A blog about writing . . . and a lot of other things

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Personal Finance

Last month, Brent Hunsberger wrote about Oregon's new financial literacy standards in his "It's Only Money" column in The Oregonian. Although I'm pleased that Oregon has reinstated these standards, they don't really have teeth.  There are no required competencies for graduation and nothing much to ensure what is taught.  The bottom line?  It's not enough.

But it's the parents' job to teach their kids about personal finance, right?  Sure it is.  It's also the parents' job to teach their kids about personal responsibility, hard work, and healthy sexuality.  How do you think that's going?

From a strictly personal finance standpoint, we're failing miserably.  In Oregon, almost one in five families are on food stamps.  Nationally, 46% of Americans carry a balance on their credit cards.  That's pretty bad considering that the average interest rate on those credit cards is nearly 13%.  I could keep throwing depressing statistics at you all day, but looking them up is depressing to me, too.  Instead, just think about people you know.  Think about your own personal finances.  What have you taught your own kids?

My point of bringing up this topic is not to depress you.  I want to spur you into action because there are things you can do.

First, talk about money.  I realize that it's a big no-no, but I'm sure you're aware that not talking about sex doesn't prevent young people from having it.  It's the same way with money.  Even if we don't talk about money, it manages to get spent and squandered.  Be open and honest about it and you might be able to make some healthy decisions with it and help other people to make better choices as well.  Or perhaps you'll just talk each other into spending more.  That happens, too.

Second, learn about money.  Perhaps this should come before talking about money, but you need to break through your reticence to talk about it before you can learn about it.  There are a lot of resources out there, but one great way to learn about personal finance is through Financial Peace University.  Feel free to disagree with Dave Ramsey on his politics, his religion, or even his financial philosophies, but his program is good, and it has helped a lot of people to get control over their finances.  I went through FPU and paid off all my debts and it has given me a lot of peace. Further, even though I'm a CPA and know a lot about money, FPU helped me to understand how to better approach talking about money with my family.

Third, get involved in helping others.  Whatever your political slant, it is in everyone's best interest for our citizens to be financially healthy.  There are many problems with our economy, but an actual lack of wealth has never been one of those.  America is still rich.  We just don't know how to handle those riches.

How do you get involved?  There are a number of ways.  For example, if they haven't already, you can encourage your church or organization to offer a Financial Peace University class.  

You can also support or volunteer for an organization like Financial Beginnings.  Financial Beginnings is dedicated to educating young people about finances so that they don't find themselves in the financial messes that so many of us have.  It operates in Oregon and Southwest Washington and provides free financial literacy classes to schools and organizations.  It provides all the curriculum at no cost and sends a volunteer instructor.  If you are a teacher or affiliated with a school, please set up a Financial Beginnings class for your kids.  I've taught several classes for them over the years in a variety of different schools.  I've taught at a small Christian school, at an alternative school with a guarded gate, at the high school I attended as a teen, and at the high school here in the town where I live.

There are two things that I've learned from my work with Financial Beginnings.  First, that the kids need to learn what I'm teaching.  This is not review for them.  What I teach, whether it is insurance or budgeting or credit, is foreign to them.  That horrifies me because financial literacy is vital.  No matter where they go in life, young people need to know how to handle money.

The other thing I've learned is that the hour or two I spend with them is not enough.

Get involved.

I want to give some kudos to Brent Hunsberger, by the way.  Not only does he write a great column, but he has recently sponsored the POP Club at our farmer's market here in town.  The POP Club provides kids with fun activities and tokens every week that let them buy produce and edible plants.  I can't think of a single bad thing about getting kids addicted to healthy eating, so the POP Club is one of my favorite things.  Thanks, Brent!

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