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The Importance of Financial Literacy

By Danny Kofke

A study from the National Endowment for Financial Education surveyed 683 adults, aged 18 to 39, and 391 parents of adults in that age range. Forty-two percent of the adults said they are currently receiving or have received financial help from their parents, and 59% of parents said they’ve given it.

I know that many people are hesitant to discuss money with their children -- or their spouses/partners, for that matter. I have talked about this with one of my pastors and he told me that people will come to him for help with all sorts of issues ranging from drug abuse to infidelity in a marriage but money issues still remain a taboo topic for a lot of people. I know that many parents are embarrassed by their past money mistakes and do not want to discuss these with their children. I feel the complete opposite—the mistakes are the reasons that we should absolutely discuss this topic with our children. Most kids love it when their parents mess up. They can relate to them a little better. As a parent, if you have made a money mistake, I feel it is a golden opportunity to help your child learn. You see, we all make mistakes. The important thing is that we learn from these mistakes and do not allow them to happen again.

I first really realized the need for teaching financial literacy during the Occupy Wall Street Movement in the fall of 2011.  I heard some in this movement were blaming “evil” corporations and CEOs for bad job prospects. Some recent college graduates had upwards of $50,000 in student loan debt, some much more, in fields where the prospect of finding a well-paying job is not likely for many. This is why many young people were angry—they had all this debt and a college degree but could only find a job as a barista at a coffee shop that paid next to nothing.

To further illustrate this point, there was an editorial written in a major city’s newspaper from a local hometown young woman. She attended a four-year college-preparatory private girls’ Catholic high school and then went on to earn degrees from two universities.

Upon graduating from college, she owed over $180,000 in student loan debt! She continued by acknowledging that the debt is her responsibility but she was able to accumulate this huge debt through a combination of factors including a lack of awareness. She now works two jobs and has a strict budget. Despite working more than most of us, she still lives with her parents because she cannot afford to have a place of her own. She feels as if she followed society’s expectations, earned an education and is employed. Even though this is the case, she can barely afford to buy a meal out. She concludes that due to reckless neglect, student loan debt will be the financial ruin of her generation.

What a horrible situation to be in. After doing what she thought (and was probably told) was the correct course to follow, this young woman now realizes the errors of her decisions. It is too late for her to go back in time and follow a different path, but it is not too late for your child!

After reading about her and others who are in a similar situation, I started to think about how we teachers (I was an elementary school teacher for 14 years) educate our students in money management. Looking back on my career I realized something awful—we don’t! That’s right, we will educate our youth on the characters in Beowulf or have them memorize the periodic table -- things that many of us will never use outside of a high school classroom -- but do not teach them how to balance a checkbook or create a budget.  If you want your child to have a healthy relationship with money, and if you do not want to end up like the 59% of parents who support their children into adulthood, it is up to you to teach the financial skills necessary to ensure this happens.

Even though we adults are not teaching our youth about money, they are still learning about this topic from a horrible teacher—advertisers. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the average American child sees almost 40,000 commercials every year! Since 1983, the annual amount of television advertising directed at kids has skyrocketed from just $100 million to more than $15 billion according to Juliet Schor, author of “Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture.” Companies spend large sums of money promoting their products and brands to kids for one reason—it works. Many kids can hum and sing commercial jingles by the time they turn three. By the time children reach age seven, they can recognize many companies’ advertising logos and brand names.

Many of us develop our personal financial habits during our youth and these habits are similar to those of our parents. Adults who spend like there is no tomorrow and don’t save for the future usually have children who are masterful at spending but horrible at saving.

As parents, most of us want our kids to have it better than we do. In order for that to happen, you have to take an active role in teaching your child how to manage money, because as I have just shared with you—they are not learning this anywhere else. Surveys show that parents, not teachers, have the greatest influence on a child’s financial literacy. Even though this remains a tough time for some, it is also a golden opportunity to make a lasting impact for the future of our country. We cannot change the past; but we can learn from our mistakes and make sure our children do not make the same errors.

One of my favorite quotes is from Frederick Douglass.  He said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”  Let’s get to work building!

The opinions expressed here are solely those of Danny Kofke.

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