The Struggling Student Rants—Financial Literacy (and the Lack Thereof)

The Struggling Student Rants—Financial Literacy (and the Lack Thereof)

Many online behavioural blogs claim that how we deal with finances is directly related to our first memory of “money” or what it symbolizes.  Digging deep into our money memories helps us gain awareness about how we think and feel about money and about how we handle our finances—whether we perform these actions consciously or without realizing it.

Some of us were fortunate to be born into families where we never wanted for anything.  Some of us were not so lucky and forced to enter the working world before we reached adulthood.  We might have needed to help our single mom put food on the table or we might have wanted to start saving for college, years before that time came around.  But one common factor, for most, is that our parents never showed us the value of the dollar or where it came from.  This can be credited to many factors, such as a lack of financial literacy, or that they wanted to avoid worrying the kids about money.  Unfortunately, most families avoid discussing money.  We have the limiting belief that it’s an awkward subject, best left for each to deal with on their own.

In defence of our financial upbringing, the almighty Internet wasn’t available to most until the mid-90s, so information and knowledge surrounding finances was sparse before then.  If we wanted to learn more about saving or investing, our options were limited.  We had to physically go into a library and do the research, or ask an expert on the subject, like a financial adviser.  Somehow, I can’t picture myself, as a 15-year old, walking into our local credit union and asking to talk to someone about setting up a retirement savings account.  The only thing I cared about when I was 15 was how to get my mother to stop nagging at me.  So, picture my shock, when I crossed the line into adulthood and found out that people have to work to put a roof over their heads or food on the table.  This shock phenomenon is more common in North America, where we have first-world problems.  Often, our financial “aha” grown-up moment is when we realize that money defines everything, whether we want it to or not.  We grow up with the romanticized belief that money doesn’t bring happiness, and we chase the dream that we will never put money over the things that matter.  But, in reality, money shapes our day-to-day activities, our relationships, and our career choices.  And every major life decision is structured by how we deal with our money and finances.  Our choices in life, and how we deal with the money we come across, will make us or break us.

The irony is, while personal finance knowledge is more important than ever, there are still no personal finance courses applied to any school curriculum in North America.  Those raising us bear the full responsibility of teaching us how to balance our budgets and the importance of saving for a rainy day.  But, if parents don’t want their children to worry about finances, it is no wonder that the average 18-year old that enters the workforce blows their first paycheque on a $2,500 purse or a new sound system for their 1994 Mazda Miata.  So, what can be done to correct this foundational knowledge, once we’re well past adulthood, is then the question.  When we’re already knee-deep in debt, with very little in retirement savings to boot.  Crying over it, feeling sorry for ourselves, or panicking now is pointless.  The main concern is to recognize there is a problem and admit to ourselves that something needs to be done.  Isn’t that the first step to any recovering shopaholic?

Knowledge is key, so the more we learn, the wiser our decisions become.  The cords may be tangled, but by untangling them, one by one, we learn from past mistakes.  We are fortunate enough now, to have the Internet at our disposal.  Which means that we have almost unlimited access to information, which can help us grow as individuals.  And, contrary to popular opinion, improving your personal finance behaviours doesn’t have to be boring or costly.  We can watch YouTube videos and listen to TED Talks; or, access free Lynda tutorials through AUSU.  We can start reading about basic financial suggestions and advice from experts; and, we can even attend local workshops.  We can borrow the required resources from our local public library, or the AU library we are so fortunate to have access to.

All this doesn’t have to be overwhelming.  We aren’t required to read myriads of books at one time.  You can read just one page per book before bed every night, or listen to an audiobook while doing the dishes or cooking supper – all available for through various local library apps, or for a small monthly subscription through the Audible app.  Take a half-day workshop at your local library and learn how to set up a budget (and stick to it).  There are even apps available now that can help keep you on track with your budget or give you rough projection dates of when you can accomplish your financial goals.

And don’t forget about one of the most useful resources out there—your support system!  Friends, family members, or colleagues can offer a range of beliefs, views, and lifestyles that you might have never thought of.  You can start the conversation by simply asking: What do you wish you’d known about money 10 years ago?  Who knows, they just might set you on a different path!

Finally, and most importantly, don’t do what our parents did and avoid the situation altogether.  Start discussing money matters with your family at the dinner table.  Try not to be emotional about these discussions, and state matters simply as facts.  Explain that mistakes can be made, but they can also be corrected.  Incorporate finances when helping them with their math homework or discussing their monthly allowance.  Use family night to play Monopoly, or your own version of “Fix the Budget.” Teaching them better is the only way the younger generations will learn to handle their finances better than the previous generations.  Education is the we only way we can break generational curses of poverty.