I wasn’t always good with money. My family wasn’t rich, we were at the lower end of the middle class for as long as I can remember. I was told to save money, but I didn’t see my parents doing that at all. We never talked about money beyond complaining we have none and we are in debt. But even those topics were kept vague. I was aware we couldn’t afford all the stuff my friends were able to get, but I didn’t know why.
At the same time, I (like everybody else) was bombarded by advertising, living in a society that valued material possessions more than society itself. It mattered if you had stuff, not what you were able to contribute. I was an active student through high school, but I didn’t have trendy things and didn’t have a cell phone until the second year of high school. I was not popular.
I never had money to spend on stuff, so when I started my first job, I never set aside anything. I spent it all. Now, as I build up my Emergency Fund and contribute to my retirement investment fund, it seems radical and incredibly stupid. But at the time, I was swept up in this notion of being an adult, having my own money and being able to HAVE STUFF.
I didn’t learn how to manage my money in school. I didn’t learn how to manage my money at home. I didn’t learn how to manage my money until I was heavily in debt and desperate to find a solution that wouldn’t end up with me fighting with debt collectors.
I had to actively go out and search for the information on how to get myself in order. How to fix my money problems and how to make sure I’m never that deep in trouble again. And then I had to search for alternatives to find the one system that would work for me and I could teach myself without spending any more of the money that I didn’t have.
In the meantime, everything and everybody around me was teaching me how to spend money, and that I really had to spend that money to gain status and have entertainment.
Because everybody talks to you about buying the latest iPhone, and getting to see the latest blockbuster, and going out to bars and restaurants to spend time with friends.
Nobody talks to you about saving money and making sure you have cash for a rainy day, and maybe discussing options for retirement, so you’re not completely dependant on the pension your country is paying you… Yet everybody expects you to know these things and punishes you for falling short.
And let me tell you:
We need to do something about the mixed signals society is throwing our way. With the rampant consumerism and all the encouragement to spend money constantly, it will not be an easy change. But at minimum, we need to ensure that everybody is financially literate. Be it lessons at home or lessons at school, we need something because not everybody will be as lucky as me. Not everybody will be able to find a good corporate job within a month and turn their life within two months because they earn enough money to follow the financial plans they set for themselves…
We are doing our kids a great disservice of not addressing this issue.