I have spent a significant portion of my 15-year career as a financial journalist at the New York Stock Exchange. Whether I was working for Dow Jones, CBS or CNN, I put in a great deal of time reporting from the NYSE trenches. I learned to speak the language of money straight from the horse.
Call it a sign of the times, but the discussion du jour in a recent NYSE board meeting, centered on financial literacy, which has emerged as the most crucial issue in the quest to financially empower minorities. The day turned out to be an interesting study in the price we pay for not speaking the language of money. Here are the takeaways.
Many leaders in this effort for greater financial literacy participated are making the that we must learn how to “talk the talk.” Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) pointed out that, “Americans never understood the language of money.” Talk about putting your power where your mouth is. She recently sponsored bill HR 1325 which will require that college students receiving student loans, take, at minimum, a 4-hour course in financial literacy in their freshman and senior year.
“If you don’t understand the language of money and you don’t have a bank account, you are an economic slave,” said John Bryant, the founder of Operation HOPE and vice chair of the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Literacy.
SEC commissioner Luis Aguilar said that “a wealth gap exists” even in cases where minorities and non-minorities earn the same amount of money, and he cited a lack of financial education as the culprit.
The Language of Money
Nicole Albanese, a fifth-grader from South Salem Elementary School in Port Washington, N.Y., brought to life many of the ideas and ideals that were being discussed. She wrote an essay on why a cookie jar is not the best place to save money. She went on to discuss how money actually grows in banks, and that stocks, a way to own companies you believe in, are also a good way to make money grow. She even wrote about how mutual funds are managed by professionals if you don’t want to pick your own stocks.
Was this kid brilliant? Probably. She did win a national contest. Still, as I watched her, I thought about how even a young child could learn to speak the language of money simply by being exposed to it.
While we hopefully wait for our leaders in Washington to bring financial education into the mainstream by requiring it at schools, Congresswoman Lee said, “financial education should be part of employee benefits at companies.” But we can empower ourselves.
There has never been an easier time to find the financial information you need. Web sites such as Market Watch, CNN Money and Smart Money have beefed up their sites with more emphasis on personal finance. Simple searches on the Internet, “minorities and mortgages,” for example, can help get you information on how lenders are likely to treat you as well as fair market rates. There has never been more information on TV about financial issues, and newspapers are also overloaded with great info.
Whether it’s debt, insurance, investing or some other financial issue, commit to spending at least 20 minutes a week looking for information that is relevant to your situation. There are also places you can go for credit and debt counseling. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling can be a great resource. Your bank or lending institution should also be an ally. Operation HOPE has a free mortgage hotline number 888-388-4673, and it’s a great resource for information.
The Emotion of Money
While the language of money was the focus of this one event, it is the emotions that come with our finances that are often at the heart of the problem. Only about half of the people in foreclosure reach out to their lenders. Many are embarrassed.
It’s up to you, however, to get a clear picture of the grandest vision you have for financial stability. Ask yourself how financial illiteracy factors into that equation. A little perspective goes a long way when it comes to keeping your emotions in check.