The other night I noticed that my wife had a magazine open to an article about what young adults need to know about finances. If my oldest manages to actually apply the brain power God gave him, he will graduate high school next year and be thrust into the adult world. Thus, the article.

This got me thinking about how I learned about finances. I can think of five formative elements off the top of my head.

#1 is the example of my parents. I grew up in a home where my parents were careful about financial matters. They were careful about what they acquired and they always paid every bill on time or early. They were meticulous about how they wrote checks and they always balanced their checkbook.

#2 is the newspaper route I had from age 11 until I was almost 17. Back in those days I had to spend several evenings each month collecting the monthly subscription fee from customers. I learned a lot about people’s attitudes about money. Even as a 12-year-old kid, it was obvious which kinds of attitudes I liked — which ones denoted success and which ones signified the opposite.

#3 is having a checking account since age 12. I got the checking account so that I could receipt money from news subscribers and pay the news company for publications and supplies. But having a checking account forced me to learn how to manage it. As I learned, I sometimes caused my parents frustration, but the result was worth it.

#4 is managing my finances on a very tight budget while serving a mission for my church. This was mostly funded by my parents. Back then they sent me a check each month. I exchanged it for Norwegian Crowns at the bank. Then I had to pay for rent, utilities, transportation, food, and anything else I needed until the next check arrived.

#5 is the 2½ years that I worked for a bank. I learned a lot as a teller. But I learned a heck of a lot more as an installment loan collector. There’s nothing that builds respect for proper financial management quite like having to repossess collateral from people and take people to court. You see the consequences of poor choices up close and personal. It stiffens one’s resolve.

I didn’t work the credit card collections, but I worked with the people that did so. I saw the horrendous results of people’s poor management of what are essentially easy immediate loans. Consequently, we never use a credit card for anything for which we couldn’t immediately pay cash instead. When we swipe a card, that money is put aside. We consider it gone. When the monthly bill comes, there is never any problem paying the entire amount.

Working jobs, buying cars, making payments, getting married, buying a house, and all of the rest of it has definitely played into my financial education. But the foundation for all of this was chiefly laid through the five experiences listed above. I hope for similar experiences for each of my children.
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