Think about all that we do to prepare children for the world. We fill them up with things we think are most important for doing well as adults and spend tens of thousands of dollars for higher education, but they almost never take a class on how to manage personal finances.
Our culture celebrates privacy and self-determination, which is why, I think, we don’t want to tell students how they should spend their money. But, I think young people are hungry for guidance.
Seventy-six percent of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, according to a recent CashNetUSA survey. That percentage varies with other studies; however, the percentage never dips below at least 50 percent of Americans who have very little in savings. Maybe that’s why my voluntary night class on financial literacy at the University of Northern Iowa is always packed beyond capacity.
Identify your best allies, as well as those voices that do not have your best interests at heart, when it comes to money management:
1. Your No. 1 advocate, which is YOU: It’s not simply how much money you make. It’s what you do with it. The best thing you can do right now is to educate yourself so you can make sound financial decisions. A great start is to embrace the concept of paying yourself: Put away at least 20 percent of your income for your future, which requires a lifestyle of living below your means.
2. Real teachers: Most people want something from you, but some truly want to give. Identify the people you can trust, those who sincerely want to educate you. Look for classes at local colleges, workshops sponsored by nonprofit organizations and even websites geared to improving your money decisions, including SaveandInvest.org, MrMoney Mustache.com and JaneBryantQuinn.com.
1. Most financial advisors: If you want to learn about a car you’re thinking about buying, would you go to the car salesman trying to earn a commission or an objective third party? A salesman wants your money, but “Consumer Reports,” for example, has to earn the public’s trust with objective, reliable information. Most financial advisors, especially those employed by massive, nationwide firms, are trying to sell prepackaged financial products. Independent advisors are a better option. But if you’re financially illiterate, it can be hard to determine whether or not they have your best interests at heart.
2. Advertisements: Advertisers are not just selling products, they’re trying to sell happiness. What do you see in commercials for iPads and tablets? You see young, exuberant, smart-looking and stylish people. Nearly from the cradle, we’re exposed to advertising messages that promise we’ll be happier, better people if we purchase the products and services advertised. But an iPad won’t make you more exuberant or stylish. Learn to view advertising messages with a discriminating eye so that you purchase what you truly need, not what they tell you to need.
(About the writer: Like most Americans, Mike Finley was raised with no education in personal finances. Joining the U.S. Army out of high school, he realized he didn’t understand money and began the task of educating himself. After 26 years in the service, while practicing the money management principles he learned, he retired a millionaire. Finley is the author of “Financial Happine$$,” and teaches a popular financial literacy class at the University of Northern Iowa. He donates much of his time to additional groups, including Junior Achievement of Eastern Iowa and organizations serving veterans and current military personnel.)