Hope for your financial life and beyond

Attention 9th Graders: Some Focus Right Now Will Make You Rich

Thought I would perform a public service announcement today for the freshman out there starting high school this fall. I don’t have any good tips on how to avoid getting stuffed in your locker or fighting off that wedgie as you change after gym class. You might just have to endure those things…such is the right of passage into high school.

dissecction in biology

Focus – Work Hard – Be Rich

What I’d rather do is snap your mind into place as you start taking classes and get you thinking about the future.

Sound boring? Listen, I get it. The last thing you probably want to think about right now is studying for a literature test. And those Algebra I problems…ugh! When are you ever going to use that in real life?

I’m not going to try and convince you of the practical uses of Algebraic principles once you graduate high school. What I do want you to know is that your approach to Algebra (and all your other classes) has huge implications for your future. In fact, what you do right now – this 9th grade year – could eventually make you rich.

The Two Biggest Challenges of High School

Until now school has more than likely been a piece of cake. The standards at the elementary level are, well, just that – elementary. You may have faced a few challenges along the way but by and large elementary school, and for that matter middle school was pretty easy. A slow pace of study, easier test material and limited amounts of homework have all been the norm.

Now, BOOM…you are in high school and things are picking up. The pace of class is swifter, subject matter is more challenging and homework comes in multiple classes most nights. Because the work is harder and comes in greater quantities, you might find it eating into your time and keeping you from all the other activities you once enjoyed doing.

And that can be a drag. And frustrating. When you’d rather be texting your friends, there is that History book lying on your desk screaming, “Study me! Don’t you know we have a test tomorrow?

So you have to work harder in high school and fight against your priorities. Those are the two biggest challenges you will face the next four years.

Gearing oneself up to work hard is a challenge because we all trend towards laziness…even adults. It’s our natural tendency too, we’ve just learned over the years to fight through it more often than not because our livelihood depends on it. If I were totally honest, I’d rather be lounging on a beach right now instead of producing this content for you to read. This is work and it’s not easy.

I’ve learned however, there are great rewards that come with hard work. That’s why I’m so willing to push through the laziness.

The conflict comes when the necessity of hard work invades our personal space. Until now, most of your priorities have involved doing things you enjoyed. Now in high school, it feels like you are being forced to work at things you don’t enjoy.

“It’s not fair,” you might be thinking. “Why should I be required to do these assignments in classes I don’t even like?” Beware of this mentality though, as it makes it easier to slack off, de-prioritize things you don’t want to do and waste time following the pleasures you’ve always enjoyed until now.

Don’t misunderstand where I’m going here. I’m not advocating putting all your fun activities aside. There will still be time to play sports, hang out with your friends and play in the band. All those extracurricular activities you do are really important.

What I don’t want you to miss is that your future starts now with these classes you are taking. If you focus on them with as much effort as you can muster – even the ones you don’t care for – you will be paving the way for a brighter future, one that could make you extremely wealthy.

Here’s how it could all play out.

Your GPA Will Matter

If you work hard for all of high school and earn good grades you will have a better than average shot at receiving some college scholarships. I don’t know if you’ve begun to think about how you will pay for college but it’s a big deal. College tuition and expenses continue to rise at an alarming rate.

But the work has to start right now in 9th grade. You can’t wait until 11th grade and then go, “Oh, I think I’ll take high school seriously now.” It’s going to be too late at that point.

The grades you get now – this year – count towards your high school grade point average, or GPA. Your GPA is a mathematical number that is calculated based on the letter grades you get in each class. Colleges look at your GPA (among many other things) when deciding whether or not to let you attend their school. The higher your GPA the better your chances at being accepted.

And the higher your GPA the greater likelihood you have of receiving the scholarships you apply for.

But if you bomb out freshman year with poor grades because you were lazy and not paying attention to details it may be difficult to raise your GPA to acceptable standards later in high school. The work is only going to get more difficult as you progress, thus making the chance of earning A’s harder. You don’t want to get to your senior year and regret the C you got in PE because you were too lazy to dress out each day.

(Think again if you don’t believe this will happen to you. In my 17 years as an educator I’ve heard more regrets than I can recall from seniors lamenting their stupidity during their freshman year. Don’t let that be you!)

Scholarships Help You Avoid the Evil Monster

Even with a high GPA, you may not end up getting enough scholarships to pay for all your college expenses. That would be awesome if you had all the expenses covered but it’s not the norm.

However, whatever scholarships you are able to secure will help you stay away from the evil school loan debt monster. And that is where the path to riches begins.

Many students take out school loans to attend college. They didn’t get scholarships and don’t want to work while they attend so they can focus solely on their studies. They still have to pay for it though so student loans are the path they choose.

With four years worth of school loans, it’s not uncommon for graduates to be over $100,000 in debt when they leave college. Just think about that…already being 100k in the hole at age 22. What if you can’t find a job in your field that pays a lot? What if you can’t find a job at all? The financial consequences of high debt levels are staggering.

Being saddled with that much debt is not where I want you to be when you leave college. If you have no debt because you received scholarships from your hard work in high school, here’s what you could do with the money you earn from your first job post-college:

  1. You can establish an emergency savings fund of 3-6 months of expenses. That way if a life emergency hits you can have the cash to cover it.
  1. Then you can immediately start investing in the stock market…hopefully no later than age 25.

You may not understand the importance of either of those steps, especially #2. Let’s just say if you have all debt paid for, can begin investing by age 25 and stick with it your entire adult life, you have a great shot at being a millionaire by the time you retire. If you’d like to see the mathematics behind how that’s possible you can read this article.

A retirement age of 65 seems like eons of time to you now. But wouldn’t it be great to get to that age and have $1,000,000 or more sitting in your hands? Would you rather have that amount be $50,000? Or less?

Think having zero available in retirement is possible? It certainly is. According to a study last fall by the National Institute on Retirement Security, among adults age 55-64, the average household retirement savings totaled only $12,000. Yikes!

Please don’t end up there in 50 years. If you start early enough there is no reason for that to happen.

Life’s Not Full of Guarantees

I’m not guaranteeing that if you work hard in 9th grade that you will automatically end up a millionaire some day. So many variables will play out over the course of your life that will either help or hinder your pursuit of that level of financial status.

What I am saying is that your financial future does start now, especially if you plan to go to college. Repaying college expenses because you took out too much debt can set you back years on your financial journey. I’ve heard too many personal horror stories from friends of mine to know this is the case. You will have a better chance of achieving significant wealth if you can avoid going into debt for college.

So the next time you find your mind drifting in Biology class, think about your future. Doodle some dollar signs in the margins of your notebook to remind you of what’s at stake. Prioritize what’s important and don’t shy away from the hard work that comes in high school. Your older self lounging on a beach one day with latte in hand may thank you for it.

Questions: What’s the hardest thing about high school? Are you taking/did you take high school seriously in 9th grade? For those out of college and with debt – How has debt changed your life and your future financial outlook? Has debt hindered you from doing what you’d really like to do?

Image courtesy of Penn State at Flickr Creative Commons

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  1. Randolph Hoover says

    I agree with Stephen’s comment but what’s important in studying in school is that you should be able to practice discipline wherein to the point when you’d do these things with focus and you’d rise above these challenges and learn discipline and experiences from your mistakes while at school.

  2. Stephen Juarez says

    But the means would differ from person to person. You cannot assure wealth by someone’s GPA, only survival. Manny Pacquiao didn’t excel in school, but instead excelled in something else. But I have to agree with what the gist of the article is and these 9th graders must find something that they would like to exert their endeavors with.

  3. I really like this. Especially, there are no guarantees and scholarships are important! I would also suggest the importance of getting an after school job and saving for college. Also working full time in the summer. Avoid all that debt!

  4. Love this advice. Those few short years of high school and beyond can have a huge impact on your future and trying to recover from making mistakes is a lot harder than simply doing it right the first time. I would also add to start thinking about what you want to do with your life…there’s still time to figure it out, but the sooner you find your path, the sooner you can begin the journey. I found that those who were the most focused right after high school had a better chance of being successful. I only wish I had more focus at that point in my life.

    • That’s a really good point Gary. I’ve seen too many teens drift around right after high school due to lack of focus on what they want to do. The longer you wait to go to college the harder it becomes. I wouldn’t advise rushing into college if you don’t know what to do (and thus waste money) but I also wouldn’t advise waiting for very long either.

  5. Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank says

    This is the reason Brian why I am more focused on my daughter who is a 9th-grader when it comes to her studies and grades. I want her to be qualified in every scholarship she may encounter later on so that she can pick the best one. I didn’t have good grades back in high school so I want her to have good ones. I know it is very advantageous and beneficial.

  6. This is great advice! I wish I knew the importance of discipline, GPA and focus when I was in high school and even before. I have tried to instill the values of work ethic in my own kids. But even if you didn’t do well in school, it’s never too late to turn things around.

    Great post!

    Laura Beth

  7. One of the things I always talk to my three children about is being consistent with their effort. No matter what they are participating in school, sports, work, always give it your best effort. There will be days, weeks that you’re tired, lazy, don’t feel like it, but people remember a good consistent effort.

    • “…people remember a good consistent effort.” That’s exactly right Brian. We cannot maintain 100% efficiency all the time but what we can demonstrate is a consistent pattern of trying our best.

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