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Are bad habits creating a financially irresponsible generation? | Opinion

By Erik Sussman Special to the Sun Sentinel Apr 14, 2022 at 11:15 am

April is National Financial Literacy Month. It’s a good time to ask ourselves whether we are creating a new generation of financially irresponsible young people and how we can be better role models for them.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ recently signed bill requiring high school students to complete a financial literacy course to receive a standard diploma should motivate other states to follow suit. Although this bill is a step in the right direction, our current education system still lacks a formal financial-education curriculum. However, all of these measures can only get us so far, as the examples set at home are far more powerful in shaping youths’ attitudes toward money.

Unfortunately, our society seems to reward materialism over financial wellness and security. Many confuse the things they “want” with things they “need,” and their wants are usually depreciating assets like cars and designer clothes, rather than appreciating assets like real estate and securities. If we can take the right steps for ourselves as role models to provide the right financial guidance and education for our youth, we can show them how to build appreciating assets and ensure a better financial  future.

How can we achieve this? First, it is important to recognize how common it is for folks — even highly educated business leaders and professionals — to make terrible day-to-day financial choices. For many reasons, we develop emotional attitudes to money that often hurt us. It’s critical to work with qualified financial professionals and follow proven tenets of personal finance, including purchasing appreciating assets over depreciating assets; not using high-interest credit cards to “keep up with the Joneses”; sticking to a budget that includes “paying yourself first” so you build your assets; and creating short-, mid- and long-term financial goals, while using the proper financial vehicles.

Based on our experience at the Institute of Financial Wellness assisting people across all stages of life, we give this general guidance to help ensure we set the best-possible example for our youth.

  • Discuss with kids how much things cost. They may not appreciate what it costs to run a household, so creating conversations about what a home, car, groceries and college tuition cost can help.

  • Share your family’s budget and all the family’s costs, in addition to illustrations of families living below and above your socioeconomic level.

  • Discuss the average incomes of a variety of careers, including those they may want to choose.

  • Instead of giving them an allowance or paying them for chores, which trains them to have the mind-set of employees rather than business leaders or entrepreneurs, reward them for conceptualizing new business concepts. A lemonade stand or garage sale at your home can teach valuable lessons. Show them how investments in stocks, bonds and real estate could provide passive income so they earn money “while they sleep.”

  • At the dinner table, discuss what excites them and how things they are passionate about could provide their livelihood. Help them realize their strengths and how they can find careers that use their innate talents.

  • Explain the critical importance of integrity and accountability. These traits are key for personal and professional success. Discuss basic banking principles: paying bills, how you establish good credit.

  • Explain the meaning of the best scorecard of financial success: net worth. Discuss how little things they do each day — every dollar they choose to spend or save — can determine this.

For many who aren’t financial professionals, these concepts might not come intuitively. That’s alright — no one is expected to naturally excel at everything. For this reason, it’s important to rely on the right support and resources. The Institute of Financial Wellness provides user-friendly content and resources from an advisory board of nationally known thought leaders — at no cost. Take advantage of this and other resources available. It’s all about helping our youth develop healthy financial attitudes and habits — and leading by example.

Erik Sussman, CEO of the Institute of Financial Wellness, may be reached at erik@the-ifw.com.

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