Posts Tagged ‘Learning’

Last week, I was called in to teach a group of kids that are more difficult to teach than most. Many have already graduated from school, but are still forced to go because of their age. Many will never see the outside world as free men or women. Very few of them care about school at all. In short, they have nothing to lose by missing school, and not much to gain by going. The teacher that I was replacing had given a stock lesson in writing a specific kind of poetry.

School

Pointless wasted

Sucking, wasting, boring

Punks dorks teachers bitches

Sitting sleeping learning

Jail

That’s an actual example (near as I can remember from reading it) of what the students turned in. I can see why the other teacher didn’t want to deal with this class anymore.

When I found out that I was teaching this class, I knew I had to do something that would catch their interest, but that would still be educational and appropriate for them. I worked for most of the day and evening to come up with a kick-ass lesson that would be entertaining and educational. I had hundreds of pages to print out so that the kids could actually complete the assignment. Not wanting to waste my personal printer ink, I saved everything to DROPBOX so that I could print it out at work the next morning (by the way, if you don’t already have a Dropbox account, and you ever save any kind of file, you need one. Click on the link and you’ll get extra space when you sign up for an account. In fairness, I’ll also get a little free space, but I’d use the service regardless).

When I got to work, I learned that for some reason, my district’s internet security policy blocks Dropbox access. No worries, I could use my phone and print remotely to a printer. No dice there either, since the printers wouldn’t accept a connection to print from my phone. I was getting a little worried, since I realized that I was well and truly screwed.

By the time I got to class, I had about two minutes to think of something, or face the very real possibility of a minor riot on my watch. Luckily, I try to have a backup plan for whenever my first two (or three, but whatever) ideas crap out. I learned this by virtue of being caught many times with no plan, and having to pay the consequences. To make a long story end, my backup worked, possibly better than my original plan would have, and I was told by the sheriffs’ staff that I was one of the best teachers to have dealt with these kids.

I told you that for a couple of reasons. Number one, I was really impressed with myself and I wanted to brag a little. Number two, and more importantly, I did it because the lesson I learned and demonstrated has real-world application when it comes to personal finance.

Everybody tells you to keep a small, liquid fund to use in case of an emergency. Most people will say six months worth of expenses should cover you. But what happens if your emergency keeps you away from the bank or safe-deposit box, or wherever you keep it for a few days? What do you do then? One quick way you can protect yourself is by also keeping a small (very, very small) stash of cash within easy access. When I say small, which is the operative word here, I mean just enough to help you survive for a weekend or a few days until you can access your emergency fund if needed.

While we’re talking about emergency funds, what happens when you have exhausted your emergency fund completely? In today’s economy, being out of work more than six months is more the norm than the exception. If the worst ever happens, and you have exhausted your emergency fund, you will still need money. I suggest planning ahead. While you are building your emergency fund, you are putting some money towards it every pay-period. Let’s assume that an emergency doesn’t happen right away. Transfer one month of your emergency fund into something a little longer in term, with a higher interest rate. Keep making your contributions till you have replenished it. As you do this, you are building a bubble for when you run out of emergency “cushion”. If you have a problem with saving, you are also building a painless nest-egg for the future.

At work, you like your job, but what happens if you were the last hired, and your company needs to lay someone off (hint: In most cases, you are screwed). While you are working, in addition to saving your emergency fund, as we’ve discussed above, start building skill sets that will help you to be able to find a job sooner. This may mean formal schooling, or this may mean polishing your resume’ so that your skills and abilities are properly showcased.

At home, stock up on non-perishable foods and water in case of a natural disaster. With the summer we just had, with earthquakes in the east, hurricanes in the south, and floods everywhere, stores are running out of basic supplies. Those people who are prepared, are able to “weather the storm”. But what if something happens to your stored food? Maybe this is a good time for you and your community or your family to work out a plan where everybody contributes for a larger group to survive.

Look, I’m not trying to scare you, but shit happens. Sometimes, you are prepared and you bring your umbrella. Sometimes, your umbrella breaks as soon as you open it. When this happens, you will be glad when you put a change of clothes in a bag for just such a situation. Are you going to be prepared for everything? Not even close, and I don’t recommend that you even try. Sometimes, even the best prepared still lose in the end. I can’t stop that, but you can limit your exposure to losing by having a few backup plans ready should they be needed.

I believe it was Robert Burns who said:

“The best laid schemes of Mice and Men

Oft go awry

And leave us nothing but grief and pain,

For promised joy!”

Given my students, and the lesson I just re-learned and related, I can think of no better message than to be prepared. Enjoy!

 

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

In every parent‘s life there comes a time when they need to sit their child down and have a serious talk about life. Some parents make a big deal and production about it, buying visual aids and showing their kids the tools that they use. Other parents pretend that this isn’t happening, or at least that it isn’t happening yet, all the time realizing that they are risking their children having to learn the facts from people who don’t have their best interests in mind, or even worse, from the streets.

Of course the above holds true for many sensitive and difficult subjects, but only one can truly rise to the level of being called “THE TALK”. We’re talking about finances here.

Earlier, at the beginning of summer, we discussed some choices about how to handle the idea of allowances for kids. You can read about them HERE, HERE, or even HERE. Some parents thought that this was the end of the story, and not something way closer to the beginning. The truth is, your kids are going to need to learn how best to handle serious issues like the smart use of credit, planning for the future, making and sticking to budgets, and even how to deal with life when your plans blow up on you. This is when it can get a little messy for parents and their children alike. Hopefully I can give you a few tips to make this less difficult on everyone.

You really can be too young: Many of the bloggers out there and some of the “gurus” will tell you that your kids are never too young to learn about these issues. Well, that’s not exactly true. I’m all for teaching kids about money issues in ways that are age and developmentally appropriate. I could try to talk to my 6-year-old nephew about the finer points of an interest-only mortgage, but I’m sure he’s more interested in seeing what his nostrils look like when you shine a flashlight through them (That may not be strictly true, but I always get a kick from the flashlight thing). You should stick to basics that you can deliver in small enough chunks that they can understand, but with just enough detail that you don’t lose them. If you just can’t help yourself and you absolutely need to talk about topics that are probably over their head, the best way is by teasing the more advanced topics in the course of the more basic (and appropriate) lessons.

A little mystery is better than total disclosure: Remember the first time you heard, saw, heard about, learned, or discovered that your parents had sex (that is if your parents have had sex, unlike my parents, who never have and never will, thankyouverymuch)? Yeah, you don’t want to put your kids through that when it comes to money issues. Some parents might struggle to keep their finances healthy. Having kids, in and of itself, is an expensive proposition, but by no means the only reason parents might not want to divulge too much. Maybe they made some bad choices, maybe life got a little hairy, but the kidlets don’t need all the details. If you want to purge your soul, see your clergy, a psychologist, a bartender, or whoever, but don’t burden your kids with too much detail into your own finances.

Try to let your kids guide the direction of the conversation: Just like the other “talk”, one area where parents frequently screw up is by misunderstanding the questions that their children may have. A kid might ask where babies come from, and a parent will start the conversation with, “Well, sometimes Daddies make special drinks for Mommies that help Mommies get sleepy…,” when all the kid wants to hear is “from the hospital”. No kid wants to hear the first story. No adult wants to hear that (with the exception of some members of the local police, but that is another story altogether.) Kids have an amazing ability to communicate to adults what they are ready to grasp. Sadly, adults generally suck at interpreting what the kids are saying. My best advice here is to ask a lot of questions about what kids are curious about or need help understanding. Give them a broad, basic answer, followed by some more questioning to see if that helps to answer their questions, and then a more detailed response. Lather, rinse, repeat as necessary.

Showing is better than telling: Kids get lectured at enough at school. I personally make sure of that. They learn very early on how to tune out when they feel another lecture coming on. Try to avoid adding to the lectures they will have to sit through by developing activities that will help them see what happens. There are games on the internet that can be used in a pinch, but these are generic, and might not be the best fit for your child. Of course, this will mean that you have to be engaged with your child, but most parents who are planning on teaching them about personal finance are probably already pretty well engaged already.

And finally,

Be prepared: Before you get to the point where you need to have “the talk”, be prepared with the accurate information and some ideas about how you would answer questions. This means you might need to invest a little time and a little money on reading materials. You’re reading Finance For Youth: The Blog
already, so that is a good start! Another place where you will get good information that is definitely not over someone’s head is by reading my book, Finance For Youth: The Book, available through www.finance4youth.com. Am I saying that my stuff is the only stuff you should read? Absolutely! However, I know that would be incredibly unlikely, so I suggest that you supplement F4Y products with products from your second favorite personal finance person.

Having “the talk” is going to be strange. There is no way around it, but it doesn’t have to be so uncomfortable that you postpone it until it is too late. Remember, postponing leads to your kids needing your money long after they should be on the way to creating their own lives, and nobody wants that.  Also remember that if you get stuck having to give the talk, and it gets awkward, you can always just tell your spouse that your kid ate the pie!

 

 

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Every year since Finance For Youth: The Blog started, I put together an address to the graduating class of that year. Generally, I will give a list of pieces of advice for the graduates to keep in mind as they move forward into the next, most exciting stage of their lives. This year will have some advice, but I want to talk about a couple of lessons that I have learned since I started working with young people directly.

As a teacher, I’m supposed to be the one who gives you all lessons that will carry you from where you are now, through the rest of your life. That’s what I went to school for, and that is what you went to school for. But education is not a one-way exchange. A good teacher who is confident in their own abilities is able to talk about what you have taught us. I hope that I can be that person, because working with all of you has taught me so much both good and bad, that I will take with me forever, and I hope you can take some of it with you too.

You have to keep a thick skin (and a solid jaw)!

Earlier this year, I got punched right in the jaw by a student. It hurt, it hurt a lot. I wound up losing a tooth because of it. Teeth can quickly become a scarce resource. I got hit because a student had been thrown away by every adult they had ever met before me. I came in and presented a different point of view. I cared. Of course, when you spend a lifetime believing that nobody gives a damn about you, someone who shakes that belief becomes a target.

The Lesson:    The lesson I learned here, and one that I believe can serve you well is to take a minute (or even longer if needed) before you jump in with both feet. People generally have a set of beliefs that they will change, but not instantly. Young people are really good at being different and changing things, and sometimes that causes trouble with others. But you can’t walk timidly into every situation: Sometimes you have to take the hit to earn the reward. Do your best to only take the hit when you are sure the reward is worth it.

Sometimes Rock Stars can be quiet!

Over the past few years, I’ve had the fortune of having some colleagues offer me very high praise and very nice compliments. In past careers, I expected this, but I’ve never done anything as important as teaching. In past years, I walked around my office like I was the King, and dared people to challenge me. Now, I find that people respond just as well to someone who walks with confidence instead of arrogance.

The Lesson:    Nobody knows how good you are at what you do better than you do. You have some choices on how to let others know. On one hand, you can jump up on a pedestal and shout into your megaphone about how good you are. People will understand, but they may not always agree. On the other hand, you can take pride in doing your job well and other people will start picking up their own megaphones for you.

Many things are shades of grey, but not everything!

One thing I see daily is an erosion of what I learned about right and wrong. Due to the nature of my job, I’ve been able to see that erosion as it hits children at every stage of development. In Kindergarten, you learn about absolutes and how right is right and wrong is wrong. By sixth grade, you learn that everybody has their own moral compass, and it is wrong to judge others through your compass. By the tenth grade you learn that really right and wrong are subjective in every sense.

The Lesson:    Some of the most important lessons you have ever learned you learned in your earliest, formative years. Don’t be in a rush to supplant the values you learned back then for excuses that you learn today. The fact is that we educators have failed you, and continue to do so every time we help destroy what you have always known to be true.

There are many more lessons that I’ve learned from you, my students. Many of them were learned at a great personal cost to someone, and I try to honor that price paid by remembering and sharing the lessons daily. Some were learned while I was trying to learn something else entirely, and I stumbled upon a pot of gold that is wisdom. Those lessons I try to make available to others in as many places as possible, in the hopes that more people will stumble upon them and in turn share them with others. But one of the most important lessons I’ve learned from my students is that there is only so much education one can stand before you either fall asleep or try to escape. With that being said, congratulations to the class of 2011! You are all stars who have the unique ability to keep getting brighter without ever burning out. Enjoy the next stage as much or more as you have this stage, and look back only through the lenses of fond memory of a time when life was easier than it will ever be again, and only with the full knowledge that life has prepared you for anything you might face from here on out!

 

 

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

FIRST, I told you about my parents‘ views on giving an allowance. To recap, they didn’t believe in giving money to children. They paid for everything we needed, but keeping money on our own was an exercise in creativity, subterfuge, and even on occasion shenanigans. Looking back, I think they might have been on to something because the majority of their children are gainfully employed and work our asses off for every cent we have. We also have learned to be savvy about protecting what is valuable to us. So, there are trade-offs to be made, but overall not a bad solution.

LAST WEEK, we talked about the concept of paying kids an allowance based on chores they do around the house. We found out that some of the biggest personal finance people out there like this idea. I, in typical Wil fashion, didn’t like that idea at all. Generally, I’m against turning family members into employees to the household. I think there are chores that need to be done at home, and offering kids money to do what they should be doing anyways just invites lazy, self-centered children in the future. It creates children that grow up to be gold diggers.

So what is left? Well, one argument that I’ve heard a lot about is just to pay kids an allowance because you want to pay them an allowance. No strings attached. This seems like the most honest approach. You don’t want your kids to go and earn money on the streets, where you plan on them learning about sex and drugs, so you want to keep them from opening that lemonade stand or selling pictures of their teenaged sister to the boys at school (wasn’t that an actual plot line in some 80’s movie?). You also don’t want to raise those aforementioned lazy self-centered little bastards, but you do want to start teaching your children how to handle the money they have wisely. So why haven’t I endorsed this method yet?

We’ve learned throughout history that money is a lot of things. Money has been attributed to each of the following things:

-Time

-Root of all evil

-Power

-Makes the world go round

-Talks

Later on in life, we learn that money has value, and part of teaching anybody how to handle money is to teach them to not make deals where both parties don’t benefit. Going back a couple weeks, my parents avoided making deals. They had expectations, and consequences for not meeting those expectations. One could argue, and I wouldn’t disagree, that we benefitted when we met those expectations because we didn’t have to suffer the consequences and we generally got stuff. My parents benefitted because their expectations were met which gave them a sense of pride in their children.

 

In the second example, the benefits are pretty well pronounced. They get stuff done, we get money. Simple, tidy.

 

In the last example, you take away the value of money for your children. If they don’t learn that money has value now, they will not understand that it has value later in life either. You actually create the opposite of a gold digger. You create children who don’t understand the concept of earning money.

 

After all that, after three weeks of talking about allowances, each method of determining how to pay allowances has serious, fatal flaws. It turns out that they all suck to one extent or another! So what is a parent to do?

Never fear, I’m here to help.

In order to most effectively handle the issue of children’s allowances, you need to do some hard work. That’s right; I said YOU have to do some hard work. First, you need to establish minimum standards that you expect your little ones to meet. These standards need to be appropriate for both age and developmental level. Second, you need to clearly communicate these expectations to your child so that there is absolutely no doubt. Whether you need a whiteboard chart to be posted on the fridge, or you need your older child to sign a contract acknowledging the minimum standards in grades, behavior, housework and chores, community involvement or any other criteria, make sure your kids understand what is the least you will accept.

Second, you need to establish privately what is the value you will ascribe to exceeding your minimum standards. For example, let’s say I’m slightly less stringent than AMY CHUA
when it comes to academics. I only expect my kids to earn B- or higher. That’s their baseline. Now, my kid decides to overachieve and earn a B+. I might pay for that, if he has met all my other standards. Similarly, I expect my child to make her bed every day as the bare minimum in housework (I’m so much nicer to my imaginary daughter than my imaginary son; he has to clean the grout between shower tiles!). If she makes her bed and washes dishes (which isn’t assigned to anybody already), that might be worth something to me. The amount you pay must also be appropriate for your child’s age, developmental level, and your expendable, discretionary income.

Third, you need to communicate your pricing scheme to your children, but make it clear that they have to meet the bare minimum in all areas before any allowance can be earned. Your goal is to teach kids that some things just need to be done as part of their daily routine, just like in adult life, but other things will be done for money. Eventually, kids will start doing additional work on their own, in order to earn extra money. Ideally, they will approach you and negotiate a price that is fair to you and to them for certain things. Sometimes that price is zero, indicating that you believe that they should just do whatever as a matter of course, but others will be worth money.

Fourth, you have to be consistent. That doesn’t mean that you can’t increase your expectations, but until you do so, you have to pay the same amount for the same work every time.

Fifth, you have pair any money going to your child with solid education as to what to do with that money. Many people believe in giving to a church or a charity. If that is your thing, you need to educate your child as to the importance of doing so and the reasons why you are making them do so. Part of that education must include some level of allowing the child to make decisions on what they want to do with their money. I have no problem with telling your kid that they can spend only 10% of their allowance on frivolous things, but that should come with guidance that they don’t have to spend that 10% each payday, and that they can choose to save that money for something big that you wouldn’t necessarily buy for them yourself.

Doing this will start your child on a path to becoming financially independent and fiscally literate without spoiling them or forcing them to hide their money and their decisions from you.

 

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine