Students at Beekmantown Middle School got a lesson in personal finance on March 20th from a self-taught financial literacy YouTuber with over 30,000 subscribers and a cautionary tale for how to avoid a lifetime of debt.

Yanely Espinal, Director of Educational Outreach at Next Gen Personal Finance, talked with 200 students in five Home & Career Skills classes about her experience growing up in New York City and becoming one of the first in her family to attend college. Despite earning a full scholarship to Brown University, she rang up $20,000 in credit card debt trying to keep up with her wealthier classmates.

“Every time I ran out of money I got another credit card, maxed it out and then got another one,” said Espinal, whose MissBeHelpful YouTube channel is among the most popular in finance. “I had a lot of debt at graduation. You can avoid making the same mistakes I did by living within your means and training yourself not to spend money on things you don’t need like expensive clothes and going out all the time.”

Espinal’s appearance in Beekmantown was part of CFES Brilliant Pathways’ GEAR UP grant from the U.S. Department of Education focused on helping students become college and career ready. The daylong event was in partnership with Next Gen Personal Finance, a non-profit dedicated to equipping students with the skills to lead financially successful lives, and the Center for Financial Literacy at Champlain College.

“We look forward to the day where no adult refers to personal finance as ‘the class I wish I had in high school,’” said Tim Ranzetta, co-founder of Next Gen. “Partnering with organizations like CFES Brilliant Pathways will help us achieve Mission: 2030 so that by 2030 ALL students leave high school financially capable.”

Espinal explained to students how she got out of debt by being frugal and not letting her emotions lead to impulse buying or unnecessary purchases. She guided them through a behavioral economics activity to illustrate how better decision-making allowed her to erase debt and save over $50,000.

“Yanely did an outstanding job of engaging the students and using personal stories to teach the students about how challenging managing money in a responsible way can be,” said Erin Kelley, who hosted Espinal in her Home & Career Skills classroom. Dawn Finley, Family & Consumer Science teacher, brought some of her high school students to hear Espinal speak as well.

“I thought Ms. Yanely’s presentation was very educational and interesting,” said middle school student Christian Nelson. “It answered a lot of questions I had about money and college.” Seventh-grader Anneke Rocheleau said she could relate to what Espinal said about people tending to buy things because other people have them. “She taught me that you should save a lot of your money and really think before you buy.”

“Ms. Yanely made me want to check out her YouTube channel, which I found to be very helpful,” added classmate Cameron Danville. “She also talked about her life stories and a few scenarios that really helped me open my eyes and see that I can’t just go around spending money from left to right. I really feel like she should inform other people and/or schools because they should know how to make money and how to use it.”

Espinal encouraged students to talk with their parents about setting up 529 College Savings Plans; the importance of maintaining good credit; and being disciplined about putting a percentage of their first payroll checks into savings once they start working. She emphasized that even little bits of money that you might save from birthday funds, an earned allowance or holiday cards can add up and grow over time.

“One of our main goals in helping students become college and career ready through the CFES GEAR UP grant is to educate them about how to pay for college so they can achieve their dreams,” said CFES President and CEO Rick Dalton. “Financial literacy is a critical element to a student’s future success in college and beyond.”