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Last night, Hubby and I were laughing about my first forays into adulthood: getting a loan. My dad gave me the loan papers to fill out, and I dutifully wrote in all I knew about myself and offered my 6-year-old junky car as collateral. It’s all I had to my name. When I got to the part about how much money I wanted to borrow, I filled that in. Then it had blanks for interest rates and monthly payments. Falling back on my high school math training, I tried to figure those out. I put my calculations in, scribbled them out when I recalculated, and put new numbers. I did this several times. It was hard! When I took the form to the bank, the lady I was dealing with nearly burst out in laughter. She said, “Dear, we don’t expect you to know how to do that. Those are the blanks WE fill in.” She laughed and added, “Good try, though. I’ve never had anyone else even attempt it.” I’d stressed and wasted time over something I didn’t know I didn’t need to do.

This true story illustrates just how financially illiterate I was. My parents never discussed money matters with us kids other than saying they didn’t have the money to do certain things. I never got an allowance to save for anything I wanted. I didn’t know what a budget was or how it could help me. With my high school job, I cashed my paycheck and put my tips in a jar. Back then, tips were coins. I must have had $50 in quarters, nickels, and dimes in my purse that I carried with me. I paid $15 for the fabric for a bridesmaid dress in quarters and dimes. I was glad to get rid of the extra weight, but the receiver probably thought I was crazy. I wasn’t crazy, just ignorant of the fact that I could have gone to the bank and traded them for paper money.

With my first “real” job (paid over $6,000 a year!), I spent every paycheck. Not on necessities, but on gas to get to and from work and frivolities like ski passes and clothes. I’d never had so much money available to me, and I went wild with it. I opened a checking account because my parents told me to. They didn’t mention a savings account, and I thought I needed thousands of dollars to open one. If I had anything left over, I left it in checking in case I found something to spend it on. Because I’d taken accounting in high school, I knew how to balance a checkbook, something no one does anymore. When Hubby and I got married, I had $200 in the bank, not much considering I lived at home and had my car paid off.

I’ve come a long way in the years since then. I found out I only needed $25 to start a savings account, so I opened one to keep my “extra money” in and got interest on it. I discovered the value of saving for retirement which is why Hubby and I are living comfortably (so far) in our old age. IRAs and other retirement accounts were invented in our adulthood, and we took advantage of them. I now understand what the stock market can make for you or lose for you. I can talk with him about investments and budgeting our spending, something I couldn’t do when we first married.

I owe all of my financial literacy to Hubby and his mother. They taught me everything I know about it. I wish we’d talked it over with our kids like I wished mine had done with me. As it turned out, both our kids are wonderful savers, investors, and budgeters, so they did get something from all our talks. Their grandmother had a big hand in it as well. I’m so happy they started adulthood much smarter than I was at that age. No one should go into the real world as dumb as I was and without knowing how to manage finances.

I urge all parents to talk to your children how to wisely handle money. Teach them learn how to make a budget and save, make smart investment decisions, how to avoid letting slick talkers and influencers part them from their money, how to save for the big items, and live within their means. They should be smart enough to know when they see a sign on a jet ski that says “Only $89 a month for 144 months”, it’s a really, really bad deal.

Being money smart doesn’t mean being a miser like Scrooge. Having lots of money isn’t the end goal of life. Financial literacy means being intelligent about who, how, and what you spend your money on; sharing with those less fortunate; and being compassionate with those who need help. Helping others leaves a far greater legacy than a big bank account. Having enough to live comfortably and having enough to share is a good way to live.

Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, provides her meat in the summer, and gathers her food in the harvest. Proverbs 6:6-8

Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy; that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life. I Timothy 6:17-19

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