Mindset vs. mechanics: Two essentials in personal finance

Is money something to be managed, engaged with and used to achieve personal goals? Or is it something to be feared, ignored or left to others to manage? A tool we can leverage strategically or a wild card — something highly influential in our lives that is controlled only by the chance of fate?

The idea of financial education can seem intimidating. We think immediately of CPA exams, unintelligible federal reserve pronouncements and mathematical formulas that require a dozen years of post-graduate study to unravel. The concept, though, is broad enough to encompass kitchen-table conversations with young children as well as specialized certifications for professional advisors.

Perhaps surprisingly, it is those kitchen-table conversations that often have the most impact on our lives. The way we approach money is very personal, stemming from years of passively observed lessons every bit as much as formal training, if not more. In fact, when it comes to personal finance, mindset matters at least as much as mechanics.

That’s not to discount the value of a technical understanding of when, how and why to perform various financial actions. These skills are a crucial element of sound financial management. But even more than technical skills — and more than the random chance of being born into a family that’s wealthy or one that struggles financially — it is the mindset we bring to personal finance that shapes our relationship with money and our eventual “success” or “failure” from a financial perspective.

Effective financial education must include engagement as a primary goal. Theoretical knowledge is valuable, but less so than hands-on, practical knowledge that comes with experience. Willingness to engage with money is just as important as knowing how to do so, and indeed is a prerequisite to learning how. And that brings us back to the kitchen table.

Many parents provide age-appropriate swim lessons for their babies and toddlers so they can learn how to feel comfortable in the water and explore it safely. Similarly, I believe it is critical that we teach our children from a very young age to understand money as a tool, and show them how to recognize and engage with it as an ever-present element in our daily lives.

I was a competitive swimmer in high school and college, and I had my son in the pool at six weeks. I’ve also been trading a portfolio together with him since he was 12, for the very same reasons. Getting children accustomed to interacting with money and being in water — or doing anything else — so that these experiences begin to feel normal, yields greater confidence that supports ongoing engagement and further learning.

Looking back at my elementary school education, it’s clear that more time and effort were devoted to helping me master the recorder than understand money. And while playing the recorder is a fine thing, I’m not convinced that choice reflects a wise educational strategy. Today, as a financial professional, I consistently get calls from clients and friends, asking for resources on how to help their kids with money. It’s still not being taught in schools and many parents realize that they lack the basic information they need to help their kids master this critical life skill.

I have taught a high school money management class as a guest of the Junior Achievement program and seen firsthand how receptive these teenagers were to the information — and how little they already knew about it.

We must do whatever we can to remedy that dearth of early financial education. When we teach kids how to think in financial terms and encourage ongoing engagement with money at home, we impart the message that personal finance is meaningful and appropriate for everyone.

We also help them discover that engaging with money enhances our power to achieve personal goals, but that money itself has no intrinsic power over us — unless we choose to cede control over our own finances. And in the process, we allow our children to avoid the fear that so often surrounds money while building financial skills they can use and benefit from for the rest of their lives.

This article is excerpted and adapted from Financial Education Resources for Parents, a guide I created to help parents raise financially savvy kids. To receive your own copy of this comprehensive resource, click here.

Meredith C. Moore, Registered Representative, offering securities through NYLIFE Securities LLC, Member FINRA/SIPC, A Licensed Insurance Agency. 1125 Cambridge Square, Suite C, Alpharetta, GA 30009 (770) 587–0281. Financial Adviser offering investment advisory services through Eagle Strategies LLC, A Registered Investment Adviser. NYLIFE Securities LLC and Eagle Strategies LLC are New York Life Companies. Artisan Financial Strategies, LLC, is not owned or operated by NYLIFE Securities LLC or its affiliates. Neither Artisan Financial Strategies, LLC, nor its advisors provide tax, legal or accounting advice. This is provided for general informational purposes only.

Tireless worker. Financial Advisor Guru. Speaker. Writer. Leader. Personal Growth Junkie.

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