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Learning in My 30s About Money, the Tool of Life

Lamare enjoys pondering social issues and commentary. In this case, the role money plays in our lives.

What Is This Thing We Call Money?

According to Webster’s Online Dictionary, money is defined as, “something generally accepted as a medium of exchange, a measure of value, or a means of payment.” Exposing my ignorance here, I was well into my 20s before I ever thought to ask what money is.

Everyone, without question, understands what we do with money, and I would wager that most people recall hearing adages from their parents, aunts, uncles, and/or grandparents something along the lines of the following: “That money burned a hole in your pocket.” Although I understood the implications of the statement, I never really stopped to meditate on what it really means, especially as I was at the corner store spending my few dollars as quickly as I earned them. (As a sidenote, although the origin of the aforementioned idiom is in question, a cursory internet search suggests that it dates back to 1530, where it alluded to a person’s unrelenting desire to spend money.)

If you stop to think about money, the mind wanders quickly into fantasies about what you may do if you hit the lottery. Interestingly, we find ourselves listing all that things we would buy, places we would travel, and/or the choice words we would direct towards our supervisors at work. That being said, you may find yourself in a mental place that our parents would probably rebuke us for committing the very indiscretion as when we were kids, finding ourselves as part of the Nouveau Riche (new money) with five dollars in our pockets.

Why Are We So Ignorant When It Comes to Money and How It Works?

In April this year, Annie Nova of CNBC wrote about the U.S. savings crisis. Specifically, she talked about the impact of a lack of financial education and literacy in the United States. Just a month prior, for the financially focused outlet InvestestmentNews.com, Greg Iacurci covered the seeming financial illiteracy epidemic in America.

How is it possible that Americans, in the Information Age, are suffering from a lack of knowledge? Specifically about the all-mighty dollar?

Now that I am in my 30s, I find myself agreeing with Heather Long of CNN, who in 2016 wrote about the lack of financial education in our school system. She raised an interesting intellectual dilemma to ponder: How is it that sex education is mandatory, but financial education is nowhere on any pre-college curriculum? Especially in a nation where the last several generations of adults are entering life with mind-numbing debt and seemingly no prospect of mediation, as covered by Hau Hsu at the New Yorker.

How is it that sex education is mandatory, but financial education is nowhere on any pre-college curriculum?

What If We Thought of Money as a Tool?

In my opinion, the conundrum we find ourselves in is because we were never taught that money is a tool. I wish I could take credit for that idea as original to myself, but I have to tip my hat to Eric Roburge of Forbes. At the heart of his argument is that we must shift our paradigm concerning money: what it is, what it is not, and how we use it.

Our parents, our education system, and our culture all frame money as this thing that we used to purchase things that make us happy.

Speaking for myself, I watched (and continue to watch) my parents struggle with finances. I recall watching siblings complain about how to pay a utility bill, but were in line for the release of the newest Michael Jordan basketball shoe.

My teachers never addressed money, except when they discussed the need for scholarships or financial aid for undergraduate studies.

Our TV shows, movies, music videos, magazines, etc, all display money as associated with stuff . . . and smiling faces of all the wonderful friends that come with those things. Depending on your musical persuasion, you saw rappers with stacks of cash sitting on expensive cars and surrounded by scantily clad women—success of course. On the opposite side of the spectrum is a man in an expensive suit, descending the stairs of a private jet and being ushered into an expensive car—super success of course.

How would we approach money if we were conditioned from childhood to view it as something we need to shape our future? What if we were taught that there is a thing called debt that can cripple you without your awareness and that ignorance of it does not prevent it from undermining your future. What if we were made to comprehend that there is a significant benefit from understanding the difference between want and need, and that our inability to understand the difference can result in us swimming in mud and not prepared for our twilight years.

The adage “if I knew then what I know now” induces me to look forward to the creation of a time machine.

Questions for Readers

  1. If you understand money now, as opposed to 10 or 20 years ago, what are you doing differently with this tool?
  2. If you have children, are you teaching them how to employ money as a tool or simply as a means to amass more material items?
  3. Where are you in your knowledge of money?
  4. What was it that spurred your awareness of what money is or is not?

Thank you all for your time, and please stay tuned for more in the coming months.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2019 Lamare St Clair