The magnificent gift of financial literacy is always a timely gift to give your loved ones or yourself.

Millennials and Gen Xers will be inheriting vast amounts of assets over the next 25 years as the Baby Boom Generation reaches the end of its life cycle. Interestingly, those transferring the reported $68 trillion are concerned if their beneficiaries will know what to do with that wealth.

That concern exists among high-net-worth individuals as well as people who have simply accumulated more than they need over their lifetime and will “leave it” to their children. And the concern isn’t less if heirs have a higher education or took a finance class in college.

The hope is that whatever is being passed down will land in financially literate hands. Yet, if you look at the status of financial literacy in America, there are no guarantees.

What is the truth about financial literacy in America?

A recent study called “2021 TIAA Institute-GFLEC Personal Finance Index” looks at the status of America’s financial literacy. Participants from the Silent Generation (in their 80s) through Gen Z (now in their 20s) answered 28 questions covering eight specific areas of activity common to us all. Here’s how Americans scored in those areas:

Functional knowledge among U.S. adults:

  • Borrowing: 61%
  • Saving: 58%
  • Consuming: 53%
  • Earning: 52%
  • Go-to information sources: 48%
  • Investing: 47%
  • Insuring: 45%
  • Comprehending risk: 37%

Source: TIAA Institute-GFLEC Personal Finance Index (2021).

What makes these areas so important?

  • Borrowing/managing debt looks at loan features and repayments.
  • Saving affects maximizing how much you accumulate.
  • Consuming involves budgets and how you manage your spending.
  • Earning deals with your wages and take-home pay.
  • Go-to information sources determine if you recognize appropriate sources and advice.
  • Investing touches on understanding different types of investment, their risk and their return.
  • Insuring concerns how all kinds of insurance work.
  • Comprehending risk is about understanding uncertain financial outcomes.

Financial literacy isn’t just a theory. How well you perform in each area adds up to your level of overall personal finance knowledge. And, in turn, that knowledge translates into your chances of achieving financial well-being.

Difficulties resulting from a lack of financial knowledge can quickly snowball. Let’s say you have trouble closing out your month. Because of that, you have no emergency fund to cover unexpected events or setbacks. You go into debt, and the payments make it hard to address other financial priorities. You lose sleep and worry, which takes your mind off earning more and getting out of the closed loop.

How, when, and where can financial literacy be taught?

The value of financial literacy becomes clear once you leave home to enter the workforce and face unexpected events that call for financial decisions. If you feel financially unprepared, how did you get there, and how can that be corrected?

Children and teens learn at home. Children absorb and adopt what they see, not necessarily what they’re told. That’s how parents pass their good and bad financial habits down to their kids. The best thing you can do is to strengthen your own knowledge level, if needed, and model your financial choices to them transparently. Make money a topic that’s available for discussion. Share not only day-to-day decisions but your personal money story, including successes and failures. In short, make money understandable and real.

Unfortunately, in many families, money is a taboo topic. “We don’t discuss money.” And that taboo exists as a barrier to financial education all along the spectrum, from wealthy to poor. Another obstacle is if parents are uncomfortable with their knowledge of the topic, whether they weren’t taught or weren’t paying attention.

So, what can parents do if they don’t have financial knowledge but want something different for their children? They can proactively seek out supporting resources.

For example, for children ages 6 to 12, look at apps such as RoosterMoney, Bankaroo, and iAllowance. And the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau offers a series of stories called Money Monsters.

For teens, consider apps such as FamZoo, MoneyThink Mobile, and others.

In addition, a search for “financial literacy for children” or “financial literacy for teens” will result in countless affordable alternatives.

Children and teens learn at school. So, what about schools? Wouldn’t it be logical to weave financial education into other subjects throughout school, so they learn about money within a context? And shouldn’t high schoolers graduate with knowledge about how money works before they leave home? Well, apparently, it is not considered enough of a priority.

Countless government agencies spend time and money developing teaching strategies and programs. And major non-profit organizations tout their success in providing tools and resources to teachers and students.

Yet less than half of our states require high school students to take a personal finance course. Most programs lack adequate funding, and many teachers feel unprepared to teach the subject. The system is failing its students on a critical life skill: money management.

Adults can learn anywhere. If you’ve reached adulthood without learning about personal finance, countless resources are available to speed you on your way. And these are available to people of all ages and circumstances.

The key is having the desire and the perseverance, as the variety of resources accommodates however you like to learn. Here are some places to start:

Financial institutions and corporations have also entered the education space. Banks benefit from better-informed clients, and clients are more loyal if their bank adds to their knowledge. And corporations benefit from having more focused, less distracted employees when financial education is part of their benefits package.

So look to your bank and your employer as you seek out resources for financial literacy.

So many of the money problems Americans face could be avoided if financial literacy were taught effectively at home or in schools. It can create strong money habits early in life and support sound financial decisions throughout life. But, on the other hand, poor money decisions can contribute to a lifetime of financial struggles.

Financial literacy is one of the greatest gifts you can give your children, whether you received that gift or not. But you can’t count on schools to teach literacy, so if you don’t feel confident enough to teach it yourself, find a resource that can do it for you.

You have it in your power to give the next generation a great gift: the tools to make sound financial choices from early adulthood through retirement. So don’t let anything stand in your way.

For more information on a wide variety of financial topics, please explore our resources and guides page.

This article originally appeared in Old Colony Memorial

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