April is national financial literacy month. A topic near and dear to my heart. If I had to give America a financial literacy grade I would say we have a solid C+, but I believe we are trending higher. The very fact we have a high-profile financial literacy month is encouraging in its own right.
When talking about financial planning concepts I often hear, “Why don’t they teach this stuff in school?” The question is valid but complicated. Almost exactly the same as there are dozens of opinions and methods on how to lose weight, finance and financial planning is a topic filled with opinions as well.
One of the reasons the topic of losing weight is so difficult to navigate is each individual has a unique physiology, lifestyle, behavior habits and goals and objectives. The same can be said of personal finance, which I refer to as behavioral finance.
Every individual has a unique money culture. Sometimes this culture is even different among members of the same family. I like to joke about this with my own kids. My oldest has her first penny and manages her household with a bit of frugal tyranny (she did actually tell me once, she is "very frugal when it comes to her 'own' money); my second just seems to attract money and always has hundreds of dollars stashed away; my third is continually in debt, constantly spending tomorrow's money today.
Even my youngest who has Down syndrome and struggles sometimes with math and abstract concepts, learned early on how to navigate the process of using money to obtain snacks at various concession stands around the Midwest.
At the same time, however, with many things in life, I believe there are some fundamental truisms that apply to most pursuits. Although there are dozens of way to do it, ultimately to lose weight, calorie consumption must be reduced. And ultimately to become financially independent, money must be saved and debt must be reduced. Both are easy to say, hard sometimes to do.
The best foundational financial planning technique in my opinion is similar to the “money pyramid” process promoted by media financial educator Dave Ramsey.
First accumulate an emergency fund, then six months worth of expenses, then pay off debt rapidly, then invest excess savings for long-term goals. The steps have to occur in this order to be sustainable.
To be frank, talking about these financial planning steps is boring. Often when I meet a high school or college student, they immediately want to tell me about the stocks they are trading in their “free” Robinhood account. I understand the youngster is often just wanting to show me that one day they will be an investor like me, and I like talking about stocks and markets, too.
Is there a point in the conversation where I say, “great, but have you started on your emergency fund yet?” Usually not, but at the same time I know the sooner they understand this process the sooner they will be on the road to true financial independence.
So this month let’s go back to basics. Let’s talk about the concept of financial independence, let’s become more literate.
In the regard I am excited about a project I am working on with Channel 56, the Lakeshore (our local PBS station). Every Friday night in April between 7 and 7:30, we will produce a live call in show called “Your Money on Call.” I am hosting April 26. The topics are “paying for college” and “retirement.” I hope you’ll tune in and maybe even call in.
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