FinLit Month: “A Lot of the Financial Education Available is Misguided, At Best.”
On the occasion of financial literacy month in April, CentSai will publish voices from many walks of life. A financial literacy proponent writes where we are getting it wrong.
In addition to being a Certified Financial Planner and owner of Bridge Financial Planning, more than ten years ago, I started Common Cents Financial Literacy, Inc. to address the lack of basic financial education and the impact that lack of knowledge can have.
While statistics around the country are different, here in my hometown of Chattanooga, the statistics are bleak. Tennessee has the highest per capita rate of bankruptcies in the nation. Chattanooga is a mini-microcosm of the wealth disparity we’ve seen play such a big role in politics lately. There is a lot of ‘old money’ here, but we also have higher rates of poverty than the national average. Our education system seems to get in the news for all the wrong reasons lately (but positive change is around the corner – Thanks Chattanooga 2.0!).
Chattanooga has a lot of positive attributes too. We were the first city in the Western hemisphere to have a Gig internet connection – that has already had a significant positive impact on our entrepreneurial landscape. A lot of that ‘old money’ has been generously donated to many philanthropic causes, and we are blessed with amazing natural resources and activities. Our community is strong in a lot of ways, but personal finance is not one of them. I believe that’s probably true for a lot of other communities too.
I’ll attempt to explain some of the issues I see as it relates to financial literacy now.
The problem is simple. Financial literacy is seen as important, but not critical even though personal finance decisions impact nearly every corner of our lives. We aren’t taught how managing finances well supports our ability to create a future that is uniquely our own and keeps us and our families resilient in tough times.
It’s easier and more instantly gratifying to work on a crisis that can render more immediate results. Financial education requires sustained effort and a dedication to change the status quo. If financial education is done well and consistently, a lot of financial crisis situations can be avoided! Will there still be poverty and situations that create desperate situations? Yes, and we should try to address those situations too. However, a lot of what we struggle with financially can be avoided with education, proper planning, and values/goals alignment.
The problem is that we are taught that credit card debt is normal. We are taught that any amount of debt is acceptable for an education. We are taught that sales people should tell us how much house, car, name your ‘thing’ here, we can afford. We don’t know that a Net Worth Statement is a much better assessment of personal wealth than all the flashy stuff someone may have. And, we’re often confused between a net worth statement and personal self-worth.
It’s also evident that a lot of the financial education available is misguided, at best. Teaching ‘how to be a millionaire’ or pretending that forgoing a cup of coffee will solve all your budget problems is not working. Real solutions start with assessing the value we assign to money. What goals, dreams, and priorities can be achieved by managing it well? What are the practical day-to-day steps we can take today to avoid a big financial trap?
The results of successful financial literacy are far reaching. When we don’t feel like our next paycheck is already spent, we can literally afford to take on new opportunities. The results empower women. Women make more than 50% of the household purchasing power, live longer, and make less than men – women will be direct beneficiaries of increased financial education. Managing personal finances well allows families to be stronger: financial stress is the top reason cited for divorce. Financial stress makes employees less productive. People with strong personal finances are the ones with the opportunities to start businesses –it is an economic development issue.
Recognizing this effort as critical and not just important will be the biggest hurdle we overcome.
(Apart from a financial planner, Ms Harper also founded the financial literacy platform: Common Cents . Common Cents works with schools, youth organizations, the faith-based community and others to provide financial education lessons to ages 16-22 using a train-the-trainer approach. If you are interested in learning more, please contact me at email@example.com)