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If I had to choose a phrase to describe my financial education growing up, it would be: effectively nonexistent.
If I had to choose a phrase to describe my self-education in personal finance when I was about to graduate college, it would be: contradictory advice amid my desperation.
Fortunately, I was motivated enough to wade through all of the click-bait and bullshit to find useful, actionable advice. But it still took a long time, a lot of disappointment, and going down a few of the wrong paths.
Yes, I agree with every internet complainer that our public education system should teach mandatory personal finance classes in school– but, despite the fact that being in debt is the norm in America, I don’t foresee this change happening on a national scale anytime soon.
So, what’s the game-changing way to learn about finances and improve your financial health?
Talk to real people about money.
You caught me! This is coming from someone who spent hours on YouTube, blogs, podcasts, Investopedia, and more figuring out everything she could in secret.
Why do we do this? Because talking money is taboo and considered low-class, for one. But I think it extends deeper from this cultural problem: I think that we are ashamed of or embarrassed by our finances, even if just a little bit. This is possibly because of the taboo and secrecy around American finances.
I’m not saying that everyone in your life has hidden, perfect advice on finances. In fact, I think once you start the conversation, you’ll realize it’s quite the opposite. Most people are pretty clueless about money. But there are other benefits to talking about it. Here’s how it has specifically benefited my life:
- It’s allowed me to forgive myself for my own mistakes and misunderstandings. I now know firsthand that most people in my life consider being in debt, buying cars they can’t afford, not having a budget, and living paycheck-to-paycheck normal. This has shown me, more clearly than any podcast could, how deeply ingrained these unhealthy beliefs are. Because I see that my intensely-imperfect financial past is actually the standard, I can forgive myself and look towards bettering my future.
- It has provided me with specific advice and take-aways for my own financial life. Like I said, statistically, most people in your life will probably not have amazing, foolproof advice on money. But you’d be surprised about the nuggets of information you can find in conversations with others who are financially less-than-perfect like yourself. I’ve learned about things like retirement accounts, pros and cons of credit cards, travel budgets, and more from people in my circle. Firsthand advice sticks with you much better than the constant drone of YouTube videos in the background or articles you skim through. And, if nothing else, you’ll definitely get a ton of advice on what not to do with you finances (thanks, mom!).
- It has allowed me to help others. This is the biggest benefit I have seen, as someone who’s passionate about changing the way people see money. Instead of just running my blog and helping anonymous viewers, I can actually slowly educate the people I love, a much more meaningful and fruitful experience. I get to see mindset changes and results within my circle, which is the most motivating experience.
- Eventually, it removes the unhealthy taboo around money in your life. While secrecy and shame isn’t the root of all financial idiocy, I think we all know how it has been harmful in our own lives and budgets. It is a nearly impossible feat to change cultural values on a large scale, but shifting them in your own life can at least provide you with an oasis of honesty, transparency, and helpfulness instead of hidden embarrassment and mistakes.
For all of these reasons, I highly encourage you to talk to real people in your life about money. It’s very difficult at first, but it gets easier as you go along. Start by choosing one open person you know and asking questions in a spirit of learning. As in all conversations, it’s important to really listen before talking. Definitely do not start by offering unasked for advice. Listen, be patient, be helpful, and see how creating your own taboo-free oasis can help heal your fraught past with money and benefit the people you love.