How to nurture financially savvy kids

In 1988, financial planner and best-selling author Venita Van Caspel wrote in her bestselling book Financial Dynamics for the 1990s:

“Our educational system continues to send forth our young with so little information about financial matters that they are like time bombs about to destroy their own and their families’ economic futures.  We equip them to earn good incomes and to live the good life, but we fail miserably as a nation to prepare them to know what to do with the money they earn.”

Now, more than three decades later, the implications of Van Caspel’s sobering commentary are more serious than ever before.  With the level of consumer debt skyrocketing and the cost of housing, education, and health care increasing at double digit rates, younger generations are facing unprecedented obstacles to achieving financial security.  In addition to these steadily climbing trends, we must now factor in unanticipated economic challenges brought on by the sudden onset of the COVID-19 Pandemic.  

Therefore, helping the young people we care about to learn effective money management skills, and to adopt good financial habits and attitudes, is more important than ever.  The first and most important step we must take is to examine our own money beliefs and behaviors, and then take action to get our financial lives in order.  Nothing is more effective in guiding the younger generation than providing a consistent and powerful role model.

Next, we must stay alert for teachable moments to share our financial expertise and wisdom. Very few topics affect us on a day-to-day basis like money, so there are endless opportunities to provide mini financial lessons via word and example.  

Lastly, commit to increasing our knowledge and awareness of ways we can encourage and equip the young people in our lives to lay the foundation for a successful and satisfying financial life.  Here are two great resources to help guide us in this mission: 

Make Your Kid a Money Genius (Even if You’re Not):  Best-selling financial author Beth Kobliner provides parents with a well-grounded guide to fostering a wise financial mindset and practical money skills throughout childhood and into young adulthood. 

The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who are Grounded, Generous, and Smart about Money:  Author Ron Lieber believes that good parenting includes talking about money—a lot!  “When parents avoid these conversations, they lose a tremendous opportunity—not just to model important financial behaviours, but also to imprint lessons about what their family cares about most.”

Reprinted by permission of Money Quotient, Inc.

When the opposite is true

There is a thin veneer over everything. When we are distracted by news streams, overwhelmed by direct messaging and tired from keeping up with the Joneses, it’s easy to create a veneer that allows us to store and process more information without having to delve deeper into what’s actually going on beneath the surface.

It’s here that paradoxes are formed, and we can miss out on value when we aren’t able to dig deeper and find out more. Often, these paradoxes become most apparent in our later years, and we love to wax lyrical about how wisdom is wasted on the old and youth is wasted on the young.

Ultimately – we begin to accept (and awaken to) the opposite of so many things we once believed to be true.

Here are just a few of life’s paradoxes that can help us find more value and fulfilment in life.

Learn More to Know Less

This is also known as the knowledge paradox. That the more we know, the less we can clearly explain. Our inability to explain familiar concepts is a form of cognitive bias wherein experts often overestimate the ability of novices. As Einstein put it – the more I learn, the more I realise how much I don’t know.” 

This should be empowering, not frightening and should encourage us to embrace lifelong learning. Lifelong learners are built, not born. Choosing to keep learning is something we must actively do – it’s not reserved for some non-existent biologically elite.

Slow Down to Speed Up

Our parents and teachers would often say, “Less haste, more speed!”. Apart from being more mindful and present, slowing down gives us the time to be deliberate with our actions. We can focus, gather energy, and deploy our resources more efficiently. It allows you to focus on leverage and maximising returns.

When it comes to markets and investing, budgeting or risk management – this paradox is intrinsic to the sustainability of our planning.

Sprezzatura (“Simple is not simple.”)

The veneer of social acceptance places high praise on those who have the veneer of “having it all together.” The house, the family, the job, the investment portfolio…

Whilst the veneer may be entirely false, we need to remember that we see the end result, not the hard work that goes on behind the scenes. It takes more effort to make something appear effortless. Effortless, elegant performances are often the result of a large volume of effortful, gritty practice. 

Benjamin Franklin once said that when you are finished changing, you are finished. If we want to keep moving forward and thriving in times of hardship, we need to be dynamic and adaptable. Learning to adapt to the opposite of what we once thought true is not easy, but it’s a necessary step to find more value and more meaning in life.

The miracle of Meraki

In every culture and creed, there are traditions and philosophies about how to experience the best that life has in store for us, whilst overcoming trials and tragedies. From mindfulness to healthy eating, from exercise to stress management – we are often reminded that what we put in is what we get out.

Somewhere, in all of these pragmatic approaches, we can lose sight of the meaning of what we’re putting in, and become focused on the output. This is especially true when it comes to our money.

It’s not often that we attach meaning to money, and when we do, it’s attached to the money we have right now. We like to plan for the money we hope to have, but we are easily detached from the relevance and meaning because it’s a future goal.

This is where the Greek’s concept of Meraki is really helpful!

Meraki refers to the soul, creativity, or love that we put into our work, family, and other activities. It is the essence of yourself that you put into your work. It helps us find meaning in our money before we’ve earned it – not just for a future event.

There is a well-known quote by Kahlil Gibran – he said that “work is love made visible”. Meraki is all about a choice that we can make right now, today; a choice to find meaning in what we’re doing. When we love what we’re doing, or appreciate how it’s helping others (because some tasks will always be boring…), we will experience value and likely become considerably better at what we’re doing.

It doesn’t only help us enrich the day ahead; we can also start to include it in our planning. We can start to look for work and activity that we will truly find meaningful. When we pour our soul (blood, sweat and tears) into a project, we value the journey, not just the outcome. The whole experience becomes more purposeful and significant, allowing us to find fulfilment and be more creative.

Passion is a wonderful stimulant for maintaining positive mental health. Whenever we deal with people who truly love what they’re doing, whether they’re a barista or bookkeeper, an artist or an attorney, a teacher or a turner-and-fitter – people who are passionate are a pleasure to be around.

Remember, when it comes to making and managing your money, it’s not just about the meaning you get out – it’s about the meaning you put in.

Sandwich generation

The sandwich generation refers to working-age individuals who are in the precarious position of looking after their growing children and caring for elderly parents. 

They are effectively “sandwiched” between the responsibilities of caring for their children, who require financial, physical, and emotional support, and caring for their ageing parents, who may be unwell, incapable of performing certain activities, or in need of financial assistance.

Increasing lifespans and having children at an older age have contributed to the sandwich generation phenomenon, as it has more societal acceptance for adult children to live at home. With the added pressures of managing one’s own career and personal issues and the need to contribute to one’s own retirement, the individuals of the sandwich generation are under significant financial and emotional stress. 

In some cases, this generation has to postpone their own retirement planning because of the added financial obligations. There are some steps that members of the sandwich generation can take to lessen the burden. 

The first step is to have a financial discussion with all parties involved. For ageing parents, the expectation is that a lifetime of work has provided them with a pension or a nest egg that will help them cover part of elderly-care costs. If this is not the case, you should get assistance as soon as possible.

Even if finances are not currently an issue, they will become one unless you put proper attention into estate planning. If one family member is shouldering the majority of the burden of caring for an ageing parent, the estate should be discussed in that light. Although the sibling may not want to be financially compensated for their care, failing to confront the issue will almost certainly lead to bitterness among the family when parents pass away.

The goal for adult children is to encourage them to contribute financially to household costs and responsibilities, and move towards independence. There are several methods to promote this, but the simplest is to set the expectation that they will pay near-market rates for room and board. This eliminates the “mom and dad discount,” which permits them to live a more lavish lifestyle than their resources can sustain in the long run.

Many of those in the sandwich generation do not want to put their children in the same situation as they are. If you don’t want to rely on your children to care for you in the future, you should consider how you would pay for your own care. With the expense of care continuing to rise, it’s critical to start thinking about how you’ll pay for it now.

At the end of the day, there are no wrong or right ways, only paths of least resistance and greatest joy. Through communication, patience and understanding, you can make almost any situation work out for the best.

The nourishment of nature

A breath of fresh air, the sun on our faces, bare feet in the sand. Spending time outside can provide many small pleasures, which all leave us feeling revitalised. Whether it’s sipping ice-cold lemonade in our backyard or hiking up a mountain, spending time in nature has numerous benefits beyond the obvious. 

There have been many studies outlining the positive mental effects of being immersed in nature. For example, the University of Michigan conducted a study that revealed students who regularly went for a nature walk had improved short term memory. Or consider this Stanford study, which found that walking outside reduces stress. Even if it’s just for five minutes a day, being outside has a calming effect on our brains.

Let’s take a look at some of the other benefits of being in nature.

Improved Sleep

Our body can better regulate sleep patterns when we spend time in natural light. When the sun sets, our brains release the proper amount of melatonin to aid in a restful night’s sleep. (Which is also why staring into a backlit cellphone screen before bed keeps our brain wired and makes it harder to sleep!)

Strengthened Immune System

Going outside and getting adequate sunlight has been demonstrated in studies to help enhance the immune system. Make time to go for a walk outside or have some fun in the sun to help you battle sickness and stay healthy.

Inspired Creativity

Spending time outside allows you to find inspiration in the beautiful sights, smells, and sounds of nature. Science backs this up as well, demonstrating that spending time outside can boost our ability to think more creatively.

A walk does not have to be solely for the purpose of walking. You could, for example, conduct your next one-on-one meeting while meandering through a park or walking to a coffee shop, thereby killing two birds with one stone.

If you don’t believe you have time, it’s possibly because you consider something as simple as a stroll around the park to be a chore or not income-generating. Or you regard it as a waste of time and effort that you simply cannot afford. 

Investing time in nature does not have to be complicated or costly. If anything – consider it an investment that you can’t afford to pass up!

Things don’t get easier – we become more resilient

Life is uncharted. Maps can only be made from where we’ve been – not where we have yet to go.

The only certainty is uncertainty, and we can experience potentially life-altering choices on a daily basis. Each nebulous choice we make brings with it a unique flood of thoughts and emotions. Yet, we generally adapt well, over time, to life-changing situations. This is, in part, thanks to resilience.

Psychologists define resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity. As much as resilience involves endurance against difficult experiences, it also empowers us to grow and improve along the way.

Resilience is learned; it involves behaviours, thoughts, and actions that we can all develop. Improving resilience takes time and intentional effort, much like building a muscle.

To increase your capacity for resilience, here are four core components on which to focus: connection, wellness, healthy thinking, and meaning.

Connection

In the middle of challenges, connecting with empathic and understanding people may remind you that you are not alone. Concentrate on locating trustworthy and sympathetic people who can validate (or empathise with) your feelings, as this can help you develop resilience.

Wellness

Self-care may be a trendy buzzphrase, but it’s also a proven strategy for improving mental health and resilience. This is because stress is both physical and emotional. Positive lifestyle variables such as a healthy diet, adequate sleep, plenty of water, and regular exercise can help your body adapt to stress and lessen the impact of negative emotions like anxiety and sadness.

Healthy Thinking

How you think has a significant impact on how you feel and how resilient you are when confronted with challenges. Identify areas of illogical thinking, such as a tendency to catastrophise problems or a belief that the universe is conspiring against you, and replace them with more balanced and realistic thinking habits.

For example, if you’re feeling powerless in the face of difficulty, tell yourself that what occurred to you isn’t a predictor of what will happen in the future. You may not be able to affect the outcome of a highly stressful situation, but you can control how you understand and react to it. Remember, we can map out the past with amazing accuracy, but what happens in the next moment will always hold the potential for something radically new.

Meaning

You can gain a sense of purpose, promote self-worth, connect with people, and tangibly help others by volunteering at a local homeless shelter or just supporting a friend in need, all of which can empower you to build your own resilience.

Resilience is present in any aspect of our lives where we are facing adversity. Be it personal, financial or elsewhere. But the underlying principles of forging resilience are the same. Build a network of strong connections, focus on personal wellness, keep a healthy mindset, and find your meaning.

How to do it in the 4IR

“But we didn’t need it, and we turned out fine.” 

We hear this line more than we should. From tap water to technology, from diets to devices, from gender identification to genetic modification, from schooling to selecting a coach or advisor, our peers and mentors can often throw this line in our face – but we didn’t need it, and we turned out fine.

It can leave our sails windless and stall our engines before we’ve even selected a gear.

But here’s the thing: the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) poses one challenge that previous generations have never had to meet: prolific access.

Access to what? Everything.

One of the significant changes that we’ve seen in the world around us over the last two decades is the overwhelmingly enlarged access to information. Before the profuse use of mobile technology and cloud-based servers, data was stored in books and brochures, libraries and archives, making it harder to access. Now, we literally have the world (wide web) wirelessly at our fingertips. And those born this century have not known anything different.

Information is now so readily available that we have a new challenge: how do we find the valuable information that is relevant to us right now? On top of that, we have comparisons that we could never quickly draw before; like how the stock market performed last year, in 2008, 1998 and 1928. Heck, we can even compare the Bitcoin bubble to the Tulip bubble in 1636.

DIY is no longer about putting up new bookshelves in your bedroom; it’s about choosing, managing and prevailing on virtual shelves (platforms) for social engagement, investing, shopping, job hunting, learning, travel and just about anything else you’d like.

We are overwhelmed, our parents are overwhelmed, our children are overwhelmed.

The expectations are no longer what they were in 2004. Our opportunities are considerably more expansive, and the perceived consequences of ‘getting it wrong’ are infinitely more shareable. Now, the most dangerous words are: “We’ve always done it this way.”

We need to encourage each other to do things differently, to rely on experts, advisers, mentors and coaches to help us navigate this new revolution. These helpful people are not just for the wealthy or well-connected; they’re for all of us.

As our connections grow, we need to be willing to do the inner work of building our character and protecting our values. It’s not about changing fundamental truths; it’s about changing our perspectives about how big the truth really is.

Making decisions in the 4IR is no longer about extracting one choice, it’s about engaging in conversations.

If our feelings could talk

Epictetus, the Greek Stoic philosopher, was the first to say it. “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” But listening is not always about what we hear; it’s what we can begin to intuit. When it comes to our feelings, we have to learn to become more intuitive and listen to what our emotions are trying to tell us.

Our mental health is increasingly under attack, it’s hard to find the time for our own personal growth, development and rest. As our brains get tired, our emotional intelligence and physical stamina both take a knock. The global lockdowns of 2020 held a microscope over our mental and emotional health as we saw startling changes in every system, from healthcare, education, commerce and politics to social engagement restructuring, with sports clubs, gyms, and extra-curricular activities mostly grinding to a halt. 

With very little external social input (and outlet) and reduced creative engagement, we were forced to find purpose and meaning outside of everything we once considered unshakable. We were forced to look inside and discover a host of emotions that are not often talked about outside of therapy. It’s helpful to take these conversations further and find common spaces to change how we think about things that may have a negative connotation for us.

Identifying and talking about our emotions helps us think differently and enables us to act differently. How we make, spend, insure and invest our money are all actions that are strongly influenced by how we feel.

Epictetus also said that we are disturbed not by things, but by the view which we take of them. This means that changing how we think can impact how we feel. Here is a short list of common emotions and an accompanying action that we can choose to employ instead of going out and spending (blowing) money or making poor financial life decisions.

    1. Sadness might be telling me to have a good, long cry. Letting out the tears is a healthy physical release to process what we’ve lost.
    2. Loneliness might be telling me I need connection. It is not about how many ‘connections’ we have on LinkedIn or Twitter, or Facebook. It’s about establishing a conversational connection with someone I can identify with, relate to and trust.
    3. Resentment might be telling me I need to forgive. Forgiveness is more about releasing myself than the other person.
    4. Emptiness might be telling me to do something creative. Rather than going out and buying more stuff, I should take a moment to explore my creative energy.
    5. Anger might be telling me to check in with my boundaries. Checking my boundaries is a proactive way to avoid the same thing happening again.
    6. Anxiety might be telling me to breathe. Breathing slower and deeper helps me become focused on what I can control.
    7. Stress might be telling me to take it one step at a time. I don’t have to do everything at once; I can break it all down into manageable, bite-sized chunks.

Learning to listen to our feelings is an excellent skill for handling all sorts of problems, not only our financial frustrations. It is a skill that will also help us notice what others might be feeling and grow in our empathy and sympathy for them.

Me, myself and Ikigai

From the stoics to the sentimentalists, most have one question in common: What is the meaning of it all?

Searching for purpose and meaning helps us come up with a reason for living. As Aristotle always said, our ability to reason is what makes us different to other animals. This sits at the core of Ikigai, the Japanese concept that speaks to our lives’ direction, purpose, and meaning. 

Quite literally, iki means “to live”, and gai means “reason”.

Ikigai = reason to live

It’s a beautifully simple idea that becomes increasingly complex as we investigate precisely what motivates us, guides our passions and helps us make a difference within our communities. In the Western systems of life, we often follow the expected path that is conditioned into us through our education. We don’t get to ask ourselves why, and more importantly, we don’t always have the structure to know how to deeply interrogate our lives to know what will lead to fulfilment.

Ikigai offers us this structure.

Ikigai is a systematic and cyclic way to explore the abstract concepts of satisfaction, delight, fullness, comfort, excitement and wealth.

The four entry questions we can ask ourselves are:

  1. What do I love doing?
  2. What am I good at?
  3. What does my community need?
  4. What can I get paid for?

For many of us, we only really ask the fourth question even though our colleges, universities and trade schools try to answer the others. But sometimes, it’s not the answers we need, but the permission to ask the questions.

Yuval Harari said that questions we can’t answer are far better for us than answers we can’t question. All the wealth in the world cannot help provide delight, excitement and fulfilment if we aren’t able to ask ourselves what we love doing, what we’re good at and discover what our community needs.

This is where we can begin to define and differentiate our passion from our mission, our profession from our vocation and see how we can integrate them all for a purpose and reason to live. 

This integration enables us to dive deeper into our life and financial planning, giving us key pointers and motivations for our decision-making and helping us communicate with our loved ones. We can decide what is truly important to us and why!

They say that if we want to know what we truly value, we must look at where we spend our money. If this aligns with our Ikigai, then we know we’re creating a healthy structure for a meaningful life.

Discovery and discomfort

It’s nearly impossible to make it through an entire week without glancing at a blog, social media post or newsletter that reminds us about the pervasive and perpetual change in our lives. Hopefully, this blog won’t be one of those to add to the list. Instead, it will help us to identify the benefits of the challenges that we face.

Change can be sparked in so many ways, some of them are by our personal choice, and others are simply the way that life goes. When initiating change through personal choice, we can quickly feel like things should be getting better. We have chosen change that we believe will release us from unhealthy decisions and make our life easier.

But we immediately start to feel the discomfort.

Our journey of discovery, whilst exciting and new, is always accompanied by a level of discomfort. It can feel counter-intuitive. We’re making changes because of discomfort, and as we’re implementing and discovering the change, we’re exposed to further discomfort.

This feeling of discomfort is not bad.

When we’re tired and lacking energy, the discomfort can add to the overwhelming elements of life, but it’s not always a sign that we’re doing the wrong thing. As kids, learning new things is always hard. We accept that there will be a level of discomfort, from riding bikes and learning to write, to adjusting to social expectations and managing changing friendships. And through this, we learn and grow.

As adults, we should never stop embracing the discomfort of learning and growing.

Planning and preparing for change needs to include the anticipated discomfort that we will encounter to bolster our resolve to sustain the change that we want to see in our lives. When we sign up to study, we know that there will be the discomfort of writing tests and exams and presenting our ideas and research to panels of critics.

When we choose to be committed to a long-term relationship, there will be the discomfort of releasing our independence and learning to share our schedules, our hobbies, our interests, our money and our friends with someone else. The same is true of becoming a parent: we prepare for the sleepless nights, the sharing of our home and the increased financial responsibilities.

Any change that is worth the long-term benefit will have this wonderful journey of discovery and discomfort. Changing our spending behaviour, keeping to investment decisions during market volatility, and having better conversations with our family and our money all require personal journeys of discovery and discomfort. We mustn’t let the discomfort deter or distract us from continuing to learn and grow.