Addressing Victim Mentality in Personal Finance

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Now I remember why I dislike Twitter so much…

Usually I check the Young and Thrifty Twitter account every few days just to skim some personal finance stuff and retweet anything that I think is particularly new or interesting.  Occasionally I have something original to say or we want to showcase an article that just went up. Rarely do I ever actually try to engage with anyone, because I’ve often found that Twitter can be sort of like the comments section of most newspapers – where professional trolls and keyboard warriors hang out.

But it had been a while, so I dutifully logged on to see what the world was up to.  My eye was quickly caught by a retweet of a podcast by a friend of mine who I respect a ton and who always has interesting things to say about the world of personal finance.  The podcast was called “The Financial Literacy Hoax” and so naturally it got my attention. The speakers were two ladies by the names of Nora Loreto and Sandy Hudson. I have never spoken to either person, and to be honest the only thing I knew about either one was that the name Loreto seemed to ring a bell, and upon a quick Google scan I realized I’d read a couple of articles of hers over the years.  (She has since caught some major media attention for her controversial comments in regards to the Humboldt Broncos tragedy.)

After listening to the entirety of the podcast just to make sure this wasn’t some weird April Fools thing, I broke my usual rule about not engaging, and responded that I thought the podcast was terrible and had a litany of errors in it.  Naturally, what ensued was a weird Twitter spat that I was not even remotely prepared for both in terms of actually being proficient at using a limited number of characters, and in terms of time I could dedicate to the cause (I was on lunch break).  I’m also not naturally talented at responding using Twitter-norms such as sarcastic memes that are used to try to intimidate people as opposed to engaging.

Addressing Victim Mentality in Personal Finance

Needless to say that I learned my lesson and will roll out the caution tape around Twitter for myself again going forward.  

However, this is not the first time I’ve encountered the flawed reasoning that was present on this podcast.  The most prominent example was probably an interview I saw last year with the author of the book: Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry.  The idea that there are a sizable number of people out there pushing this weird and flawed “you’re-a-victim-and-there-is-nothing-you-can-do-about-it” agenda nagged at me until I realized that I needed to explain exactly why this permanent victim mindset is ridiculous.  If nothing else for my own sanity, and to make use of this burst of motivation and passion. (After writing about personal finance for the better part of a decade, I often have to look for new sources of inspiration.)

The Kernel of Truth

At the heart of the podcast – and I think what my friend was in agreement with – was the assertion that the current provincial government in Ontario was getting positive headlines that they didn’t deserve due to their recent introduction of personal finance principles within the current mandatory Grade 10 “Careers” course.

Now, I should make it crystal clear that I am not fan of that government.  In fact, it feels kind of weird to be defending them in any way, shape, or form.

I should also point out that I think their current approach is suboptimal and that Ontario students would be much better served with something close to what educators are doing in Saskatchewan and Manitoba when it comes to financial literacy.  

Now, all of that being said, this podcast wasn’t about effective ways to teach personal finance.  It was about why a personal finance course is a waste of time in almost any context, because as the speakers point out near the end of the episode, “you can’t educate someone into figuring out how to take the system down… well you can.”

This was the conclusion of a twenty-minute conversation that can basically be summed up as:

  1. The world is not equal.
  2. If you’re born into poverty, you might as well just accept that you are doomed to be poor the rest of your life.
  3. No amount of knowledge or education can help anyone when it comes to money.  If you are a victim of circumstance, just accept your label of financial victim and learn that oil sands are bad.
  4. Financial literacy is just very simple math and it has nothing to do with if a person is successful in managing their finances because that is simply predestined fate in our current capitalist system.
  5. All the energy put towards financial literacy would be much better put towards upending the entire capitalist system.  
  6. Protest any form of personal finance class because it is only a tool used by the elites to keep poor people down and then blame them for being poor.

 

Common Ground

Before I get up on my soapbox to explain why Sandy and Nora are wrong on several fronts, it’s worth noting that I’m empathetic to the plight of folks who get trapped in the poverty cycle.  In fact, it’s one of the driving reasons that I’ve put so much work into writing about personal finance. I’ve even argued on behalf of an inheritance tax (at $2 million+ asset levels) and basic income on several occasions, so I’m pretty sure I’m hated by everyone who cares about politics or money in any way at this point.

When students in my personal finance course need a bit of a mental break on a Friday or after a quiz, we often take in a John Oliver clip.  These clips usually revolve around the idea that “it is expensive to be poor”.  This statement is undeniably true, and is very sad.  Oliver has shown how there are entire industries set up to take advantage of poverty and financial illiteracy such as payday loans, sub-prime car loans, mutual fund fees, banking penalties, and even gambling.  We watch these clips because John Oliver is hilarious, but also because it illustrates just which financial traps market-savvy consumers need to stay away from. The best way to defeat these poverty traps is to educate people into staying away from them – not to burn the entire system down!

Obviously some people are born with a head start in life.  Their personal finance situation will by definition be easier than someone who was born into poverty.  That doesn’t change the fact that everyone’s lot can be improved upon by developing financial literacy.  If the reverse were true, why bother to ever teach anyone anything at all? I’m not naturally gifted at math, so should math simply cease to be taught because it’s not fair that I will have to work harder than others at it?  Is it fair that people who are naturally gifted at math have a large edge when it comes to many high-earning jobs, as well as many everyday situations? Maybe we should refuse to teach anyone math, because all it does is encourage inequality.  Obviously that line of thinking is ridiculous, but it illustrates the logical conclusion to the “we’re born unequal so burn the system down” thinking.  Read the short story Harrison Bergeron for a more creative take on this concept.

Because Nora and Sandy took the time to identify their relevant credentials when it came to this discussion (they went to a conference one time and briefly Googled a curriculum document before feeling confident enough to be authorities on the matter), I should probably explain that I’ve helped develop financial literacy curricula for several years now, in addition to personally teaching close to 200 secondary students about financial literacy, writing papers such as this one while pursuing a Master’s of Education Degree, penning close to two thousand personal finance articles, and appearing in two hundred or so podcast episodes.  I have been a teacher for nearly eight years, and have interacted with rural and urban students from the poorest parts of Manitoba (where I grew up) to the most prestigious private school in the province (where I coached basketball and student taught for a year).

 

17 Reasons that Nora and Sandy are Wrong

1) Their use of dismissive language doesn’t prove how smart they are, and how wrong people who have a different opinion are.  Instead it just gets otherwise-reasonable people upset and reveals the true lack of understanding they have. For example, when you begin an episode with:

“They concluded that the issue was financial literacy, and the way to solve issues of poverty and lack of access to wealth and blah blah blah whatever, whatever euphemistic ways they have of talking about poverty was to educate people on financial instruments, or WTF.”

Way to give the idea a fair shake there team.

 

2) Nora and Sandy assert that student loan education is not needed, which shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the current view of most Canadians.

“The problem isn’t that I don’t know how to get access to loans for example, which is what some of the bankers were saying, ‘It’s like we think these students need to be educated in how to access lines of credit, like what financial products are out there that will help them, blah blah blah whatever.’

The students were like, ‘that’s not the issue, I don’t want to be in debt.’

Then it was like, ‘Uh, let’s make sure they’re financially literate so that they don’t have debt aversion.’”

A lot to unpack here.  First of all, the debate around who should pay for post-secondary education is one that reasonable people can disagree on.  I see the benefits of having free-at-the-point delivery university and college courses. It is tough to measure the overall benefit to society of post-secondary education.  On the other hand, I don’t think I’ll ever be convinced that a man like my father, who ran his own business most of his life, and worked full-time since he was fifteen-years-old, should have his income taken by the government in order to pay for degrees that have a very low overall benefit to the public, such as many of the new degrees in post-modern language-neutral navel-gazing.

All of that aside, the unquestioned main benefactor of a post-secondary education is the individual who receives it.  They will go on to earn more throughout their lifetime (on average) and their quality of life will be higher than those without a degree or diploma.  Not to mention the fact that going to university or college to learn everyday is a whole lot more fun than most jobs that I’ve ever seen. Consequently, I think it’s more than fair to ask students to pay a substantial portion of the costs for their degree.  If you want to get smarter, get a library card or enroll in a free online class. If you want a credential that will allow you to earn more in society, along with the luxury of a really fun experience, it’s only fair that you foot some of the bill.

If you think that students and their families should be responsible for paying for some portion of their education (again, reasonable people can debate what portion is “fair”) then access to credit, and education around what this will look like on a practical level, should be a prerequisite.  I grew up and now teach in rural areas where students must travel to go to school. If anyone is familiar with how expensive post-secondary education can be, it’s me. This is why it’s so important to explain to students what their options are, and how these options could affect their future lifestyles, so that they can make an informed marketplace decision as to what education they wish to pursue.  Study after study reveals that most students don’t actually understand how loans work and wish they had understood more ahead of time.  The idea that we shouldn’t educate students on the realities of credit because they’d rather not go into debt is very weird to me.  Clearly we should also advise students on the options available if they’d prefer to pay for their education up front, but why would we specifically withhold information about credit – which if used properly, can really jump start a person’s career and earning potential, as well as provide them with an enjoyable life experience that they may value immensely.  The issue is not uneducated vague “debt aversion” and greedy corporations trying to trick people, it’s simply giving people the knowledge needed to make the education/student loan world transparent and efficient.

 

3) We already have personal finance in the curriculum.

“I believe there is something in the curriculum already called math, and math can be used to do many things, including budgeting.  So one of the goals that we have is….”

“Finances can be a difficult thing to understand because math is a difficult thing to understand.”  

“If we look at the curriculum […] the high school math curriculum from grades 9-12 has particular outcomes already in it around understanding interest and understanding debt, even got something in there about chances of winning the lottery.”

“You know there is all sorts of things in the high school curriculum about financial literacy.  And so what we need to ask ourselves then is what is missing that the Liberals are seeking to gain, and if there isn’t anything to gain by creating a specific curriculum for financial literacy, then why are they doing this – because it sounds nice.”

Again, there are so many logical inconsistencies and falsehoods here, it’s hard to be pinpoint all of them.  Please listen to this podcast episode that I did with Preet Banerjee or the episode I recorded with the Because Money crew to better understand the problem with asking math teachers to teach financial literacy.  

It’s not that the math involved with basic budgeting is difficult, it’s that behaviour and knowledge of financial lexicon are such massive parts of personal finance.  Understanding basic multiplication, addition, subtraction, and division are needed to be proficient with personal finance, but understanding how to apply them to a TFSA vs RRSP debate or understanding how insurance pools work requires much more than the math involved.

 

4) Despite currently living in the urban environments of Toronto and Quebec City, Nora and Sandy believe that they can speak with authority on what is most relevant in the “Northern-most regions of Ontario”.

“…teaching students how to apply for debt, teaching students not to be afraid of debt, and so on, and is that going to be relevant conversation for students from the tip of Windsor to uh the northern-most regions of Ontario?  I don’t think so. And so what is the idea of who needs financial literacy? They’re focusing on poor folks and folks who don’t have money and the idea is that wealthy people don’t need financial literacy or are somehow financially literate already.”

As someone who grew up essentially on the border of Manitoba and Ontario in one of Manitoba’s lowest-income areas, and who is married to someone from Northwestern-Ontario, I think I can say conclusively that rural people absolutely need financial literacy in the worst way.  Sure, someone who gets to live at home while they pursue a post-secondary education might need access to student loans, but rural people who NEED to travel and live away from home often have no choice but to pursue credit options. (Now, the tradeoff for this is the lower living costs that they and their parents have enjoyed while living rurally, along with various lifestyle considerations.)

It’s not a matter of teaching students to be afraid or not afraid of student debt.  It’s a matter of explaining that credit is simply a tool. If the asset or experience that you will be getting is more valuable than the debt you will be taking on, then of course we should encourage people to look at various ways to fund their post-secondary education.  Of course, a good financial literacy course will also look at student jobs, cost-benefit analysis of various degree/diploma paths, and other options so that everyone involved can make a rational choice.

Furthermore, there are many parents who each earn the median income or slightly higher, who find themselves trapped in the “student loan middle ground” where their income is considered too high to get much government support, but for many personal reasons they have not been able to save a lot of money for their child’s education.  These people are perhaps equally in need to knowledge on what options are out there in order to help them pursue their calling in life. So to oddly claim that financial literacy and credit education is not relevant to people in rural areas in ludicrous, as is the idea that “well-off” families will be fine without this aspect of financial literacy.

 

5) To further underscore their point that people with high incomes are bad and dumb, and that impoverished people are the only ones worthy of respect in life, our hosts state that, “I think the most financially literate people are the people who know how to survive with poverty wages.”

Frankly, I don’t know who the most financially-literate people are in Canada because I don’t see a ton of evidence of financial literacy in many populations.  I don’t believe any age grouping or income level really has much edge on the others.

What I do know is that poverty traps wouldn’t exist (or would at least be far less prevalent than they are) if impoverished people were the most financially-literate in society.  There is no doubt in my mind that people who have lived in poverty for extended periods know how to “stretch a dollar” and get the maximum out of a meagre budget to a higher degree than someone who has only known a middle-class lifestyle (on average).  The problem is that there is SO MUCH more to financial literacy than frugal budgeting! The dripping political bias here is so strong that the conversation rapidly approaches fringe/extremist territory, but I’ve heard these opinions in enough places to be worried that they might entering into the mainstream.

 

6) For some reason our hosts think that concepts such as insurance, interest rates, RESPs, consumer protection, and many others are impossible to create a curriculum for saying:

“What does a relevant financial literacy curriculum look like?  In a very wealthy area of Toronto versus a very poor area of Thunder Bay?  What does it look like? What are we going to be teaching students about finances that is going to be relevant across the board?”

Uh… it pretty much looks like the course that I teach and have been advocating for, for several years now.  Sure, there are some regional differences such as the cost of housing or proximity to post-secondary education.  That doesn’t change the facts behind knowing the difference between a variable and fixed interest rate. It doesn’t change how insurance works and how to shop for it.  It doesn’t change what credit cards versus a line of credit looks like in terms of credit options. As a rural person having to hear this from two urban people I feel there is a high degree of pedantic prejudice at work here.  The hosts are too polite to say it outright, but the inferred message is that us poor dumb hicks have nothing to get out of a personal finance curriculum because we live in impoverished areas like Thunder Bay (basically “the Big City” to me growing up) and we need to be taught “special” personal finance because we’ll never understand something that the smart kids from Bay Street might want to learn.

 

7) “I don’t know who we will be benefiting by forwarding a curriculum that has what in it, that is not there already.  No one can explain this to me, it’s so strange”

It’s really not that strange.  What your statement makes very clear is that by definition you mostly only talk, read, and interact with a very specific group of people who have beliefs similar to your own.  Unfortunately, this now seems to be the default for a lot of people. This can be the only conclusion because folks like myself have been explaining the benefits of this type of curriculum for years now on radio, in magazines, online, through podcasts, and other types of media.  There are no shortage of people out there willing to explain why you’re wrong about this.

 

8) At points, I’m not even sure what the hosts are complaining about…

“Are you going to teach people about RESPs?  Are you going to teach people about RRSPs?” [*dismissive snarky tone*]

YES!

 

9) “Are you going to teach people that they’ll never have a good pension because the entire welfare state has fallen through and that even the Canada Pension Plan might be gone by the time you kids in high school are 65?”

And again we reach the edges of extremism.  Nonetheless, this appears to be a popular myth.  Not only is the CPP is fine shape, but by making minor adjustments around the edges such as raising the eligible age by a year or two (to allow for much longer lifespans) or slight upticks to the contribution rate, the CPP is not only surviving, but we’re looking to expand it!

OAS on the other hand might feel some pressure.  See, that’s the type of detail you’d learn in a financial literacy course that could apply across all demographics.

 

10) At one point the hosts appear to confuse the phrase “financial literacy” with “indoctrination of my personal political beliefs”.

“Are you going to teach us the connection between investing our money and the war industry or the tar sands?”

This is straying pretty far from financial literacy.  I could just as easily say, “Are you going to teach us the lifestyle trade-offs we would have to make, and cuts to the social safety net that would occur without the tax revenue generated by Canadian, ethically-produced oil?”

I teach students how to research investments and how to think critically about the world around them.  Difficult tradeoffs are a part of that. I don’t teach them what to believe or why the tradeoffs that I believe are the best, are the only way to think.

 

11) It’s not that hard to teach about economic bubbles.  I do cover this briefly in personal finance, but it’s also a pretty standard aspect of most economics curricula.

[*laughing dismissively] “What happens when you invest in BitCoin and lose all of your money.”

To directly answer the question: yes, we teach how speculation creates bubbles and how to generally avoid them.  Most personal finance teachers who I know, also touch on the concept of cryptocurrency and blockchain technology.  My class looks at a chart of BitCoin while pointing out just how volatile the value of the “currency” has been. It’s really not that difficult and it generally fits into basic conversations about markets, and what legal tender is.  My grade tens are able to grasp it fairly easily.

 

12) So after slagging the idea of a financial literacy course for much of the episode, Sandy and Nora then delve into the logical paradox of criticising the current “careers class” while at the same time dismissing any attempts to make it better.

“It sounds like, what they are actually doing is making an update to the careers class”

“But by and large it was a joke”  

The course “remains useless” according to their social media feeds.

“What is missing from the curriculum that is going to be put in this course?”

At the risk of getting repetitive, the answer is: 90% of personal finance (the non-basic math stuff).

It sounds to me as if the hosts had the misfortune of being taught by bad teachers.  When I look at the current careers curriculum it does look very open-ended in terms of what can be covered.  As a teacher, I see this as an excellent opportunity. Perhaps Sandy and Nora would be better off setting their sites on teacher education and how teacher unions protect the inept teachers who they are complaining about.  Oh that’s right, at least one of the hosts is partial to the view that unions are sacred and can do no wrong.

 

13) The hosts seem to have this weird notion that a personal finance course wouldn’t include how taxes work?

“Are you talking about CPP and EI and how the state funds the social safety net?  Are you talking about how if you’re a freelancer, you have to cover the employer’s contribution to payroll taxes?”

Yes. We do.

BTW, it’s not just freelancers who have to deal with this, it’s entrepreneurs of any kind.  Perhaps teachers could teach this when they cover the entrepreneurship aspects of the careers course that this podcast mocks.  It’s also why raising the CPP contribution rates is a complex issue.

 

14) The hosts appear to believe that information of any kind can exist and be taught in some sort of bias-free vacuum, saying, “How do you depoliticize it? I think it’s highly political, that’s my biggest frustration with this idea, it’s that the idea of neutral financial literacy does not exist.”  

Our hosts must be quite frustrated with the entire curriculum and the entire written world.  It is true that a personal finance course cannot entirely be divorced from political bias. For example, when you teach about taxes do you focus on how deficits can cripple future budgets and how high tax rates can drive capital out of a country, or do you focus on how carbon taxes are the economically efficient way to lower carbon emissions and why tradeoffs to protect the environment could be economically beneficial in the mid-to-long term?

Teachers can’t completely seperate themselves from the curricula they teach.  Sandy and Nora go on to talk about how they would like to see specific types of history being taught.  The specific history they advocate for is inherently political. (As all versions of history are!) Again, to follow this confused logic to its conclusion, the only thing that would be left in the public school system if we had to remove anything that involved human bias in some direction would be a few purely-numerical math, physics, and chemistry problems.  Instead, we again teach critical thought, perhaps admit our own bias, and then we let students make up their own minds.

BTW, interest rates don’t vote, and TFSAs don’t own political party memberships.

 

15) Sandy and Nora don’t believe (citing no evidence) that teaching financial literacy will actually help people, saying:

“Will teaching financial literacy when you’re 15 teach you to avoid credit cards?  I f****** doubt it.”

“Because credit cards are going to be there when they go to campus, they’re going to say, ‘hey get this credit card,’ and they’re going to be like, ‘I have no money…’”

The facts are (see the paper I wrote about several years ago) that there is disagreement as to what types of personal finance education work best.  I honestly believe there is a huge case to be made for the idea that we have yet to see a true financial literacy course properly taught on a large scale anywhere in Canada.

What I mean by that, is that we have yet to see a semester-long course, taught by teachers who have subject area knowledge, and are provided support and resources by non-banking industry parties such as professors or securities commissions.  This simply doesn’t exist (see the podcasts I mentioned earlier for more info).

I know for a fact that the vast majority of the students that I’ve taught, and that I run into at various business competitions, have a very solid idea of what credit cards are and what sort of financial catastrophe they can bring about if not handled correctly.  

But instead of outlining a constructive change to the curriculum, our hosts instead advocate for a victim mentality that appears to include intentionally NOT teaching people about credit cards, because they are going to “get screwed” anyway.  Yet somehow, Sandy and Nora believe that their proposed changes to the history courses of those same 15-year-olds will have some sort of measurable effect? The cognitive dissonance required to make these logical leaps makes my head hurt.

 

16) Sandy and Nora make the assertion that there is no time to teach personal finance and then make the following recommendations:

“There’s so much missing in the curriculum, and for people to get excited, and to say that this is a good addition, it’s like, 1. We just explained why it’s not a good addition, 2. There is limited time and there are so many things that could be in the curriculum, all this is doing is maintaining the current status quo, that is so crushing, that it’s just destroying people, you will not, financially-literate someone into owning a house in Toronto.”

1) I just explained why you are wrong not only in your conclusion, but also why your logic is severely flawed and the facts that you’re basing this flawed argument on are not even in the ballpark of being correct.

2) There are many options for adding a financial literacy course to the curriculum.  Perhaps the best solution is making it an elective course so that students can chose to take it if they wish.  (We’ll see how many impoverished students that are already “the most financially literate people in Canada” decide to take the course – my educated guess judging from my school division would be the vast majority.)  That said, there are many students (the number varies from province to province) that meet their graduation requirements a full semester early. There is plenty of room in most provinces’ grade 11 and 12 timetables for this course.  The far bigger obstacle is actually finding qualified teachers.

3) Nora and Sandy dismissively claim that you can’t teach someone enough personal finance to afford a house in Toronto.  My response is that what you can teach is that they shouldn’t own a home in Toronto at the current prices to begin with.  First of all, it’s no one’s God-given right to live in an expensive city. Market realities dictate real estate costs. There are many excellent opportunities in Canada outside of our major urban markets.  Secondly, I would argue that if financial literacy levels were higher, the speculation that has let to housing bubbles around the world would be severely curtailed – thus stopping the probably real estate bubble that the hosts are referring to.

 

17) The hosts clearly believe that we have no control over our financial incomes or our life outcomes exasperatedly saying, “you need to have money to get a mortgage or f***** tax credits.”

So then teach labour market outcomes!  One would think that would be a key aspect of a course referred to as “careers”?!  

At the end of the day when you pay for a post-secondary education you are paying for the experience and the credential.  If you are paying just for the sheer love of learning – then stop paying and just get a book club or sample the amazing amount of online courses that are available.  The market value of the credential you are pursuing should be a factor in your post-secondary decision making – especially if you will have to take on debt to it

I’m not saying that money should be the only thing that matters when choosing a career – far from it.  Some of the happiest people I know in life make substantially less than the Canadian median wage (although admittedly substantially more than minimum wage).  What I’m saying is that you have direct control over the decisions and tradeoffs that you make in regards to pursuing a lifestyle and a career. So please don’t use low-income circumstances justify the degradation of a financial literacy course that should help students understand how to get a mortgage or use “f*****” tax credits.

The Actual Curriculum

So here’s what I was able to find out about the changes to the grade 10 curriculum that were being discussed on the program.  Again, I believe that a much stronger commitment to personal finance education would be ideal, but the point would be to encourage provincial governments to make a larger commitment, not insult them without providing any solutions when they take the first step forward.

  • The provincial government is piloting financial literacy programming in 28 Ontario schools (700 students).
  • The new curriculum will roll out this fall.
  • So far the province has stated that student feedback has centred around the following areas: taxes, buying a car, savings/investment, mortgages, and basic bankings tasks.
  • Prakash Amarasooriya, the student mostly closely associated in the media with advocating for personal finance education in Ontario schools, stated:  “It's been a long time coming.  A lot of students talk about not learning life skills in school they know they'll need in the real world.”

Why Is This So Important

Admittedly when I set out to write a response to this article I didn’t think it would take me several thousand words, but what can I say, was that there was a lot that needed to be set straight.

The larger overall problem is that this type of “I’m a victim and the current system is responsible” mindset is terribly destructive to people’s lives.  To advocate that students either receive some sort of instruction on how to take down the government or else don’t learn about credit cards and personal finance because they’ll just screw it up anyway seems insane to me.  I’m not trying to being needlessly provocative with that statement. I truly believe that advocating for less financial literacy given the current deficit in basic financial knowledge is irrational to the point of insanity.

On a personal note, when someone snarkily dismisses something that you’ve dedicated much of your professional life to, and deemed it irrelevant, that stings.  When two non-teachers want to criticize a curriculum that hasn’t even been written yet, after they attend one bankers conference and do quick skim of a curriculum document – yeah, that gets my blood boiling.  Finally, when two urban dwellers want to assert that financial literacy is irrelevant to low-income rural people (the very students I interact with every day), that understandably hits home.

I am a personal finance teacher that knows financial literacy courses make a difference because I’ve taught them and witnessed the difference firsthand.  There is no conspiracy. I am not a tool of the large corporations or an unthinking foot soldier to gods of capitalism. Everyone can learn something from a personal finance curriculum, and while it doesn’t change the fact that some people are born into more fortunate circumstances than others, it does help empower everyone to make their lives better, and to help keep businesses/markets/governments more efficient and honest. 

What doesn’t help people, is to convince them that they are a financial victim with no hope of learning, changing, or finding a better path in life.

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Kyle is a high school humanities teacher by day, and freelance personal finance author by night. He has been published in academic journals, and has also co-authored the book "More Money for Beer and Textbooks". In his free time Kyle likes to limp up and down a basketball court and pretend to be a tough guy in a boxing ring.

8 Comments

  1. Smallivy on April 19, 2018 at 9:08 am

    Absolutely right. There is essentially no difference in opportunity between a high school graduate whose parents make 150k per year but spend it all and whose parents make 10k. Both students can go to the same schools and the low-income student would get a full ride where the high-income student would come out deep in debt. The difference is that the child of the “wealthy” parents is expected to succeed and his parents do things to help him succeed. The child of the “poor” parents is told his whole life that he cannot succeed, and his parents may even do things to try to drag him down out of jealousy. It is this low expectation and lack of support and outright sabotage by those around him that holds the second child back and causes cycles of poverty.



  2. Russ on April 22, 2018 at 12:55 pm

    If I have any issue with financial literacy, it is not with what you are doing, Kyle. My concern is that the large financial institutions have gotten on the FinLit bandwagon in an attempt, in my opinion, to stave off the slow regulatory trend toward a best interest/fiduciary standard in their dealings with their customers.



  3. Kyle on April 22, 2018 at 3:05 pm

    I hear you Russ! That’s why we as educators have to get out in front of this and develop our own subject area expertise so that we don’t have to rely on the commercial sector for directions and resources.



  4. Troy Bombardia @ Bull Markets on April 22, 2018 at 5:54 pm

    These are the people who typically read Zerohedge and believe in conspiracy theories. It’s “the system” that’s suppressing them. The simple reality is that these people typically get nowhere in life because they don’t take responsibility for their own lives.



  5. Norm on April 22, 2018 at 6:23 pm

    Out of curiosity I listened to the podcast by Sandy and Nora. Unfortunately, that is 35 minutes and 17 seconds of my life that I can’t get back. Their whole message seems to boil down to this: basic math and willful blindness/ignorance is all you need to manage your finances.



  6. Kyle on April 22, 2018 at 8:48 pm

    Gotta listen to it on 2x Norm – only 23 minutes of your life that you’ll never get back!



  7. Mike on April 23, 2018 at 12:41 pm

    I was not borne into riches but, into what I called “lower middle class.” I, like my parents, had to work for everything I have. I went to college twice and racked up huge debt, knowing full well that I would have to pay it back.
    My first unofficial job was working at a dry cleaner on Saturdays, for 8hrs, for $25 cash, when I was 15.
    My first official summer job was working as a “grease monkey” at an oil change garage for $5/hr.
    I’ve done all kinds of work, with the intent of increasing my wages and making a better life for myself.
    Today, 35 years later, I am making roughly $40/hr, with benefits and a pension. I am also invested in the stock market, via a TFSA account with Questrade, thanks to Kyle &Justin’s recommendation. I’m also invested in precious metals, gold and silver.

    I chose to better myself at every opportunity that was presented to me. Not once did I every believe that I was a victim of the “system.”



  8. Kyle on May 6, 2018 at 11:50 am

    Sounds like a very “Canadian” story Mike! Congrats on realizing the fruits of your labours!



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