Self-discipline is key to manage money

NARELLE HENSON
Last updated 05:00 12/07/2014

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OPINION: Some subjects just aren't sexy.

Anything with the words ‘financial literacy' in it tends to throw itself straight into that category and, no matter how hard you try, refuses to come out.

It's the idea of spending hours untangling horrifically complicated numbers and hacking away at terms like EBITDA that does it for me. Far better to ignore the whole thing and live in ignorance, I say to myself.

But then a story will catch my eye. The number of divorces in which money issues were a significant factor in the split; the rate of suicide, or depression, among those who find themselves significantly in debt; children left with money owing after a beloved parent passes away with unpaid loans.

Much as it may seem boring, financial literacy matters. And we have plenty of room to get better at it as a country. According to a PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) report just off the press some Kiwi kids have no idea how to manage their money.

Massey University's Dr Pushpa Wood, who helped pull the report together, says the biggest determinant of a child's score was socio-economic background. That's not particularly surprising. If mum and dad don't know much about money, they'll likely be struggling in life and their kids won't be picking much up from them either.

The question is really what we do if a child is learning very little about money from mum and dad? Wood suggests "more resources and teaching programmes targeting low-income families and Maori and Pasifika communities."

Retirement Commissioner Diane Maxwell suggests "embedding it in the school curriculum". I think we need both and more. You see, there is no point teaching children something at school when their parents are only going to do the opposite.

That means we need voluntary organisations, private companies and individuals who are willing to give up their time to teach families about money and we need that backed up at school. After all, dealing with money is a vital life skill - if we don't have room for it in the curriculum cut one of the hobby classes we spend money on.

But there's one more thing we'll all be needing to teach our kids if we want them to live wealthy, prosperous lives and that is self-discipline. It was Commission for Financial Literacy and Retirement Income executive director David Kneebone who taught me that.

"We have lots of good knowledge but we don't apply it," he says. "We have found that people don't need more information, they need more provocation." You see, all the knowledge in the world is useless unless you are willing to live by it.

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Teaching kids about money won't be enough to break poverty cycles, or lift their socio-economic status. We'll need to give them the grit to stick to the boring stuff and put it into practice.

- Waikato Times

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