How does the education system miss something that most of us will need to deal with almost every day of our lives? How does it skip completely, or just touch on a subject that can cause great hardship and has driven people to suicide? It's not an easy subject to talk about, but not that complicated to learn, yet in school we rarely do. Most of you probably think I'm talking about sex. Sorry to disappoint, but I'm actually talking about money.
Sex and money are both topics that a lot of people argue should be taught by parents. But are they?
My mother handed me a book about the biological side of sex when I was in grade 8, and while it was an eye-opener, I had already learned a lot from the school curriculum. Any gaps in my knowledge were filled by the time I got to high school by my best friend Sophie Boudreaux and Judy Bloom books. Since sex was pretty well covered, my parents should have handed me a book about interest rates. I admit, my friends and I were not naturally curious about personal finance. We were never huddled together at a sleepover, giggling over a copy of MoneySense magazine, but it was a subject that should have been discussed nonetheless.
So since my parents didn’t do it, and the school system didn’t teach it, I graduated high school with next to no knowledge about money; how it works, why I need it or how it could get me into a whole lot of trouble.
What did I learn in high school? I learned about Miss Havisham, the old woman in Great Expectations who was left at the altar and lived the rest of her life in her wedding dress, setting out to break men’s hearts using her adopted daughter Estella as a pawn. And that knowledge came in handy when I could only afford to eat rice for five years after university, because I had to pay off credit cards. Don’t judge, 22 per cent interest didn’t sound so bad at the time.
I also remember that The Valley of Ashes in The Great Gatsby was supposed to resemble something dark and lifeless. Ashes stood for destruction, and the death of Myrtle Wilson symbolized the pain present in the valley. You want something dark? Try affording your first car to get to your minimum wage job, and then still owing on that car long after it’s gone. Now that’s pain. And speaking of pain, do you remember the old joke about the two things you cannot escape from in life? Death and taxes. Does anybody remember learning about taxes in school? Anything at all? Deductibles, expenses, net income ... anything? Nothing? Me neither.
I can remember though, in vivid detail, the passage I had to memorize and recite from Macbeth.
Come to my woman’s breasts,
And take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers,
Wherever in your sightless substance
You wait on nature’s mischief!
Thanks Mr. Gray for making me say woman’s breasts in front of a class of 14-year-old boys. Thanks very much for creating a fear of public speaking. And thanks Lady Macbeth, you helped me so much when I wanted to buy my first apartment, knowing nothing about the language of loans or mortgages. The guy at the bank looked very confused when I asked him why I needed to amortize an Asian for 25 years.
Now my ultimate point is not to criticize the literature aspect of English class or deem it obsolete. I remember it so vividly, because I loved it and it uncovered my love of writing. We shouldn't cut out important parts of the curriculum, but simply add some practical teaching about money.
A study by PNC Financial Services Group found that millennials are in debt an average of $12,000 in their early 20s and $78,000 by their late 20s. It’s definitely time to start teaching about money management in high schools. And since studies have shown that large amounts of debt are an independent risk factor for depression and suicide, it’s critical that we do. And while a lot of this debt is from student loans, it’s definitely compounded by the fact that young people want what they want when they want it, yet know very little about how to pay for it.
When I turned 18 and went off to university, I, like many others, became a prime target for credit card companies. I had the fresh-faced, peachy glow of youth, desperately yearning to break away from my parents. And what luck, the campus had banks and credit card vendors readily available to help me on this road to becoming an adult, and what luck I got a free microwave for signing up! Five years after graduation, struggling to pay off those cards, and living in my parents' basement, blush and a smack in the face wouldn’t bring that peachy glow back. I couldn’t continue on the path that I had planned, the path that I so desperately wanted. That debt put a stranglehold on my future and changed the course of my life, and I’ll regret it until the day I die.
So here is my simple advice for people who didn’t learn about money in school, and whose parents, like mine, didn’t teach them about personal finance.
LEARN IT YOURSELF.
It is never too late to take control.
There is a lot of information out there to help, and a lot of books and websites with valuable and necessary information. I’ve listed a few at the bottom. Stay in the driver’s seat of your future, and don’t let any lender or credit card company be in charge of your life. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, is worth giving up your financial freedom.
Learn terms like:
Because you don’t want to be forced to look up these later:
Credit counselling agency
But since the rate of 20 and 30-somethings living with their parents has skyrocketed, the ball is ultimately thrown back into the parental court. Young people are learning how to manage their own household and their own personal finances later and later, if at all. True, there are some who pay rent, insurance and their own cell phone bills, and are learning to manage their money. But then there are those who are not, and will be their parents' financial responsibility until the bank of mom and dad head to the retirement home.
But what’s the problem, according to the school system, it was the parents' responsibility to teach them about money in the first place right?
Karma's a bitch.