The importance of money is impressed upon most Americans as soon as we’re old enough to buy candy. But the importance of money management is an entirely different story, says self-made millionaire Mike Finley.
“Think about all that we do to prepare children for the world; we fill them up with things we think are most important for doing well as adults and spend tens of thousands of dollars for higher education, but they never take a class on how to manage personal finances,” says Finley, author of “Financial Happine$$,” which discusses his journey to financial literacy and applying the principles that allowed him to retire from the Army a wealthy man. “Our culture celebrates privacy and self determination, which is why, I think, we don’t want to tell students how they should spend their money, but I think young people are hungry for guidance.”
Seventy-six percent of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, according to a recent CashNetUSA survey. That percentage varies with other studies; however, the percentage never dips below at least 50 percent of Americans who have very little in savings, says Finley, whose voluntary night class on financial literacy at the University of Northern Iowa is always packed beyond capacity. Finley identifies your best allies and the voices that do not have your best interests at heart when it comes to money management:
• Your No. 1 advocate – you: “It’s not simply how much money you make, it’s what you do with it,” Finley says. The best thing you can do right now is to educate yourself so you can make sound financial decisions. A great start is to embrace the concept of paying yourself: Put away at least 20 percent of your income for your future, which requires a lifestyle of living below your means.
• Real teachers -- Most people want something from you, but some truly want to give. Finley, who regularly volunteers instructional time to veterans, current military personnel and youth, says to identify the people you can trust, who sincerely want to educate you. Look for classes at local colleges; workshops sponsored by nonprofit organizations, and even websites geared to improving your money decisions, including SaveandInvest.org, MrMoneyMustache.com and JaneBryantQuinn.com.
• Most financial advisors -- If you want to learn about a car you’re thinking about buying, would you go to the car salesman trying to earn commission or an objective third party? A salesman wants your money, but Consumer Reports, for example, has to earn the public’s trust with objective, reliable information. Most financial advisors, especially those employed by massive, nationwide firms, are trying to sell prepackaged financial products. Independent advisors are a better option, but if you’re financially illiterate, it can be hard to determine whether or not they have your best interests at heart.
• Advertisements -- Advertisers are not just selling products – they’re trying to sell happiness. What do you see in commercials for iPads and tablets? You see young, exuberant, smart-looking and stylish people. Nearly from the cradle, we’re exposed to advertising messages that promise we’ll be happier, better people if we purchase the products and services advertised. But an iPad won’t make you more exuberant or stylish. Learn to view advertising messages with a discriminating eye so that you purchase what you truly need – not what they tell you to need.