Real Talk: Part 8, featuring Lydia Stutesman

Breaking down money basics & answering all your #BurningMoneyQuestions

Real Talk: Part 8, featuring Lydia Stutesman

As many of your teens head back to school, they’ll be learning about tons of new things––and one subject that should be top of the list––financial literacy. Currently, only 21 states require this education in school, which means your teens are relying on YOU to help them tackle this topic at home, and Step is here to help!

Today we’re sitting down with business education teacher and fellow parent, Lydia Stutesman, to hear about her approach when teaching personal finance to teens, what they’re most interested to learn and more. 👇

You’re a business education teacher at a local high school. Why are you so passionate about this subject & what are the most important lessons you think today’s teens need to know?

I never had access to this type of education when I was in school and it led to a long road of making just about every money mistake there is, including a lot of debt! So today, I’m incredibly passionate about helping my students avoid these mistakes and head into adulthood knowing these three important lessons:

  1. Learn how to budget. It’s really important that my students know how to create and follow a monthly budget. It’s one of the most valuable life skills they will learn and use for the rest of their lives. Mastering it now will make it feel natural, instead of like a chore.
  2. Pay yourself first. Sure, we have all heard this saying, but what does it really mean? We are conditioned to put our savings last on the list after all of our other bills, but it should be the first thing we do. Today’s teens should have money set aside to cover an emergency.
  3. Start retirement savings early. I know, I know, retirement is the last thing on teens’ minds, but the reality is, most people don’t start saving soon enough! That’s why I encourage my students to open an IRA the minute they turn 18 – then I tell them to: “Set it, forget it and let compound interest work its magic!”

What are the most frequently asked questions in class? Are there any topics that your students are particularly interested to learn about?

My students are always asking about how they can pay for college without getting into a ton of debt and what they need to do to build a good credit score.

They are also completely fascinated by the stock market, especially with all of the recent meme stock craziness, and more and more celebrities getting involved in the space. Primarily, my students want to know how they can start investing and growing their money today.

Based on your first-hand knowledge, what do you think are the biggest challenges facing today’s teens when it comes to financial literacy?

That not every student has access to a personal finance course in school. In fact, these programs are almost non-existent in most schools––and if they’re offered at all––it’s an elective course. In school, we teach kids how to do math, how to eat healthy and get exercise, so why aren’t we teaching them how to manage their money? I would argue it's an equally critical life skill!

Additionally, a lot of parents don’t talk about money at home because they were taught that it’s a taboo topic, or in some cases, are busy dealing with their own financial struggles. As a result, this pattern of behavior continues to transfer from generation to generation.

What financial tools do you believe teens need to be successful? Do you have any recommendations for our fellow parents out there?

Teens already have an amazing resource at their fingertips with just about everything they could ever want to know via their phones. However, it can be an extremely overwhelming amount of information––and let’s face it––you don’t know what you don’t know until someone teaches you. That’s why I believe teens need tangible, visual tools that make learning about money more intuitive and create natural opportunities for parents to discuss these lessons with their teens. Step does a great job of this!

My biggest piece of advice for other parents out there: Do not hesitate. Find someone to start teaching your teens about money now. We all know our kids don’t want to hear it from us, so if there’s a finance class offered in their school, make them take it. If not, find a private coach and sign them up for a short course. At the end of the day, you might have to go outside of your comfort zone, but these conversations are really important!

You have a 14-year-old son. What has been your biggest struggle in teaching him about money management? Anything that’s worked particularly well?

Being aware of my own financial habits and making sure that I’m setting a good example for him. I like to walk him through the in-flow and out-flow of money and remind him that we should only buy things when we really need them.

Something that’s worked particularly well for me: Taking inventory before buying anything new. For example, before going to the grocery store, we sit down together to make our list and check to see what ingredients we already have at home. This may seem small, but it’s teaching him to really stick to needs (the grocery list) versus wants (random cart adds). It’s also a great foray into the topic of budgeting and I strongly believe that it’s little things like that––when we don’t think our teens are really paying attention––that have the greatest long-term impact on instilling healthy financial behaviors.

You were also an early Step user. What impact has it had on your day-to-day life? Any favorite features you’d like to call out?

Our family has been tested the past several years with a few personal losses that have impacted our finances, so we have really had to tighten our budget, as many people have during these challenging economic times. Step has been such a great solution for us and I especially love these features:

  • Allowances made easy. I’ve been able to set up a recurring payment for my son’s allowance and keep an eye on his spending to see if there’s any teachable moments.
  • Security and peace of mind. I’ve personally been a victim of fraud and don’t love the idea of just lending my card to my son, so safety and security is really important to me. I love that I can instantly lock my account and feel like my family’s money is always protected with Step.
  • Instant payments. I also love Step’s P2P feature as I have a 20-year-old daughter who’s in college, so it’s nice to be able to surprise her or my son with a little extra money from time-to-time or get funds to them quickly in the case of an emergency.

Are there any other takeaways or pieces of advice that you’d like to share with our readers?

I’m so fortunate to work in a school that offers business education classes, but I’m always looking for more free resources for my students. I can’t stress the importance enough of having open and honest conversations about money with your kids at an early age.

As a fellow parent, my advice is to really get to know the top trends that your kids are into and even research some of the influencers, and yes, TikTok stars that they follow. This is an amazing way to open up a conversation about money by relating it to their interests and it’s worked really well with both my son and my students. Just try to keep those money conversations going and remember to be patient with each other throughout the process!

We hope you enjoyed this article! Ready to kickstart your teen’s financial education? Check out Step’s Money 101 page to help get you started. 🚀