Financial literacy is one of the great mysteries of American culture. People in the United States enjoy a very high standard of living overall. For a country that has produced untold wealth for millions of people, the general lack of financial literacy in our culture is shocking. Many Americans struggle with money issues throughout life. Because we don’t talk enough about financial topics, too many people have to learn the hard way.
Financial Literacy – An Epic Fail
The piece “Financial Literacy: An Epic Fail in America” made a huge impression on me. Author Greg Iacurci makes so many incredible points in the article. I am sure you are used to seeing articles with statistics that really hit home. It’s no secret that despite our standard of living, millions of people are struggling financially. One of the stats that I found shocking was that the United States rates only slightly higher than Botswana when it comes to financial literacy. Botswana’s economy is 1,127% smaller than the United States.
The alarming thing about studies like this is that the stakes are so high. Everyone in American society has big decisions to make about money. Not only that, the cultural shifts in the job market make it more important than ever for people to have financial literacy. Just a generation or two ago, most people could rely on a pension to fund a comfortable retirement. Now Americans are relying on 401K plans and other investment products. This means they are at the mercy of Wall Street. Some retirement plans are woefully inadequate when it comes to providing a proper variety of investment products. If you do not have a sound understanding of good investment habits, it can be a recipe for disaster.
Financial Literacy – Talking About Money
For a variety of reasons, our society does not talk about money. We do not discuss it enough at home. Even most married couples struggle to talk about financial topics. Money is the number one indicator of marital problems and divorce. Since parents have difficulty talking money, it’s no surprise that their children grow up with that same issue. Basic money skills are rare to find in school curriculums. For young people growing up, it can be really hard to get a solid education in financial literacy.
It’s important to keep this conversation going. If we can learn to improve our communication about money, it can lead to so many good things. One study that i find fascinating is from Cambridge University. The research indicates that most of our financial habits are set by the age of 7. It really goes to show how impressionable children are when it comes to learning. So many of our behaviors are set at a young age. Since most families do not talk about money, it really highlights the need to start meaningful dialog with young children. It’s never too early to set a good example.
Financial Literacy – It’s Never Too Late to Start
Despite the societal issues, there is reason for hope. More people are starting to take control of their financial situation. The economic meltdown of 2007-2009 left a major impact on all of us. Just like my grandparents who lived through the Great Depression, there were many important lessons learned from those terrible events. People are challenging many of the old myths about money in our society. Finally, more emphasis is coming on the discussion around financial literacy. 17 states now require a financial literacy course to graduate high school. That’s still 33 too few, but at least it is a start.
I know for me, I didn’t really get serious about changing my money habits until I was in my 20’s. I was working full-time and living at home, and still struggled with my finances. Sadly, I didn’t save money properly. I blew my money on so many silly purchases. For a long time, I had no plan for the future. I like to tell people I got my start investing in CD’s – unfortunately, they were compact discs! Thankfully, I changed my habits with money, but there were many hard lessons learned along the way. My experience really inspired me to get into this line of work. My mission is to help people learn good money habits early and apply then often.
Building Financial Literacy
One exciting part of my work is helping adults improve their money habits. It’s easy to look back on the past with regret. Sometimes we focus on missed opportunities. However, with a longer life span and more people enjoying better health, there is always time to change the story with money. So many of us deal with feelings of shame and fear around financial topics. A large number of people deal with these feelings their entire life. Thankfully, there is always time to confront our old beliefs and challenge them. Financial literacy is just like a muscle. The more you exercise and use it, the stronger it becomes.
I hope we continue to see articles that focus on financial literacy. It will help not only start the conversation, but also bring awareness to the issue. No one should feel ashamed or embarrassed about a lack of financial literacy. It’s like learning a foreign language for many people. If you haven’t been exposed to it, it’s hard to become fluent! Only through meaningful dialogue and education can we change the story.
My mission with Build Financial Muscle is to create a supportive community. I think it’s so important for all of us to have meaningful conversations about money. Let’s make financial literacy a priority and help encourage others along the way.