A Northwestern journalism student recently interviewed me for the story How Do You Make Young People Care About Personal Finance? As a personal finance blogger writing for a generation that is (supposedly) either apathetic or ignorant about personal finance—this question keeps me up at night. Look at the number of personal finance blogs with younger writers (and the comments on them), and you don’t get a picture of a generation that doesn’t care about money. But we bloggers (and even blog readers) are a tiny minority. Assuming there is a critical mass of young people that aren’t involved in learning about their own personal finances, the question becomes, should we care? And, assuming we should care, can we make them care about their own money?
Why Financial Literacy is Important for Everybody
It’s easy for people with their financial ducks in a row to look down at the massively indebted or the financially illiterate and think: “Those poor suckers will never get out of the hole, but at least I’ll be set.” When it comes to money, you do have to look out for your own to some extent. But can you simply ignore your neighbor’s indebtedness? Maybe not.
Few question the factors that led to our recent wide recession: Too much easy credit, too little savings. Even if you didn’t take out a subprime mortgage and fall behind on your payments; even if you didn’t max out ten credit cards five years ago, all the folks that did these things contributed to an economic crisis that probably affected you in some way. At the very least, the value of your home may have gone down. Maybe you lost this year’s raise, a 401(k) match, or maybe you even lost your job.
Therefore, it would seem to me that it’s in everybody’s interest to ensure that as many people as possible are financially responsible.
But Can You Make Other People Care About Their Own Personal Finances?
Unfortunately, I really don’t think so.
PF pundits like Suze Orman and Dave Ramsey are like evangelical preachers for the church of financial responsibility. But just like in religion, it’s hard to convert somebody to financial responsibility who isn’t ready. You need a financial “come to Jesus” moment to realize that you’re wildly in debt, have no savings, or have done nothing to plan your retirement. When people find themselves in those situations, they’re ready to care about personal finances. That’s when the pundits get their followers; when blogs get new readers.
Do you agree or disagree? Do you think it’s possible to get others to care about personal finance before they realize it for themselves? Is it our place to care? To help them?