Back to school for life-long learning?
“When was the last time you did something for the first time?”, is a famous quote. What would your reply be?
Maybe you took a different way to work this morning, maybe you tried out a new dish at your favorite restaurant or installed a new app on your phone. How far would you have to go back to find an occasion or period that you would truly classify as “having learnt something new or life changing”?
After our formal education – first academic in school and university, then postgraduate and on the job training to establish our career or own business, we often stop learning brand new things.
One reason is that we lose the habit of learning without practice and the older we get the more difficulties we encounter. As we are concentrated on our career – becoming experts in our field which requires professional training, attending seminars and conferences – or we build our own business where we focus on sales and marketing and technical skills – we neglect other areas. As such this is neither wrong nor extraordinary.
The downside of course is, that we miss many opportunities to broaden our horizon and learn new things. The good news is: it’s never too late. There is, for example, no research showing that we lose the gift of learning a foreign language as we get older. I am a big supporter of learning languages, even if it’s just basics for a vacation trip or to converse with colleagues aboard.
Another area which is not “nice-to-have” (as many would call learning languages) but an absolute must, is the area of finances. We must develop and expand on our financial IQ. Most classical school education systems neglect personal finance training. Also, parents might lack the skill and the awareness to pass financial knowledge on to their kids. I think this is fatal in today’s environment and economy.
What do I mean by this?
Let me start out with the status quo and some financial obstacles and even contradictions of our time:
- Wages and salaries have not kept pace with inflation in many countries over the past 30 years leading to falling real income.
- People have accepted the fact that they will have to work much longer until they can retire or will need to live off a small pension
- Interest rates for savings account at our banks are close to zero and bankers are even threating to charge money if you “dare to give them your money”
- People complain about their financial advisors and bankers yet are reluctant to take care of their finances
- In a climate of low or no interest for your capital, people are less likely to save money. Instead, they spend the money on consumption (vacation, cars)
- interest rates encourage people to invest in real estate. A common opinion is that it is better to buy your own house instead of paying rent
With a little more financial education people would also see the current (potentially negative) effect and the necessity to not focus on the next pay raise or winning the lottery but becoming the “captain of their own finances” and could thus make more informed decision.
Three examples which shall manifest this:
- Knowing the statistics and their own individual pension plans people should look for ways to have a return on investment which is greater than inflation and where returns will compound to a much higher effect than waiting for an upwind on the interest rate market
- Privat real estate: the market is often over-heated. I know friends who bought a house after the first visit without checking walls, roof, heating system etc. simply because the owner had other people on the waiting list who “weren’t that picky”. What looks nice on the outside and surface, can turn out in a financial nightmare when people start renovating. Also, house owners bear now the responsibility for maintenance: there is no landlord who will fix the sink or pay if there is hole in the roof. Also, most loans run for 10 to 15 years after which period house owners need to get another loan at today unknown interest rates. Apart from the financial risk, it reduces the flexibility of changing jobs, moving, taking risks in life. What was planned as a fairy tale and haven for old age can be become a tinderbox.
- It is a common misconception to say “I invested in a car, a vacation ….” often financed (partly) with debt. This is not investing. Investing means you are able to work with the capital to generate return on investment to pay back the lender with interest and have money left for yourself. Yet how do you ever want to monetize and get ROI on a past vacation or a used car?
Of course, building our financial IQ involves financial figures, reading books and magazines but it’s not as complicated as algebra.
Here are my personal tips on how to build up financial knowledge
- Start now. If you have kids, make sure you give them pocket money and show them how to consume wisely, save and invest. Even if you are older, its never to late to take control over your finances.
- Take control over your finances. If you have stocks, fonds or other financial products at your bank. Open the folder and check how the performance has been (compare it to other developments) and how much the bank charged for managing your money.
- How about subscribing to a financial newsletter, adding it to your news feed. Take your favorite consumer brand (which is most likely listed on the stock market) and start paying attention to their figures. I recently read Rich dad, poor dad by Robert Kiyosaki and also Rich Woman by Kim Kiyosaki and found both books very inspirational.
- Try it out. There are many free apps and trial version for investors-to-be. You can participate on the stock market, yet your account is only virtual, and you can not lose money (of course you cannot gain, either)