Why Are We So Bad With Money? Would Financial Education In Schools Help With This Issue?

Man catching falling cash. Image from https://www.blackenterprise.com/3-signs-your-man-is-bad-with-money/

Watch any personal finance or entrepreneurship video, and by the third minute, someone will have bemoaned the non-inclusion of financial education in our basic school curriculum.

I have used that line myself. It is such a neat way to escape responsibility for many of our financial outcomes, at a personal and at a societal level. Apparently, we are the way we are, moneywise, because we were not taught basic finance skills in our formative years of schooling.

The argument is a rational one to make, but it barely scratches the surface of the real reasons our finances, as individuals and as a society are the way they are.

Of course, incorporating basic financial education into the curriculum is a noble goal, that all of us should aspire towards. But the idea that if we had basic financial education in primary school, our finances would be much different is one to be challenged.

In addition to that line of argument being a convenient way to transfer blame to “the system”, it also implies that classroom knowledge is a prerequisite for good money management. Yet, it is common knowledge that bankers, insurance folks and other finance professionals who no doubt have acquired financial education of encyclopaedic proportions, suck at personal money management at the same time. That is not to say that formal schooling in financial matters serves no purpose in personal financial success. Anecdotally, there is a correlation, but a feeble one.

The people that find success in any area of life are the ones who dig deeper to reach the real issues, as opposed to just accepting surface level stereotypical scapegoats as fact.

The real reasons most of us suck at money have nothing to do with financial education or the lack of it.

After all, very little in terms of technical know-how is needed to be good with money. Basic arithmetic skills, an uncomplicated understanding of the time value of money, and a grasp of the concept of risk versus reward are by and large the only “book skills” you absolutely need to be good with money. The former two are covered in primary and secondary school math if we are being honest. And the latter can be easily learnt at any stage of life, within or without the school setting.

The real reasons we are bad with money are emotional and psychological, not financial.

It is easy to put things that we are uncomfortable facing into a box and blame some external circumstances (like a curriculum). Progress takes intentionality and work.

We are bad with money not because we can’t wrap our minds around some abstract finance concepts but because we have never mastered delayed gratification. We are bad with money not because we don’t know how interest rates impact expenditure and savings decisions, but because we have succumbed to mindless consumerism. It is because we get into debt to invest into half-assed business attempts and buy alcohol with money we should be spending on insurance and retirement. Good luck finding practical ways to incorporate such behavioural intricacies into the curriculum.

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@TheSoww tweets about money and markets, with a particular interest in personal finance.