Chances are, you received minimal financial education – if any.
Very few children are fortunate enough to have financially savvy parents. I wasn’t taught anything about money growing up.
As a result, I made plenty of money mistakes in my younger days.
Racking up credit card debt, I had two car loans at one point, and I was building a nice chunk of student loan debt.
I can’t turn back time. I can’t undo those mistakes. And to be honest, I wouldn’t want to – I’m glad for the lessons learned.
I eventually learned how to manage my finances, and I turned my situation around. But some people have never learned about money.
And because of that lack of knowledge, it’s always been a source of pain, frustration and worry.
Pause for a second and ask yourself this question:
Who taught you about money?
Has anyone actually sat you down and explained why it’s necessary to save, why you should never carry credit card debt or the difference between assets and liabilities?
Our Flawed Education System
It’s my belief that the school system should have provided the basics of personal finance. And the subject that should have dished out those lessons is home economics.
The clue is in the name: home economics. What better subject to teach you about how to manage a household budget?
But instead of financial smarts, I left that class knowing how to sew, what the major food groups were, and how to make a wicked pizza toastie – if you’re wondering; just spread tomato puree on toasted bread, add grated cheese, oregano and black pepper, and then grill. Mwah!
This isn’t a dig at “home ecky”, as we use to call it. I actually liked it. And knowing how to do the double back stitch has helped me reattach a button to a shirt a couple of times.
But while learning about nutrition and sewing has its uses, I think a good portion of that curriculum should have been devoted to teaching us how to earn, save and invest money.
Like it or not, money is necessary for our survival.
We spend about 15% of our lives trying to make a living, god knows how many sleepless nights stressing over money, and we’ll need to amass a lot of it if we don’t want to end our lives eating home brand baked beans from a tin.
How I Would Have Approached Home Economics
If I were a home ecky teacher, here’s the approach I would take.
First, I would use scare tactics to stress the importance of personal finance:
“We live on an economic planet. It costs money for you to survive. Currently, your parents pay for you to live each day. They provide a safe place for you to sleep, the food that gives you energy, and the clothes that save you the embarrassment of walking around in the scud. But in less than four years, you’re going to have to come up with the money to survive on your own.”
Okay, maybe that was a little too dramatic. I would probably tone down the intro – nobody liked that teacher.
But I would sure as hell make sure my students knew the importance of personal finance.
Next, I would introduce the healthy budget plate.
What’s that you ask?
Well, do you remember seeing something like this when learning about healthy eating?
It brought awareness to the different macros and what portion you should eat them in for a healthy, balanced diet.
The healthy budgeting plate would bring awareness to a healthy financial life by showing how to divide your income into the various pots required to be financially responsible.
It would look like this:
The Healthy Budget Plate
Now, just like you don’t always manage to eat your 5-a-day or have 40% of your sustenance come from carbs, you may not always be able to save 20% of your income.
But the plate’s goal isn’t to provide a rigid diet to follow.
It’s all about bringing awareness to the need for a balanced financial diet.
Your portions will grow or shrink during various stages of your life, but at least you’d know that your plate should never consist of just one thing.
You’d know that you always need to “eat your greens” – i.e. save money – to be healthy.
You’d understand that gorging on junk food all the time – the equivalent of spending everything you own on consumer crap – isn’t sustainable.
I can probably stop with the analogies now; I’m sure you get the point.
The whole program would equip kids with what they needed to know and do with money.
It would include everything from creating a budget, to the basics of investing, and even what insurances they require to prepare for life’s little road bumps.
It would lead to a greater standard of living for all and bring an end to money woes… or at the very least, it would make people fully aware that getting into credit card debt is going to royally fuck them for years to come.
The benefits seem that obvious that the conspiracist in me wonders why we haven’t done it already.
Maybe the financial instructions of the world are in cohorts with the educational system?
Fleeing the nest without a financial education clearly benefits the banks and unscrupulous money lenders of the world.
Someday, Maybe, We’ll Get It Right
You can probably tell that this is an issue close to my heart.
I believe that every child has the right to a decent education, which must include how to manage something that plays such a big part in our lives.
The UK’s financial educator and champion of money-saving, Martin Lewis, shares the same view.
His company, Money Saving Expert, donated £325,000 to provide 3,400 state-funded schools with 100 copies of the Your Money Matters Textbook – what a legend!
You can download a free pdf copy of the book here.
I was overjoyed to see that personal finance became part of the curriculum in secondary schools in 2014.
Granted it was only in England, but I remain hopeful that it will be rolled out across the UK (and something similar will one day be available to children worldwide).
Instead of my biggest home economics achievement being mastering the pizza toastie – which I ate every weekend for the next five years – it could have provided the sound financial footing I needed to start out by myself in life.