This post originally appeared back on April 7, 2008. I wanted to run it again today to get some additional perspective from new readers, and because frankly, I needed a break to work on a special project. One note of interest, my rant about the government bailing us out of our financial problems was a good five months before they began doing just that.
A fellow writer recently asked, “Who do you blame for your financial problems?” One of the possible answers was “your parents.” I wonder how many people really blame their parents for their financial problems. I do believe parents play an important role in teaching life skills to their children, particularly when the public education system does such a poor job of preparing students for the real world. However, I don’t subscribe to a line of thinking that parents are to blame for poor choices made by willing adults. There is plenty of blame to spread around.
Lack of Financial Education in Public Schools
There has long been a serious void in public education when it comes to “real life” studies. And in no subject is this truer than the area of personal finances. We continue to teach kids to pass exams, to recite from memory, and to conform to so-called “advances” in new teaching methods. Despite noble efforts, educators are for the most part equipping our children with the wrong skills. Don’t believe me? When was the last time you used an algebraic expression to balance your checkbook, or calculus to solve your 1040 tax form? There is a place for those skills, however I believe that place is college, where it is required of students to indicate a path of studies that may require the knowledge of these higher levels of math and sciences (such as medicine, engineering, etc.). For the rest of us, a basic introduction to personal finance topics would be helpful to prepare for the perils of the adult financial world. Upon graduation, and many times before, students will be exposed to credit cards, predatory lenders, car salesman and if they work part time jobs, Uncle Sam’s maze of tax laws. We should push for an educational curriculum that teaches youth how to be responsible citizens, with their money and beyond.
Poor Role Models in the Media
The media is full of poor financial role models. Soap opera stars who live lives of luxury, but never seem to work for it. Entertainers and sports celebrities who earn ridiculous amounts of money and lead lavish lifestyles none of us could ever afford. Trust fund babies who spend entire decades partying and living it up while waiting for their inheritance. Unfortunately, these are the role models kids are attracted to. In their eyes Warren Buffet, Bill Gates and Dave Ramsey are just “some old guys they saw on the news.” As a society, we worship these celebrities and further highlight their irresponsible behavior by portraying their lives as something we should all aspire to – something that is within reach of the average person. Young people chase this ideal by buying cars, clothes, homes, jewelry and other elaborate goodies they see their idols purchasing. Pretty soon they find themselves in a real financial crisis with limited means to undo their mistakes.
For the last several years we have had an “accountability crisis” in this country. People refuse to accept responsibility for their own misgivings, and shortcomings. The fault always belongs to someone else. You can easily detect this line of thinking in the responses made by those with “poor” attitudes. Don’t earn enough money? “Poor man just can’t get ahead.” Spending too much money? “Well if the government would bring prices down!” Can’t afford college? “College is only for rich people.” No one ever responds, “I’m broke because I want to be.” Or, “I can’t attend college because I am not willing to work for the money to attend.” Imagine how much better off we would all be if we stopped pointing fingers and took control of our own destiny. If we quit waiting on “the government” to pay for something, or bail us out of everything, or to save us from ourselves.
So maybe your parents weren’t the best example, and you did follow the wrong crowd financially growing up and made a few mistakes. Congratulations. You are human. We have all made mistakes. What separates you from serial failures is that you are willing to learn from those mistakes. You are willing to get smart on personal finance topics by reading magazines, books and blogs. You are willing to work extra to dig out from your own financial hole and change your family tree. Quit waiting on someone else to save you, or someone else to blame it on. Take responsibility for your financial decisions, and start making better ones to provide a brighter future for yourself, and your loved ones.