It’s okay, you were never taught

Tennis Shot

I run a discussion group in Portland called the Portland Integrative Finance Community. It’s been tremendously satisfying for me, but the feedback I’ve gotten from attendees so far has been remarkable.

Many people have mentioned how positive it was to discuss their financial situations with other people, and hear other’s stories as well. The realization that there are others feeling the same sense of unease and insecurity with their finances comes with a huge sense of relief.

But it need not be a shock. Think about how you were taught about finances.

Oh wait, you weren’t taught? Funny thing; neither was I.

My financial education, in zero words

I’ve been out of school for a while now, and not being a parent, I’m a little out of touch with the current state of public (or private) education. So I can only speak from my experience in the pre-No Child Left Behind-era of public schooling.

In high school, I was a science and math guy, so I took algebra, trigonometry, and calculus, along with biology, chemistry, and physics. Our curriculum mandated a wide variety of classes, so I also American and European history and literature, along with enough French to kind of be able to read some street signs. We had health class, gym class, and for those who were mechanically inclined, there were shop classes as well.

See anything about money in there? I don’t.

When I got to college, there were general education requirements not related to one’s major (which, incidentally, ended up being some of my favorite classes) but as I was on the physics and math track, most of what I took involved variables, number theory and some really mind-blowing stuff).

Still nothing about money.

I remember some seminars when I was in high school (or perhaps when I had first started college) where people came to talk to us about our upcoming student loans. The only takeaway I recall from these engagements was the reminder that “you will need to pay these back”. This seemed obvious to me, but I guess perhaps some people needed reminding?

Here’s a list of some financial topics I was never taught:

  • How to make a budget
  • How to stick to a budget
  • How to plan for the future
  • How to save
  • How to handle financial stress
  • How to have conversations about money with a partner
  • How to spend money, and how to prioritize

I could go on. All of these topics are huge, and are at once familiar to us and yet entirely unknown. I don’t know how you learned, but I suspect you learned on the job. “Okay, I’ve got this paycheck and I need to pay these bills. What now?” How you handled these situations are affected most likely by your personal temperament and gut feeling.

In short, your understanding of money has effectively been a solo journey from the beginning.

Is it any wonder that we feel alone?

Time to forgive

If there’s any lesson I want to impart to you, it’s that you were likely not taught some very important, vital skills to navigating our world. Because of this, it is equally as vital to forgive yourself for not feeling like you know what to do.

Think about it. If I gave you a tennis racket and asked you to hit the ball over the net, it’s not guaranteed that you’d be able to do it. Some people would, and some would have enough natural skill to aim the ball in the proper place, but unless you’ve been training on a court, you’re not going to be good at the task. You might not even know what to do even if you could do it.

Even the pros didn’t start out excellent. They’ve been at it for a long time.

Why would finances be any different?

The shame of feeling like you’re failing at money is real. And since this is something you’ve primarily experienced in secret, it builds a paranoia that everyone else has it together and you don’t.

But that’s an assumption. And until you check out an assumption, you can’t know if it’s wrong.

That’s why finding a way to talk about your financial situation—not necessarily numbers but your situation itself—can be so important to your well-being. The realization that so many people are improvising on on of the most important aspects of one’s life is very eye-opening. And very relieving.

It’s not your fault. You were never taught.

Take the next step

But here’s the best part: you can learn.

To say that you’re “bad with money” because you never learned how to be good with money is just as wrong as saying that you’re “bad with tennis” because you never learned how to play. Of course you’re not good. Yet.

So I challenge you to change your personal narrative, and replace “I’m bad with money” to “I was never taught money“.

Sounds different, doesn’t it?

The next step is to learn. That’s what I’m here for. That’s what this site is here for. That’s what the Portland Integrative Finance Community is here for.

Keep reading. Keep learning.

And keep working on your forehand.

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