I recently attended a meeting at work held by a financial adviser. Even though my husband and I are already contributing to 401ks and Roth IRAs, I wanted to make sure there wasn’t anything new out there I wasn’t familiar with. There wasn’t. However, it made me happy to see many of my coworkers show interest in opening a Roth IRA. Until the meeting, many of them hadn’t realized the main benefit of a Roth IRA – the ability to withdraw contributions penalty free if necessary. Once they learned that, they realized it made more sense to grow their money in a Roth IRA than sticking it in a bank account which, on average, earns less than 1%.

This got me thinking. We as a society have failed at educating the public on how to properly handle their finances. Why is it that we take 12 years of general education courses, which include subjects that we may never use again, yet we do not have a mandatory course on personal finance? It should be taught in all high schools because it’s so very important. It’s something we all will deal with throughout our lives, and while learning other subjects helps make for a well-rounded individual (assuming the material is absorbed – how many people do you know who after 12 years of English courses still can’t spell or string together a coherent sentence?), properly handling one’s finances is a skill everyone needs. It doesn’t matter if you live paycheck to paycheck or make six figures (or more). Haven’t we all read stories of high-paid celebrities (or lottery winners) who are completely broke? How does that happen? Poor financial choices stemming for lack of knowledge, that’s how.

Every time I think about it, I feel frustrated. Imagine how many people wouldn’t be in the poor financial position they are today if they had been properly educated beforehand. Knowledge is power! People would be less stressed out if they felt financially secure. Sure, some people do everything right and they still struggle to make ends meet due to low paying jobs, lack of education (don’t even get me started on the cost of a college education and how much debt people start out with – that’s another post altogether), or medical issues which quickly rack up debt, but many people get themselves into trouble financially even though they are earning a very healthy income. They either spend more than they earn buying unnecessary things, dining out too much, or just budgeting poorly, or they don’t leave any room in their budget for contributing to retirement and savings, thus putting themselves at risk should their income disappear for any reason.

That’s another thing that bothers me – people who say, “I just plan to work until I die” because they either love to work, or they don’t feel they have any other option. But the harsh truth is that regardless of whether you want to work, there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to do so. You could get laid off and have trouble finding a new job, or become too ill to continue working. Better think about that now while you’re young enough to do something about it.

Another thing that worries me is how many people figure they’ll rely on social security when they retire. But look at the facts – social security is uncertain. I don’t believe it will be completely gone by the time I retire (could you imagine the ramifications???), but I do believe the predicted payments I’m seeing on my statements will have decreased by as much as 25% by that time. And even if they don’t, you really can’t live that well off social security alone. It would break my heart when I used to work in customer service for the cable company and an elderly person would literally start crying on the phone because their cable wasn’t working and it was all they had for entertainment due to living on a fixed income. I decided I didn’t want to end up in that situation which is one of the reasons why I’ve prioritized saving for the future. It’s just hard watching the people around me not do the same even though they have enough disposable income to go out to eat, attend events, etc. Priorities, people!

Remember: no one cares about your future as much as you should. Start planning now. Educate yourself about finance since our schools are failing us in that regard. I wish someone had stressed the importance of saving when I was in my early twenties. We didn’t really start saving until about a year before Joe and I were ready to buy a house. Luckily we were still young enough (27 for me, 34 for him) that time was still on our side, just not as much as it could have been.

While you should start saving now regardless of your age, if you’re very young I stress it even more. Because after 20+ years of working you may grow disillusioned with the whole concept and want out, but you won’t be able to afford it. You’ll be shackled to a lackluster existence because you didn’t plan ahead. Don’t let that happen. Educate yourself!


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