They never told us - How will we know

Roger Schlesinger
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Posted: Sep 29, 2006 4:35 PM

Boy do I wish I could start this life's journey all over since I am finally beginning to understand. It has only taken about 4 decades, not counting the 2 decades I needed to figure out the basics. What didn't they tell us? It depends on how many days you intend to devote to the answer. I will give you the big one first: What is it like to be a parent? We can start with the word worry and go from there. From the first breath your child takes to the last breath you take, it's there, lurking in the background waiting for a chance to explode into full consciousness. As parents we understand it, I just wonder how many wouldn't opt for parenthood if they knew in advance.

There are certainly other things they forgot to mention, especially growing older. I have a poster in my office showing an older man with the amazing body of a 30 year old, and the inscription "Growing Old Isn't for Sissy's". Forget the mental aspect of aging – those wonderful senior moments when you can't remember the same phone number you’ve called everyday for the last five years. Just concentrate on the little pains that come out of nowhere. The joke among my friends begins with the greeting "Hi, what hurts today?” I do not feel one bit older than I did 25 years ago, except when I greet the dawn, and my body greets me in oh so many different ways. It generally takes a short while, and everything seems to be back in place. You go through the day, and tomorrow you get to do it again.

I am not sure I would have changed my athletic experiences in high school and college because of what I am going through now, but I wouldn't have minded knowing that I was probably going to have back and knee problems. I guess they forgot to mention it, or just maybe their mornings were still okay.

What really bothers me is the lack of preparedness from the schools for the things that really matter most in my life, and probably yours. I went to a renowned public high school (one that garnered it's own TV series), a junior college, a top 50 public university, and a very well known private university where I received my MBA. And yes, I was unprepared for life, certainly in a financial way. Here’s what I didn't learn:

1. The importance of good credit.

2. The danger of credit cards.

3. How and why I should buy a house, and how to finance it.

4. The difference between investing and gambling.

5. What I should become: doctor, lawyer, accountant, or pilot. Everyone had an opinion, no one had any reasons.

6. Why I should save money. My father told me to, but never told me why. Neither did anyone else.

7. Why I needed insurance.

8. The difference between cheap and inexpensive.

9. How to act on financial matters, not react.

10. The importance of being honest – with yourself.

These things really mattered in my young life, and I didn't do very well with any of them. Do I blame the institutions for my lack of preparedness? No, not really. They certainly weren't set up to build me as a person, as much as they were to give me both general and specific knowledge on various subjects so I could find out for myself. Maybe they taught some of the above and I was mentally AWOL at the time. Who knows?

Now is the time however to make sure everyone is prepared for life and the little nuances that can make it a sweet or sour experience. I am not saying that life is all about money and finance, but unfortunately it certainly becomes that, as your supply dwindles. If you have too much month left at the end of your paycheck, life is all about money. It shouldn't have to be that way, unfortunately it is.

If your kids are young and they aren't getting the information, make sure you give it to them. They won't like it now, but they will appreciate it later. Each day I read up to 100 emails from ordinary folks, many who have financial problems they most likely shouldn't have or wouldn't have, if they had been given the basics at a very young age. I try to get them to see their options and realize the importance of clearing up the past and moving forward with a plan for the future.

I believe kids should begin learning about how to live on their own as early as grade school. The learning should continue in middle school and high school, because not everyone continues their education past this point. I have seen too many young people set themselves back for a number of years because of their lack of knowledge about personal finance.

The sad thing about this life we live is that we need a lifetime of experiences to make up for the lack of knowledge. It takes longer to gain experience than it takes to learn, but until they change the curricula, you won't know what you’re lacking in knowledge until you have the experience to find out. It isn't a sin to graduate from the "College of Hard Knocks"; it just takes a long time.

My answer to this is read, read and read. And don't be too quick to accept an answer without understanding its relevance and how you can arrive at the same answer on your own. Knowledge is power and can give you a special life. With a strong understanding of personal finance you can eliminate the frustrations that keep you from excelling, even though you have the knowledge.