I find financial literacy to be an overused term that many businesses have tried to claim as their own platform. I’ve read many definitions of financial literacy, but I find the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) version to be spot on: “the ability to make informed judgments and to take effective actions regarding the current and future use and management of money. It includes the ability to understand financial choices, plan for the future, spend wisely, and manage the challenges associated with life events such as a job loss, saving for retirement, or paying for a child’s education.” Colleges now attempt to teach financial literacy, in some form, to freshmen, many of whom finish the course and still can’t balance a checkbook.
Truth is, financial literacy is hard to teach because it begins at home. The behaviors of spending and saving are almost a product of osmosis, with children absorbing parental spending or saving actions, much like they learn speech, right from wrong, manners and values. Children mimic their parents. Think about it for a minute: were your parents savers or spenders? Were you never taught the value of a dollar? Or was “a penny saved is a penny earned” drilled into your head?
I have met many people who have been spenders. Spending to buy the newest flat-screen TV, the bigger house, the “I want” items their children have to have. Now in their forties, they realize they are not financially sound and don’t know the principles of saving, money management and investing. They have not made financial plans for life, retirement or death. Instead, they have gone much of their adult lives opting to spend what they earn — or sometimes spending more than they earn and running up debt. The unsteady economy, lack of job security and rising costs for healthcare and higher education have sounded the wakeup call for them. They often turn to a trusted advisor or friend and ask what to do. The first thing I would suggest is that they map out a personal plan for living: adequate life insurance coverage, college savings funds and 401(k)s.
Step back and teach your children, right now, how to save. I worked out a savings plan for my two young children that motivated them to be savers at an early age. Whenever either child receives a gift of money, I tell them I will match the amount as long as they agree to deposit the money in their savings accounts. They also have a pot for their “I wants” — their music downloads, games and other extras. Seeing their balances grow has excited them. It also allows me to help them understand that I won’t — and sometimes can’t — give them everything they want or will come to want. The extra “must have” items — expensive jeans, concert tickets or that first car — are not entitlements. They come through planning and saving.
Today, helping your clients become more financially literate — fiscally self-reliant, through planning and saving — is tantamount to their financial stability and your success. Help your clients — who may be overspending on their children today and not saving enough for tomorrow — teach their children well. Your guidance will be valued.