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Financial literacy month

April is financial literacy month. Financial literacy is a bizarrely controversial topic.

Mostly because it gets imbued with unwarranted meaning, to have something to argue against. So I’ll tell you what I don’t think it is: a solution for the structural and systemic barriers that persist in keeping wealth distribution deeply inequitable: knowing the difference between a Roth 401k and a traditional 401k doesn’t help you if you don’t have access to a 401k in the first place.

But here’s what I do think it is: understanding the principles, and having the skills, needed to make an informed decision about how to earn, manage, and use your money. Because even with the fairest, most equitable, most transparent system imaginable, you will still need to make some decisions. Arming yourself with a grasp of the concepts will help you approach those decisions with confidence.

This seems simple enough, but bound up in it are challenges like:

  • Widespread innumeracy, or at least a fear of numbers and reluctance to deal with them

  • Not having good money relationships being modeled for you

  • It’s complicated

  • It’s boring

The lack of confidence in basic math skills is a problem that goes far, far beyond just this topic.

Personally, I don’t think of financial literacy as a discrete skill that you decide one day to level up. Rather, it should be woven into the life skills we learn from a young age. Quantitative skills like the power of compounding and how to understand the terms of a loan before you sign, but also qualitative skills like negotiating compensation (after all, your own earning power is your biggest asset) and focusing on the things you can control. These are crucial skills that will only become more important in the years to come.

It also isn’t about getting rich quick, picking stocks, or even mostly about investing. Understanding how investing works is only a part of it.

It’s also knowing when to ask for help. After all, this is an expansive topic and no one should feel like they need to go it alone.

But what about now? What if you don’t feel like you got a good grounding in all of this, and now you do want to level up? Here are some resources (some are tutorials on how things work or what terms mean, and some are blueprints for doing it:

Khan Academy has a financial literacy section with great tutorials, and a personal finance section with exercises including determining your money personality

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau provides detail on lots of topics provides information on assistance with various life events

This wiki on Reddit gives an actionable plan for getting started with tackling your finances


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