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Financial Literacy Month: Commentary

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Donell Edwards, Blogger

DONED2014 SmallAbout Donell Edwards: Donell Edwards is President of CWR Media and is also founder and publisher of The College World Reporter (CWR) magazine and CWR World News & Information Service.  He is also a professional speaker, freelance writer, and entrepreneur.




Know Your Money
Friday – April 11, 2014

Knowing Your Personal Finances
Financial Literacy Month
By Donell Edwards

In yesterday’s blog the question was posed through an article in the Chicago Tribune regarding the fallacy of Financial Literacy Month.  In this article, the writer, Ms. Jill Schlesinger, who describes herself as a former member of the financial planning and money management industry cites her opinions why the idea of financial literacy education is a fallacy.  She also references a book, “Pound Foolish,” written by Helain Olen, and includes in her article comments from a recent interview with Ms. Olen. 


Group of Young People at a Party Sitting on a Couch with Champagne

It’s Financial Literacy Month, and We’re Having A Party!


The following is my commentary of Ms. Schlesinger’s article.

Ms. Schlesinger states that when she left the “financial planning and money management business and became a financial journalist, I had hopes that with a clear, easy-to-understand message, I could somehow help inform the masses. While that may be true, my view of financial literacy changed dramatically after I read Helaine Olen’s fantastic book, “Pound Foolish.”

You can get an overview of the book Ms. Schlesinger references through the links above or here.  While Ms. Olen’s book is a behind-the-scenes look into the finance industry from the perspective of a former insider, it is also an attack on the industry and the commercial system.  It must be acknowledged that much of what Ms. Olen says may be true, the financial planning and money management industry may be corrupt, however, her conclusions in regard to the benefits of financial literacy are inaccurate.

Both Ms. Olen and Ms. Schlesinger make the assumption that most efforts to inform and educate the masses about financial literacy and money management are funded, coordinated, and influenced by greedy banks and financial institutions.  Ms. Olen states regarding financial literacy, “it takes an incredibly complex and complicated financial services world, and thrusts all responsibility for navigating it safely on the customer. It presumes that the reason we can’t save is that we lack the skills, and doesn’t even deign to acknowledge the fact that the cost of health, education and housing has skyrocketed as our salaries have stagnated and fallen.”

I agree totally with Ms. Olen’s comment about the spiraling cost of health, education and housing, while  salaries remain stagnant or decrease as factors that make it difficult for individuals to save.  However, this alone does not mean that financial literacy does not help and is not necessary.  It is obvious from Ms. Olsen’s comments that the “financial services world” is “incredibly complex and complicated” that she is talking about investments, stocks, bonds, etc., and not the normal household and personal money management of the average person.  Admittedly for some balancing a checking account or developing a budget may be challenging, but it is not “incredibly complex and complicated.”

Most of the financial literacy programs are designed to work with people on a very basic level in learning how to control spending, prepare and live by a practical and realistic budget, and learn how to save and hopefully eventually invest.  That is not rocket science, but people do need help, they need education.  And for those who are really serious and implement what they are learning, it really does work.

The article further states, “But here’s the eye-opener: data indicate that financial literacy simply does not work. Despite millions being spent on financial education projects, people are not that much wiser about the subject. Olen says, ‘Students who study the subject seem to know no more or less than those who do not.’ And plenty of financially savvy people do dopey things with their money all the time.”

Again, to whom is Ms. Olsen referring to?  Based on those conclusions I guess we should close our schools because students from secondary schools and colleges also do things that are not very smart.  But is this because education did not benefit them, or because of personal choices they made?  Also, Ms. Olsen makes all of these comments without providing one single source or citing any study or referencing any data that supports her opinion.

The article further states, “That it doesn’t work should not be surprising, because Olen notes that much of the financial literacy effort is financed by big financial institutions, whose motives may be suspect. Many of these big companies promote their public education projects, while at the same time, continue to sell murky and complicated products.”

OK!  Now we begin to see what is really the driving force behind Ms. Olsen’s opinions.  She apparently has issues with the financial planning and money management industry.  No doubt she has seen some things during her career that really disturbed her.  However, that is no reason to attempt to discredit sound programs designed to help educate people about personal money management so that they may be able to improve their lives.

By the way, here are just a few independent organizations and agencies that promote Financial Literacy Month that have nothing to do with the industry:


The Financial Literacy and Education Commission


The National Endowment for Financial Education


President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability


Another thing that I do agree with the author about is her conclusion:  “Perhaps one way to celebrate Financial Literacy Month is to acknowledge that you need help from someone who puts your needs first, can separate emotions from the equation and who can guide you through life’s financial milestones.”

That is what Financial Literacy Month is about.  Acknowledging the need for help and acquiring the knowledge and information to do a better job of managing personal finances, and understanding where to seek help and whom to trust.

The role of Know Your Money is not only to be a source of information, but also to provide support and encouragement to those who want to improve their ability to manage their personal finances.

At one time in my career I studied to be a life coach with CoachInc, and learned how to help clients with life issues. The most profound aspect of life coaching is holding clients accountable.  What I get from Ms. Schlesinger’s article is that people must do a better job of holding themselves accountable for educating themselves and applying what they have learned.  That is a major issue, accountability.  But there is no fallacy in the idea of Financial Literacy Month.

There is an army of us who devote much of our time and energy to support, encourage, inform, and serve as cheerleaders for those trying to figure out how to do a better job of managing personal finances.  If you would like to know who we are just follow me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Kn0wY0urM0ney.


If you have questions or need help we are just an email away.  Send your questions to Info@KnowYourMoneyGlobal.com


We Would Like To Hear From You.  Are There Any Brave Souls Out There Willing To Share?:
If you would like to share with our readers how “bad” spending habits have affected you, anonymously or otherwise, for our upcoming special, “Confessions Of Spendaholics,” please send your experience to comments@knowyourmoneyglobal.com.


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