In 2003, the U.S. Senate declared April as Financial Literacy for Youth Month, and then, in 2004, declared it Financial Literacy Month.
Because of my 20 years trying to increase the financial IQs of young people in the schools, I still think of it as Financial Literacy for Youth Month. However, it’s a great time for everyone to revisit their personal finances, and to commit to improving them wherever they can.
In fact, April 22 to April 28 is The Jump$tart Coalition’s Money Smart Week, and April 28 is Financial Literacy on Capitol Hill Day, so you should be hearing and reading much more about personal finances this week.
We have directly or indirectly covered these points in prior columns, but in this and next week’s column, I want to provide summaries of my favorite key lessons for different ages. If you save them, you can review them every April.
Parents and grandparents, please teach these lessons to your children and grandchildren.
Lessons for pre-teens
Money is what you get for hard work. That way you will always want to get the “best value” for the money that you or someone else worked so hard for. Even the gifts you receive required someone to have worked for them. It is also something that you can get from saving (interest) or investing, so parents, show them your savings and investment statements.
Learn to be a smart shopper for life, so that you can always get that “best value.” Focus on unit prices for things that you buy in gallons, pounds, ounces and sheets (paper towels). Also, use coupons, look for and sometimes wait for sales, be familiar with the offerings of discount stores, check out store brands, and sometimes buy in bulk. However, also know when “quality” really matters.
Get into the habit of saving as early as possible. I recently spoke to five classes of ninth-graders, and only about 15 percent had savings accounts. In my day, it would have been 100 percent. Credit unions and local banks are a good place to look for no-fee accounts for young people. Delayed gratification is an important thing to learn, but it is difficult to learn in our “hyper consumer society.”
It is never too early to start talking about the difference between needs, and wants, wishes, luxuries and conveniences. It would be great if everyone could always afford all of their wants, wishes, luxuries and conveniences without going into debt, but that may not always be the case in life, so you do need to know the difference. That way, if the time comes, you can eliminate those non-needs that drive you into debt. I always say, take young children to a really nice Italian restaurant and buy them a pasta dinner. Then show them at home how many of them you can make for the same price. It will be a lesson about needs, but it will also make them appreciate it, and not take it for granted, when they do go out to eat.
Lessons for teens
Cash is king. People who use cash for their spending make different spending decisions, and spend less. It is about being connected to that hard-earned money. Cash is not inconvenient if you plan properly, and it will save you money in the end.
In this global economy, with fewer opportunities and increased technology, including more robotics in the future, teens need to think much more, and be more business-like, about what they want to do when they grow up. College for everyone is not the answer anymore. They and their schools and families need to think about and look around at what is out there for them, and how they can fit in. What are they really good at?
Start to understand that credit card debt is the worst debt that a consumer can have, with its high interest rates and fees. Set a goal to be a “deadbeat” — someone who uses a credit card for convenience, just a way to spend the money you already have, and who pays their credit card off in full every month on time.
Start doing budget exercises with your family by tracking your spending and your family’s spending. Look at and discuss the family budget. Understand that you will always need a budget in life, so that you can be in touch with your spending and make smart choices about spending. You don’t want to be on “spending automatic pilot” like too many Americans.
Start expanding your understanding of the importance of saving in life to include saving for major things — like emergencies, anticipated expenses, retirement, and healthcare, but also, things like vacations, holiday gifts, a new car, a house, and more — so that you can avoid debt as much as possible in life.
Next week, lessons for 20- to 30-year-olds, adults and seniors.
— John Ninfo is a retired bankruptcy judge and the founder of the National CARE Financial Literacy Program. Find his previous columns at http://www.mpnnow.com/search?text=Ninfo.