Financial Literacy for Millennials: Why We Need More Education
Millennials grew up without enough financial education, and many of us are hurting for it now. So what do we do about it?
First, in the interest of full disclosure: I am a millennial, square in the middle of those born between 1980 and 2000. I also think of myself as completely average. My parents were, at the best of times, extremely middle class — if not lower middle class. I grew up in a very small town and went to equally small grade and high schools, where Americana was practically oozing from the FFA classroom and the sheer number of girls taking Home Ec.
Why am I telling you this? Because I think of myself as totally uneducated in terms of personal finance. And I’m not the only one. In a study by the National Endowment for Financial Education, only 24 percent of the surveyed millennials exhibited even basic financial literacy.
I remember the first time I heard about financial management. I was a teenager, and my aunt would listen to a radio program featuring someone just like Dave Ramsey. (Or maybe it was Clark Howard — I honestly don’t remember.) He talked about investing, debt, mortgages, and more.
Did I pay attention? Of course not. As a millennial who took no classes on taxes or interest rates (and whose parents never owned investments and stock holdings), I just thought that stuff never applied to my life or my future. Oh, how wrong I was. Talking to my friends in my age group — as well as some folks with kids who are now in high school — I know that I am not alone in this.
Graduating With Debt
Let’s be honest: Unless you find the exceptional teenager or the richest families, the moment most teenagers are going to first encounter debt in a real, tangible manner is when they sign their student-loan agreements. I remember my own moment quite well. My mom sat there with the papers on the table and told me, “Michelle, you’re going to owe a lot of money. And it’s not going to go away. It’s only going to get bigger. You have to pay this back. And you need to do it quickly.”
In my naïveté, I thought, I’m going to make $40,000 when I graduate college. I’m going to pay that $25,000 student loan in two years, give or take. It’s going to be okay!
It wasn’t okay. As soon as I walked into college, I had credit card offers coming to me daily, and no mom to weed through my mail or warn me not to sign up for that “Exclusive Offer.” I had a real income, loads of reasons to spend, and not many bills to pay off besides my gas and insurance.
Fast-forward four years, and I suddenly had $30,000 in debt between student loans and credit cards.
I had no one to blame but myself and my lack of financial education. I simply didn’t have the teachers there to guide me through the “traps” that lay in path. Today, I still only have a fuzzy idea about investing (though I dabble with small sums).
Financial Literacy for Millennials is Financial Literacy for Children
One of my biggest passions in life now is learning as much as I can about personal finance so that I can make sure my daughter enters college prepared for credit-card offers, student-loan debt, and savings accounts. I want her to know how to purchase stocks and what a CD is. I want her to know more than me.
And as my age group starts having more and more children, we can’t repeat the mistakes that our parents, teachers, and schools made. We need to educate ourselves so that we can educate them. We must get our financial houses in order so that we can give our children the foundation to be better, wiser, and smarter than we are.
I know that there are other stories out there. There are millennials who know a ton about finances and have made many smart money moves. There are others who have hunkered down and gotten out of debt or paid for homes in cash. I am inspired by those individuals. They are the people who millennials should strive to be.
But when so many of my friends and peers stay in the dark, totally unaware of what their high-interest credit card is doing to them as they continue to pay only the minimum; or how their student loans are just dragging them further down the hole that they’re in, financial education isn’t just an option — it’s essential.