Why Don’t Young People Care About Finances?

This is a guest post by Adam Goodman, author of “Following The Goods.” If you like what you see here, please check out his weblog and subscribe to his RSS feed.

It’s unfortunate, but my story isn’t original. I’m 29, educated, and up until four years ago, I never saw the need to understand how to manage my finances. For some reason, I always assumed that my finances would magically manage themselves. That’s how I ended up owing the bank a huge student loan, having no savings, and living in my mom’s basement, wishing I had done things differently when I was younger.

The Problem

Many young people aren’t interested in financial management, and who can blame them? The name alone must scare people away. It sounds intimidating, but it’s an important topic that needs to be taught at an early age. And therein lies the problem… It needs to be taught, but it often gets left at the sidelines until it’s much too late.

Few parents talk about finances at the dinner table, and even fewer K-12 education systems mandate learning how to manage your finances. This is somewhat ironic, because people use financial management every day, whether they know it or not (remember, bad financial management is still financial management – it’s just ineffective). I should note that there are some great programs out there to help teach young people about finances.

Without a burning platform, people aren’t motivated to learn. If your parents are always helping you out financially, you’ll never know why compound interest is important. If your spouse is always paying the bills, you’ll never know why you need to pay off high interest debt first. If you’re always living paycheck-to-paycheck, you’ll never know why a budget is important. If you don’t understand how budgeting works, you’ll never know why you need to start saving for retirement as soon as possible.

Where to Start

It’s never too late to learn and change your habits, but imagine if you could start following sound financial management advice when you were 15, as opposed to 30. That’s 15 extra years of doing things right, and no matter how much money you make, the earlier you start budgeting and saving, the better off you’ll be. As a side note, if you don’t know what compound interest is, now would be an excellent time to look it up.

So what does a person need to do? Well, there is a lot of great information out there, but you have to look for it. Not only that, but you have to want to learn about it. I’m sure many of you are convinced of the importance of doing this, but don’t know where to start. At a minimum, you need to understand the basics of financial management, including (in no particular order):

  1. Understanding what the equation Income – Expenses = Savings means
  2. Knowing where you spend your money (what is an expense?)
  3. The difference between things you want and things you need, and knowing how to prioritize them
  4. The future cost of living – how much will that 4 bedroom house really cost you?
  5. Setting financial goals and making budgets to meet them
  6. How compound interest works (both for and against you)
  7. When is credit good, and when is it bad?
  8. The basics of investing
  9. Why you need to start saving for retirement today
  10. How to maintain your education (and share what you learn with others)

Remember, personal financial management might sound scary and complex, but it’s really not that hard. In fact, it’s nowhere near as scary as scary as meeting your in-laws for the first time. Financial management is not something that you’ll learn overnight. It takes time to master your finance, but the payoff is well worth the trouble. Take ownership of your finances and start your education today.

21 Responses to “Why Don’t Young People Care About Finances?”

  1. Anonymous

    im 23 and have understood finances since I made my first paycheck. The world is filled w/ competition so if you feel you do not need to know finances good for you thats your own decision. I just hope I dont have to bail your @$$ out like we are doing now for the homeowners. Live with it when you fending for yourself working a 9-5 into your 80’s. I have no sympathy for teenagers and 20 year olds saying they dont know what there doing. We all know what were doing… sometimes the dumb ones just choose not to.

    Just cause were just starting in life doesn’t mean its a rationalization for doing the wrong thing. This stereotype makes me sick. Get your baggage together now so you can live better in the future…

  2. Anonymous

    My parents didn’t share financial management information with me and I’ve made some crazy mistakes in my time. But, fortunately for me, I landed in banking and turned things around for myself. It’s been a long, winding road and occasionally I make mistakes. I’m still young and I’m certainly not perfect. Sometimes I still give in to my wants. But, the important thing to take away is that yes, you may have made some mistakes while you were younger, but that doesn’t mean you need to keep making the same mistakes. There’s no time like the present, so get on it and start saving!

    Great post, Adam!

  3. Anonymous

    Thanks for all the comments. It’s unfortunate, but I think a lot of people have a similar story – hopefully something which won’t re-occur in the next generation.

    @TaxRascal, Regardless of how much you are able to save, the basics of financial management still apply, and there is always room to save money, even if it is only $10/month. By understanding the basics of financial management and making sure that you apply them no matter what your financial situation is, you can make sure that proper saving techniques are employed. Is it that people in their 20’s and 30’s don’t make enough money and they need to become net borrowers just to survive, or is it that their expectations of living standards are eschew from their salary – they want to live the lifestyle they grew up with, when their parents who were at their maximum earning power in their 40’s and 50’s were able to treat them to things they could not afford on a $50,000/year salary?

    @RB, I was in the same situation, I never fully understood what my starting salary could and could not afford – a lesson I had to learn the hard way.

    @Kris, you’re right, kids don’t care about what they don’t know – that’s why it’s important for them to understand why they need to learn about it – if you never went to the dentist, and no one ever told you to floss your teeth, chances are you wouldn’t do it, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it – if you don’t know about it, you can’t understand why you need it.

    @Della, thanks for the link!

    @Danielle, you are spot on, you need to talk to kids about money – if you don’t talk to them about it, they will never know that they _need_ to understand it!

  4. Anonymous

    Talk talk talk! Talk to the young people in your life about money, talk to your relatives. Teach them not only responsible investing, and the dangers of credit cards, but also how to minimize emotionally driven purchases!

    @Mike – A $60 haircut is not an impulse buy. It is an easily forseen and planned for expense! Maybe if you approached it from the perspective of trying to document the spending that is already taking place first? This is the approach I had to use with my husband when I was getting our joint finances in order after we got married.

    @TaxRascal – I never thought about why the US savings rate has been consistently decreasing. Giving it a few moments I think it would be related to the US Citizens expectations that our standard of living should always increase. Even if we couldn’t afford it.

    @Kris – 12 sounds like a great age to start talking about more complex financial concepts! My husband and I were just talking about allowances last night (our first child is due in June) and how we agree that allowance should not be tied to chores or behavior. That way they can learn some of the savings and when to splurge lessons on much smaller amounts of money.

  5. Anonymous

    I agree with Kris to a large degree: Why try manage what you (think) you don’t have or have any control over?

    I’d take it a step further and ask: who is making the large financial decisions for many GenY adults right now? The media? College recruiters? Parents? Or the individuals themselves?

    I am not sure that it’s reasonable to pay what people do for college when so few actually go onto jobs related to their shiny degrees….

  6. Anonymous

    Young people don’t care about money because they think they don’t have any. I’m in college and my friends are learning about how to budget, how to spend less than they make, how to pay off loans, etc, but not how to save for their future houses and retirement. Some of them think that the government is going to fund their retirement via Social Security. I’m trying to set them straight.

    Thankfully, my father introduced me to personal finance when I was about 12, and I was interested. Parents who try to talk to their children will probably end up pleasantly surprised. Children, just as much as adults, like money and want to have more.

  7. Anonymous

    Sadly, I think I understood a bit out finance as a youngster, but I completely over-estimated the impact my salary would have when I got a job after college graduation.

    I thought I would be making 40k+ a year, so a few thousand in debt would be no big deal to pay off. Unfortunately a few thousand turned into many thousand and a 40k+ salary just doesn’t go that far, especially when living in a city that has a high cost of living.

  8. Anonymous

    Craig pretty much nailed it. I think its more about current focus than it is lack of education. Right or wrong, it’s our nature to concentrate on right now. Expecting someone who has little finances and/or financial obligations to develop responsible financial management skills is probably asking a little much. They will care about those things when they need to. With that being said, us older folk all know that they really need to be caring about it right now b/c now directly effects tomorrow. Some of us may have been blessed with that foresight right of the gate, but the majority of us probably learned those lessons the hard way.

    I may not be totally oblivious when it comes to my finances now, but my head is still focused on today more than it is tomorrow. I’m only 32 years old – I have no idea what being a 70 year old is like. Yet, everything I’m doing right now – what I eat, what I read, how much I do or don’t exercise – all of it will effect me later in life. At some point when I’m an older man, I am going to wish I did things differently b/c I will be paying for the mistakes that my 32 year old self made.

    Hindsight is 20/20 – whether it’s with finances or your cholesterol levels or something else.

  9. Anonymous

    Short Answer: Because It’s the coolest if you are unfazed and don’t care about anything. Just do what you want without thinking about consequences makes you an ultimate badass. So says the movies and colleges. 😉

    BUT It really is because parents don’t teach their kids. Because they have no clue, look at all the ARMs!

  10. Anonymous

    I think one reason savings rates drop from generation to generation is that most people get their first ideas about financial management from their parents, at a time when parents might have a negative savings rate.

    Kids start to get expensive about when they start being able to learn stuff effectively, and there is nothing wrong with parents in their late 20’s and early 30’s being net borrowers who will pay it back as their income peaks in their 40’s and 50’s. But it does mean that kids are going to learn about proper financial discipline at a time when their parents’ savings rate is at a low ebb.

  11. Anonymous

    Being younger I can relate. It is very intimidating and we are so new. We also don’t have the funds or financial responsibilities delaying things even further. We live more with a present mentality than future mentality.

  12. Anonymous

    Unfortunately a catch as you can education is better than nothing, but fi-ed courses to equip students as well as adults would be preferred, with actual curriculum/sequential learning objectives. At this time there is no meaningful or mandatory financial education available, nor has there been, since credit options became available some three generations ago. Parents, students and families of all income levels continue to struggle with personal finance issues, worldwide. We need to break the cycle, and education is key.

  13. Anonymous

    It may never be too late to start, but of course the person needs to WANT to start. My wife grew up in a situation where not only were finances not taught to her, but her parents poorly managed their finances (and still do). She not only didn’t learn good practices, but picked up bad ones. At this point in her life, she doesn’t seem ready to take control. I’ve talked to her a little about our finances, and we’re starting to save for a house, but she still spent $60 for a haircut yesterday without mentioning anything about it first. Pushing the issue at all just makes her defensive and unhappy, so until she’s ready, I’ll just try to budget in her impulse buying.

  14. Anonymous

    This is a great post, I came into adulthood not knowing too much about finances, and not knowing anything really crippled me financially for the two years I was on my own. I can see now how educating young people can really ‘pay’ off (pun intended) in the long run.

  15. Anonymous

    Thanks for this. I have 3 younger children. The way I’m educating them is by involving them in our discussion around money right now. Things are tight (no kidding) and for the first time, I’m telling them about it.

    This is not done in a way to scare them. I assure them that we’ll be alright. But I hope that by sharing, they’ll understand how to deal with finances.

  16. Anonymous

    I am a young person, and I do care about finances. However, I admit that most 16-year-olds do not care about finances. I agree with you that we need to have more family financial discussions. My parents have always be great about that. They discuss finances, buying decisions, investments and other financial-related topics with us.


  17. Anonymous

    It’s a mix of parents not involving children in financial affairs/decisions and schools not teaching basic personal finance as part of the curriculum.

    I mean think about it, growing up you learn the most of your knowledge from two sources. Parents, and school. If neither of them care to provide you with financial skills, then you won’t develop them. Most people won’t even start until they are out on their own, and that’s when they learn from trial and error (most of us anyway).

  18. Anonymous

    I was in the same situation and looking back it really is astounding how little both my family and the school system taught me about finances.

    I had to take a class in High School on money but all it really taught was how to fill out a check and simple things like that, nothing ever about savings, compound interest, the dangers of credit.

    Students should be educated on what a credit score is, debt to income ratios, benefits of savings and more. Hopefully we can get there, until then posts like this and others can help and move society forward.

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