes feels like. If the IRS was looking to suck the last bit of life we had from us, mission accomplished. Countless forms, confusing words, and scary numbers make April the most dreaded month of the year. While there are so many variations when it comes to doing your taxes based on how much money you make, what kind of worker you are, etc., understanding how to properly set aside money for taxes, as well as important due dates, would make such a huge difference in how well we manage this immensely important responsibility.
NerdWallet and Harris Poll went so far as to survey 2,000 adults in the United States about how much they know about taxes. Among other findings, they learned:
- 48 percent didn't know what tax bracket they were in for 2017, up from 40 percent in 2016.
- 10 percent think it's okay not to include tips or "under-the-table" income when filing their taxes.
- 65 percent think it's illegal to make extra mortgage payments, and 75 percent think it's illegal to open or contribute to an IRA toward the end of the year — two strategies that can help reduce your taxes.
3Positive Mental Health
We don't take this seriously enough. According to research by the American Psychological Association, millennials and Gen Xers experience more stress overall — with money being a huge cause — and they report it's getting worse. Depression is prevalent, too. Forbes reports it's the leading cause of absenteeism at work, along with $23 billion in the productivity that's lost as a result, each year.
Being happy seems like it should be a no-brainer, but it isn't. It's something you have to work at, just like your job and your education. The need is so desperate for practical knowledge in it that Yale's class on happiness is its most popular in history (and it is, by the way, now available online for free). How much longer will it be before we realize that and start talking about it more?
4How To Foster Relationships
You don't know the value of these when you're younger. It's so difficult to. People come and go from your life, and your thoughts are consumed by grades and job interviews and making a life for yourself on your own. It's not until you hit your late 20s or early 30s when you make a scary realization: I should have spent more time nurturing relationships all along.
As you get older, it gets harder to make friends, and when you do, those relationships don't thrive on their own.
And what about romantic relationships? Those might be the most challenging relationships of all. Nobody tells us how to go about meeting potential mates, what red flags to look out for, what behavior is and isn't acceptable, how to argue constructively, how to break up, and so on and so on and so on.
This is just barely scratching the surface. Factor in social media — which we spend two hours a day on, says SocialMediaToday) — and the relationship game totally changes. We use social media to meet and get to know people, which isn't typically an accurate representation of what real life relationships are like. It's all very deceiving.
5How To Find A Home And Car (And, Y'Know, Afford Them)
There's so much to consider when looking for a home. Do you rent or buy? What about mortgages and rent — how do they work? How do you ensure it's a safe idea? A good location? What about the school district? Your daily commute? How much are utilities? HOA? What will air conditioning be like in the summer and heat in the winter? It doesn't help that buying in particular is so difficult for millennials, says Zillow Chief Economist Dr. Svenja Gudell, because saving for a down payment and qualifying for a mortgage is incredibly challenging.
And don't even get me started on cars. Buy or lease? What's considered good mileage? What kind of car do you even need? How much is reasonable to spend on regular maintenance?
My head is spinning.
No fear quite compares to that of the only toilet in the apartment mysteriously breaking at two in the morning. Unless you don't mind using the Chevron station down the street, knowing basic home repairs like fixing a malfunctioning toilet and stopping a leaky faucet could do wonders for young adults. When it comes to cars, too, young people don't quite know what they're doing. According to Forbes, many of us don't read the owner's manual, know how to check for tire pressure, or even know how to open the hood of the car.
7Working Smart Versus Working Hard
We're always taught if you work hard, you can accomplish anything, which is largely true. What people fail to teach us, though — what they likely don't realize themselves — is the life-altering difference between working hard and working smart.
The problem with working hard is it has a limit — you can only work so many hours in a day. Working smart, though, can take you lightyears further. Working smart might mean hiring an assistant to help you, checking email less frequently, and automating certain processes. Shortcuts like this expand your potential for success, and you might get a little break from work, too.
8How To Find A Job (And Climb The Ladder)
This one hurts — like, a lot. We finish college in massive amounts of debt ($37,172 for the average 2016 graduate, says Student Loan Hero), eager to get the fancy big kid job and make a real paycheck. Then Reality says, "Not so fast, sucka!" The Balance reports it takes graduates an average of six months to finally find a job, and that's just the beginning of it, albeit a huge and very challenging part of the equation.
Take getting a raise, for instance — something we know is harder for women than it is for men. According to research from Warwick Economics, women ask for raises as much as men do, but they're still 25 percent less likely to actually get it.
Navigating the office is a learned skill, but that doesn't mean we can't help by giving students tools to work with before we throw them to the wolves.