I’ve always been an advocate of financial education.
One of the reasons we had the financial crisis of 2008/2009 is because too many people are far too financially “unaware”: taking out silly mortgages they didn’t understand and couldn’t afford. I’m using a euphemism to disguise the word I really want to use for those people, but then again, to coin the famous expression: “There, but for the grace of God go I.”
When I was a kid, and thinking that money grew on trees, my mom sat me down at our dining room table one afternoon. She showed me my dad’s salary, the mortgage payment, the electricity bill, and described a few other “odds and sods” that comprised our family expenditures. I think I was about 14.
My dad was a mechanic, and my mom worked part-time at a retail store so she could have a flexible schedule—flexible enough to be around when her four kids came home from school.
Seeing our family’s finances was a good thing for me. I can’t say I really “got it”, but it planted a seed, and I’ve thought about it a lot since then.
But the world of money isn’t a fair one. I worked part-time at a supermarket in 1985, earning $10 a hour. On Sundays, they paid me $12 an hour. Meanwhile, my friend Joe worked at a restaurant as a cook, earning just $3.10 per hour. Arguably, he worked a lot harder than I did—yet I earned triple his salary.
I mention this because I’ve always touted that parents should fully disclose their personal incomes and expenditures to their kids—to keep it real. And I’ve always done the same. Ask me a personal question about money, and I’ve always given an answer. Keeping money-talk “private” leads to ignorance. And I’ve never been a fan of that.
But our world is a funny one. Teachers (arguably the most important professionals of all) can end up scraping by in certain U.S. states, while Hedge Fund Managers (who make the rich richer, or bleed them dry) get disproportionately huge salaries for the value they DON’T necessarily add to society.
Then there’s the question of investing money. Most people are so unaware of the fees they pay for the products they buy (actively managed mutual funds) because they haven’t learned better. David Swensen, Yale University’s endowment fund manager says, “…the market failure resulting from the mutual-fund industry’s systemic exploitation of investors requires government action.”
How about just exposure and education Mr. Swensen? Is specific exposure “indecent”? Sometimes? Always? Never? When does it cease to be educational and become indecent? I think investors should have the courage to ask their advisors, “Exactly how much do you make off me each year?” But we’ve quietly labeled money-talk as “indecent” or “crass”—so the exploitation can continue.
But how open should people be about salaries? When I exposed that I made $12 an hour on Sundays, and Joe made only $3.10, did that help him or hurt him?
Does a father, making a six figure salary, help or hinder his kids when declaring his income and expenditures to them?
And when a blogger reveals his or her wealth and investing profits on a blog, is that beneficial, inspirational, or occasionally disheartening to the reader?
As a schoolteacher, my job isn’t one that’s normally associated with a huge pay package. But my assets are more financially aligned (in dollar terms) with surgeons and lawyers than with teachers.
So, when revealing my personal finances on my blog, am I inspiring or demoralizing readers?
I have a lot of questions about money in this post. Do you have any of the answers?