By Joe Rector

With the Christmas presents opened, decorations placed safely back in containers, and the chaos of the holiday in the rearview mirror, the time to look forward comes. No, this isn’t so much about making resolutions that will more than likely be dropped within weeks; instead, I’m thinking about what kinds of directions people will choose for their lives.

First off, high school students keep coming to mind. I’d left them for so long when I finished my teaching career years ago, but since I’ve begun substituting, they’re right back with me. I see so many teens who have no drive. Yes, I goofed off in high school and did as little as possible to get by. However, I made sure I produced enough to make it to college where I had to hit the books extra hard to make up for my failings in the years before.

Too many young people today are just plain lazy. My mother would call them “trifling.” They are the students who show up at school but have no intentions of working in classes. They spend their time causing problems in class and keeping others students from being able to learn. Discipline is weak in too many schools due to restrictions placed by the systems. Overcrowded classes have several of these disrupters that thwart teaching efforts.

My advice to them is to discover a passion toward which they can turn their attention. No, college isn’t for everyone. Plenty of trades need skilled workers, and that fact offers more opportunities to young people. Whatever the path, each of these persons needs to educate himself to be able to make a living wage.

If they refuse to take charge, many of them will face lives of minimum wage jobs that are long on work hours and short on money. Even if a person makes $10 an hour and works a 40-hour week, 52 weeks a year, his gross income will be $20,800. If a person makes the federal minimum wage of $7.25, that income drops to $15,080.

Folks in the workforce must face the fact that retirement will be difficult if plans aren’t made now. That means that every person must set aside some money, even if it’s no more than $5 per pay period, and invest it in some program that will earn profits. The more a person can put away now, the better off he will be later, and he won’t have to worry about whether or not Social Security is available. No one should count on it surviving. If a person wants to retire at some point, he simply must invest in his future. Belt-tightening now will prevent future financial uncertainties or working forever to make ends meet.

If a parent wants his children to have money for college, she must save now. Teens should also be encouraged to work to save for education as well. Borrowing money should be kept to a minimum. That means a student might have to take advantage of free tuition at community colleges for two years and then attend an in-state university where costs are much less. After a student earns a degree and secures a job, he can then go after an advanced degree.

I hope that folks take some time to think about the future and their financial security. This new year can be the turning point in the way young people view education and career choices. People in the workforce can take steps to secure a better future. Doing these things requires hard work, but in the end, a happier future will shine brightly.

Happy New Year!  I hope your lives are filled with joy in the days ahead. Peace be with you.