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Make Financial Literacy A Graduation Requirement

Growing up in a wealthy family, I should have learned a few things about money...

But my parents had so much shame and secrecy around their finances that I went out into the world knowing nothing. No one taught me how to open a bank account, pay a bill or balance a checkbook.

My dad was a CEO and my mom was a certified financial planner, so the irony is palpable.

When I joined a monastery and took a vow of poverty, I assumed I would never have to deal with money ever again, so it would not be a problem.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

My fellow brothers all worked in academia, and we had more advanced degrees than a philosophers’ convention. Still, none of us could read a credit card statement.

That’s how we ended up in bankruptcy.

Our story highlights a crucial problem — finance is a foreign language.

We don’t teach children the language of finance, and then we wonder why most adults struggle with money.

We send young adults into the world financially illiterate, and then they fall into terrible predicaments because they’ve never been given the tools for success.

The world of finance has a unique vocabulary, set of rules and etiquette.

This world is a bizarre parallel place, operating side by side with your everyday existence.

It’s like being a kid and realizing, for the first time, what it’s like to be an adult. There is a whole other way of being a human being, with new rules and expectations, which never occurs to you when you’re 8 years old.

Adding to the confusion are “regional dialects” — a Realtor or a stockbroker may use the same words but in vastly different ways. Simple terms like “guarantee,” “safe,” “return,” “flexible” and “long term” all change meaning depending on the context and the person speaking.

To have a chance at becoming even a little bit wealthy, you must learn and continually practice the language of finance and the dialects you interact with the most. Like mastering any language, fluency requires constant practice.

If you master the language of finance, or at least become conversationally fluent, then you’ll have the power to improve your life and make the world a better place. 

One of the greatest gifts we can give to children is financial literacy.

Without that skill, we set them up for a lifetime of struggles and trap disadvantaged communities in a never-ending cycle of poverty.

The solution is to make financial literacy a graduation requirement for all high school students as part of their mathematics education. As the former chair of a mathematics department at a prestigious private school, I can attest that finance is a fantastic way to teach mathematics.

Trying to excite ninth graders with the beauty of exponential equations is, at best, a slog. Show them the power of compound interest to build wealth, and you can quickly grab their attention.

House Bill 163 and Senate Bill 170 would make a course in financial literacy or financial management a graduation requirement for all students. It is an essential step in breaking the poverty cycle in New Mexico.

Don’t just take my word for it. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found that “well-implemented state financial education mandates lead to a clear improvement in financial behaviors.”

A study from Montana State University found that students who have a solid financial education apply for more financial aid, are more likely to receive grants and make better decisions when taking out student loans. They are also less likely to hold a credit card balance.

Please help make financial literacy a high school graduation requirement by contacting your state legislators in support of HB 163 and SB 170.

Go to the Action Center on Think New Mexico’s website, where you can type in your address and instantly send a pre-scripted letter to your state representative, state senator, the lieutenant governor and the governor in support of HB 163 and SB 170.

And always remember: Your income is from someone else’s spending. If we teach our children how to become a little bit wealthy, they’ll help the rest of us prosper.

Doug Lynam is a partner at LongView Asset Management in Santa Fe and a former monk. He is the author of From Monk to Money Manager: A Former Monk’s Financial Guide to Becoming A Little Bit Wealthy — And Why That’s Okay. Contact him at douglas@longviewasset.com.

The information contained herein is intended to be used for educational purposes only and is not exhaustive.  Diversification and/or any strategy that may be discussed does not guarantee against investment losses but is intended to help manage risk and return.  If applicable, historical discussions and/or opinions are not predictive of future events.  The content is presented in good faith and has been drawn from sources believed to be reliable.  The content is not intended to be legal, tax, or financial advice.  Please consult a legal, tax, or financial professional for information specific to your individual situation.

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