I’ve often thought how fortunate I was to have a team of really good teachers when I was a high school student. Even though my time in high school comprises only about 8 percent of my life so far, many of the lessons learned from those teachers made a fundamental difference to the 63 percent of my life lived post-high school.

Thank a math teacher if you can calculate my age. Part of the reason I am thinking of those teachers is that I have been taking a few classes again. I happen to be employed by people who seem to take education pretty seriously; which is great for me, because it encourages me to be a lifelong learner.

It seems many of my recent learning opportunities, including a book club, have been related to money management and finances. A few weeks ago, I attended Montana State University Friday with my oldest daughter and you can bet college finances were one of the classes we took. When I was a high school senior, the school board and administration decided to require one semester of a class called, “Consumer Decision Making.” As a know-it-all 18-year-old, I was not impressed. Not that was opposed to the class itself, but they took away one semester of the government class in order to do it. We had a pretty spectacular history teacher when the decision was made, so I mostly was opposed to losing the other class. Little did I know! (A truer sentence may never have been written.)

The class was designed to mirror life in many ways. First, we picked a profession or trade we wanted to explore, then the college or training that would help us achieve the goal. Of course, Mrs. Alley, the home economics teacher who instructed the class, was brutally realistic, bringing in her pay stubs and explaining taxes. We were required to plan a budget based on the current average after-tax earnings for that type of work. I’m pretty sure she even made us complete a tax form on our own as practice, or that might have been my mom, who was a pretty good financial educator in her own right. Our class had to learn about rent, renter’s insurance, renter’s rights, transportation costs (including vehicle purchases, licensing, insurance and maintenance), mortgages, child care, health insurance and more.

We were required to know how to open a checking account, pay bills, balance a bank statement and understand credit cards and interest. We had to compare credit cards to decide which was best for us. It was even in that cozy home economics room that we talked about a time when people would no longer use checks or cash. We theorized there would be a time when a consumer product, like a phone, would come with a screen and you could see the person who was calling. Seems she knew a lot about our futures.

Turned out I totally loved the class. Even at 18, I could see the practical applicability of the content. Coupled with the lessons about money my parents taught me, I was well-prepared for adulthood with knowledge that honestly saved me thousands of dollars during my lifetime. I know that one of my classmates certainly took the Consumer Decision Making class to heart. She and her husband paid for a new house in five years. She said every time they got a raise, or a little extra money, they just lived like they had been and put all the rest toward the principal on the house.

We were taught to stay out of debt as much as possible, the time-value of money (how interest could work for you or against you) and how to pencil out a budget. The real test was when it was no longer homework, but life work. If you were lucky enough to have a Mrs. Alley in your life, remember to thank her. If not, and you (or someone you know) could use assistance with money management, contact your local county MSU Extension Office.

One of my other favorite teachers happens to be Marsha Goetting, professor and Extension family economics specialist. She has authored and co-authored numerous financial publications that are all free and available for you to download from the store at the MSU Extension websitefrom “Track’n Your Savings Goals” to “Estate Planning,” much of what you need for your home-life-work is available.

Another resource that might supplement your lifelong learning is Powerpay.org. This website, associated with Utah State University Extension, allows people to figure out the fastest ways to eliminate debt, how to develop a spending plan, how to set up a power savings strategy and more.

All of these materials are provided to you free of charge. There isn’t a price tag on any of them, but the value is tremendous. Pretty much like my high school education. I really am grateful to the foresight of those adults who required us to take a semester of Consumer Decision Making, which was really one of the best, and most timely, personal finance classes I ever took.

If you would like more information about this topic, please contact Wolery at 466-2492 or email at jwolery@montana.edu.