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What I didn’t learn in high school



Like a lot of people of my generation, it’s taking a long time to grow up. Every time I take another step towards being an adult — I’m 34 but still think like a 19 year old — I have to learn all the corresponding life lessons the hard way.

In the past two years I’ve been married, bought a house, and now I have a baby on the way in less than a month. That means I’ve had to learn about joint bank accounts, mortgages, life and home insurance, the strata act, long term financial planning, parenthood, and all kinds of other basics.

These are all things I would have liked to have been taught, rather than to have had to teach myself. For example, if someone explained RRSPs properly in high school I would have started to invest at age 20 instead of age 31, which experts recommend, and I’d have a lot more saved up for my retirement.

So what did I learn in high school?

I learned some math, but nothing I can really use to easily figure out a budget or measure how much an investment is worth after taxes, or how much interest I’ll end up paying on my mortgage.

I learned some English and commerce, but not enough to be able to translate the fine print on an insurance policy or a banking document to understand what the hell they’re talking about.

I learned some science, but not enough biology to truly understand the dynamics of childbirth or child development. I’m shocked to discover how little I knew about something so basic to human life, and learned in just two days of pre-natal classes in December.

Looking back at my last 15 years of muddling, I think I really could have used a course on basic life lessons before I left home.

For example, I dug myself into a deep hole of debt during and after University before I finally realized that credit cards are kind of a scam, and that getting a second credit card to pay off the first is nothing short of stupid. It took me more than seven years of scrimping to finally get out of personal debt, much of which I could have avoided if someone explained to me how credit works.

For example, if you put $1,000 on your credit card at 18.5 per cent and just make the minimum payment each month it will take almost 13 years to pay it off. During that time you’ll pay roughly $1,115 in interest, or more than double what you borrowed in the first place. The real lesson is that if you can’t afford something then you probably shouldn’t buy it.

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