I recently had to explain to an elder family member that they need to check their sources before they believe the content they consume. Just because someone posts that ‘Nutella gives you cancer’ on Facebook, doesn’t mean it’s true! In this day and age, where anyone can post anything, we know we need to verify our sources.
So who are our sources of financial literacy? Where do we learn it all from? The money habits that are ingrained in us, the knowledge about saving or investing. Who are our sources and are they reliable?
We learn a little about money in schools. Simple arithmetic and examples of how to save money, spending, etc. But in reality, we don’t learn much about personal finances from school. Some argue that we should; I am not convinced. Did you know that teachers in the US and SG have the lowest credit scoring of all professions? This is nothing against teachers. They are experts in their respective fields but teachers as a group are simply not at the top tier of managing their money. So how can we expect them to teach it to us? It would be like asking me for fashion advice.
By far the biggest influence in people’s conscious and unconscious money habits. For those of you in your 20’s to 40’s, your parents lived in a time when interest rates were 6–10%.
Our parents didn’t need to be financially literate. We do. They just needed to know the absolute basics and often followed friends’ advice; their options were far less than they are for us now.
It was also a different time, where property prices were cheaper to get into and fortunately for them, went up exponentially. Some may argue that property is still the way to go. I am not against that, but with major cities asking for 30–50% down (Hong Kong!) and the extraordinarily high prices, not everyone can afford to get in.
After surveying hundreds of people, I have realized that many parents simply didn’t talk about ‘money’ with their kids. They do love to say how tough it was back in the day and how lucky and privileged we are….that’s great, but that doesn’t help with our financial literacy.
The same way we can’t relate to the parenting tactics our parents used on us to raise our children (sorry Mom!), we can’t use the personal finance habits we picked up from our parents in today’s financial environments.
Our friends are a source of financial exploration. I wouldn’t say it’s financial literacy, it’s more like a high-level conversation about something we haven’t heard of. We learn about new financial topics through our friends, sometimes get a little FOMO because people tend to only talk about when they made money. There’s not a lot to talk about when you lose a ton of money.
Cryptocurrencies are the best example here; a lot of people might tell you about it and the money they are making. In 2018 when they all lost a lot, it wasn’t such a hot topic at the bar right? Regardless, it’s a high-level conversation that leads you to research it on your own, which leads me to my next source.
The problem here is that there is just so much damn information and so many opinions. It’s overwhelming and hard to wrap your head around, which inevitably leads to people being discouraged and finding it too risky to do anything.
Whilst everything can be found online, you need to take time to first understand what it is you are searching for. There’s simply too much out there and everyone and anyone can have an opinion, so who do you trust? It’s like drinking water from a fire hydrant!
This is the last area I believe we obtain our financial habits and learnings from. It’s broad; it is all our random life experiences put together that create this hodgepodge in our mindset. Maybe we learned something the hard way by losing money, maybe seeing your best friend as a kid make a killing in property, your gap year in a third world country; it’s a mix of your life experiences where you learn little bits along the way. Absolutely nothing wrong with this, it helps you think outside the box. But there is a danger here; you are subconsciously grasping on things that can stay with you for life. We just need to try our best to be aware of it and re-evaluate our money habits every so often.
So what am I getting at? I am simply trying to make us aware of where we likely learned about money from, and unless you truly trust the sources you obtained it from, you need to learn it from a more reliable source ASAP! I am a financial coach, so that’s one source but otherwise, find a good friend in the space who is willing to teach you or take it upon yourself to do a course online.
First, take care of yourself; learn how to manage your money, practice good budgeting habits, learn to invest. You need to make the most of the money you earn so you can live the life you want.
If and when you decide to have children, ensure you are aware of how your financial decisions influence their mindset, and teach them good practices!