3 Surprising Things I Learned This Financial Literacy Month

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Financial literacy month is over!


30 days, 30 interviews, 30 chances to learn and grow!  What did you take away from Financial Literacy Month this year?

Here’s a glimpse into what I learned.

Financial Illiteracy

If you’re reading this, you know the dangers of financial illiteracy – failing to save, only paying minimum payments on your credit card, never having enough to invest.  End result? No savings, and a long, painful retirement of barely scraping by on Social Security and Medicare.

Two thirds of Americans are financially illiterate and can’t calculate simple interest.  Makes you wonder how we got into this situation.

Perhaps we should ask one of the 16% who prefer a higher mortgage interest rate.  Or we could just ask Math Is Tough Barbie

Kidding aside, less than half the states offer economics or personal finance education, so it’s no surprise so many fail to thrive when it comes to the most important subject:


Trend Spotting

This got me curious to explore financial literacy at a higher level with my old friend Google Trends.

Worldwide, the overall trend in searches for “financial literacy” has been steadily increasing since 2004.  That’s a good sign.  Especially when you consider the top related search is “financial literacy for kids” – nothing like having a child to inspire you to finally grow up and learn the things you need to know in order to be able to educate your children.

See that spike at the end?  That’s all me.  Definitely.  Absolutely.  Maybe?

google trends financial literacy chart worldwide 2004 to 2017
Source: Google Trends / April 24, 2017

14th worldwide in financial literacy, the US comes in 4th in searches for financial literacy behind Singapore, New Zealand and the Philippines.  I suspect the only reason we’re ahead of Canada, Australia, and UK is because they all speak British English and call it something else!

Who’s The Literate Of Them All?

What’s really fascinating is what happens when you look at search trends in the US by state.  Who’s the winner?  Oklahoma with a landslide victory over Utah’s distant second place.

Google Trends searches for financial literacy in the United States
Source: Google Trends / April 24, 2017

Oklahoma?  Huh.  Didn’t see that coming.

Digging deeper, I found it all stems from their PASSPORT program – a personal finance literacy high school graduation requirement added in 2007.

Kudos and congratulations to residents of the great state of Oklahoma.  Don’t have a similar program in your state?  Feeling just a tinge of guilt because you didn’t do anything for financial literacy month?  Here’s your chance – write your state representative and ask for a personal finance requirement for your state.

3 Things I Learned During Financial Literacy Month

Starting the Financial Literacy Chronicles was an adventure in the original definition of the word – an undertaking where the final outcome cannot be known in advance.  I wasn’t sure what I would learn, or what the impact would be, but I knew the only way to find out was to get started.

So what were the biggest money surprises I had?

Surprise #1: The Good

Anyone writing about money has a passion for advancing financial literacy.  But I was particularly impressed by two people going above and beyond.  Dave Ramsey, who we all know, and Brian from Debt Discipline, who is famous in his own right.

Given his stature in the personal finance world, I expect Dave Ramsey to be engaged in financial education.  It’s his bread and butter.  What I didn’t expect were the $58,000 Financial Literacy Challenge, where students compete in money know how for scholarships and other prizes, and the Teacher Appreciation Giveaway, where teachers can enter to win prizes like vacations, a teacher’s lounge makeover and others.  Sure, it also benefits his business, but it’s great to see someone at his level going the extra mile to inspire students and teachers to be more financially literate.

At the more personal level, Brian at Debt Discipline has been doing some great work in educating others.  He dug his way out of a massive debt while raising a family.  But then he took what he learned and started giving back to his community – his fellow employees, local schools, and other organizations.  Others may have a larger audience like Mr. Money Mustache, or more flair like Budgets Are Sexy.  Brian’s just a regular guy doing his thing, like you or me, but making the time to give back to his community at the high school level, where it can make the most difference.

Most of us became financial experts because we had to in order recover from our money mistakes.  Thanks to Brian’s hard work, many college-bound students won’t make the same mistakes we did, and will be able to follow their dreams that much easier.  Kudos, Brian!

Surprise #2: The Bad

Most surprising was how few of the people who participated in the Financial Literacy Chronicles this year had any formal personal finance education at all. The majority had none.  Zero.  Zilch.

Many, like me, had a specific event that triggered not only a passion to master money, but also was so significant that it put them on the course to educate others.

I knew the US was in trouble when it comes to personal financial literacy, but there’s knowing, and then there’s experiencing.

It was a shock and surprise.

Surprise #3: The Ugly

And then there were the unpleasant surprises.

In March, I reached out to several dozen personal finance authors, journalists, and columnists in an attempt to promote financial literacy, financial literacy month, and the Financial Literacy Chronicles.

As you might expect, I didn’t receive a lot of responses.  Of the responses I did receive, the most surprising were one from Dave Ramsey’s team which was incredibly helpful, and one from an independent author which was the complete opposite.

I don’t want to give this person any free publicity, so without naming names, this independent author had a very low opinion of personal finance “experts” whether celebrities or Joe Bloggers like me.  Despite not being overtly rude, it was without a doubt the least pleasant personal interaction I had during the series.

It seems some people never do learn how to play well with others.

Practical Advice About An Interview Series

I thought I knew how much work this was going to be when I started back in February.

I had NO idea.

So some practical advice if you’re planning an ambitious collaboration project of your own.

Automate Automate Automate

Automate as much of the work as you can.

There are excellent tools such as Buffer and IFTTT for social media management.  Schedule all your social media posts for the entire series and then you can focus on engaging with your readers during the event.

Email templates are your savior.  Whether you’re using a tool like MixMax (used for this project since their free tier is so useful) or YesMail, or just copy / paste from an Excel spreadsheet.  Make a template for every possible interaction, then customize it as needed.  Not exactly automation, but a close second, and an incredible time saver.

Control The Conversation

I recently read The 2 Hour Job Search – a book targeting business school graduates looking for their first post-MBA position, but it has a search strategy that’s effective for many different people.

One of the most useful insights I took from my reading was how to do effective outreach to people you don’t know.  In their example, alumni of your business school.  For my project, fellow personal finance writers I may or may not have interacted with in the past for the interviews, and the professional journalists I contacted for promoting the project.

There are many hard deadlines in a project like this, so I couldn’t solicit interviews from 30 writers and assume they’d all say yes (they didn’t).  And I couldn’t email 120 and blow off the writers who responded after the first 30.  So in each initial outreach email I’d give the deadline for when I needed their commitment and when I would need the interview.  Most important, I would give a date, say 1 week from today, when I would follow up if I didn’t hear back.

By setting the deadlines, and most importantly the followup deadline, and then following up when needed, I was able to set the expectation that let me be persistent without being annoying.

And persistence definitely pays off.

Have A Plan B

The unexpected happens in any endeavor.

Vacations.  Illness.  Accidents. Tax season.

Lots of reasons people can agree to something and then miss a deadline.  It’s not personal, it’s life.  So always have a plan B, especially when there’s an inflexible deadline.

In this project, I had several people fail to deliver interviews on time. Since part of the project is a free ebook containing all the interviews, I needed all the interviews in time to edit them and create the ebook before April 1. Fortunately, by remaining in control of the conversation, I was able to gracefully disengage and locate replacements as the final deadline was fast approaching.

People Are Amazing

My biggest takeaway?  People are amazing!

Reading some of the stories, especially about childhood money memories, was captivating. Not just learning about specific events in people’s lives, but just seeing the variety of upbringing and experiences, ambitions, and plans for the future.

I was especially surprised at the quantity and quality of the people who agreed to participate in the interviews.  It just goes to show how much we all care about helping spread the word of financial literacy, no matter the month of the year!

A BIG thank you to everyone who participated in the kickoff of the Financial Literacy Chronicles this year!  I hope everyone enjoyed it as much as I did!

Financial Literacy Chronicles, to be continued

So what’s next for the Financial Literacy Chronicles?

Given their popularity, and my interest in learning more about my fellow personal finance enthusiasts, I’ll continue to host interviews going forward, roughly one per month.  Let me know if you’d like to be interviewed, or want to recommend someone I should interview!

Now it’s your turn.  How was your financial literacy month?  Did you learn something new?  Teach?  Take a new step?  Make a new commitment?  Comment below with your experiences.


  1. Personally, I loved reading each and every one of the editions of the chronicles.

    Personal finance is PERSONAL. Everyone has different goals, different priorities, and different relationships with money. There is a framework we all should follow (earn, track, save, invest), but the ways we get there should be personal.

    Thanks for sharing Jack, again I really enjoyed reading and participating in this event. Have a good one, feel free to reach out if you need anything (help, interview, etc)
    Erik @ The Mastermind Within recently posted Blog Traffic and Income Report – April 2017My Profile

    • Thanks, Erik. Glad you liked it!

      One of the problems I struggled with for the series was breaking out of the bubble of the PF blogosphere. For example, the outreach to the professional personal finance journalists and writers. Sharing all this with my fellow bloggers is fun, but for improving financial literacy I really want to break orbit and reach the people who actually NEED help with financial literacy.

      Facebook ads were useless – just got me likes from obvious bots – even with very highly targeted ads. Maybe next time I’ll have to buy some Adwords ads for search terms used by financially illiterate people like “how to get more credit cards”…

  2. Thanks for all your hard work in producing the Financial Literacy Month interviews! You’ve hit on the big challenge though: reaching the people who actually need help with financial literacy. It’s the same challenge all of us PF bloggers have. If a lot of people aren’t searching for it, then how do we find them? At least the trend is working in our favor (yes that spike at the end is all you! 😉 ) Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the whole event, and for letting me participate.
    Gary @ Super Saving Tips recently posted Yard Sale 2017 or How I Cleaned Out the Closets…Again!My Profile

    • Thanks for participating, Gary!

      I remember when I was in college, back in the dark ages, banks would set up tables by the bookstore or other high traffic spots and entice students to sign up for credit cards with freebies like tshirts and CDs.

      Maybe I need to do the same and sell financial literacy at Cal or SCU. Have to come up with a good giveaway though. Maybe a beer can holder with “Enwealthen” printed on it and a terrifying chart of some kind…

  3. Jack – Thank you so much for your kind words! Just doing my part. I’m so happy to have found the path and now want as many people to know what I know. It’s life changing!

    • Passion is a powerful force! It’s what inspires you to share, and drives you to keep going, no matter the cost.

      Thanks for all you’ve been doing to promote financial literacy!

  4. I’m eventually gonna have to read all thirty interviews from the beginning. The ones I did read were great (except for that angry retail banker whose name escapes me).

    I couldn’t begin to fathom how much work it took to coordinate all this. I can barely keep a schedule of posts going myself.

    Toon bad that indie author gave you such grief. His/her work probably sucks anyway.

    And thanks again for having me!

    ARB–Angry Retail Banker
    ARB recently posted Customer Experience And Retail Banking: Why Banks Need To Enter The Modern WorldMy Profile

    • It was a larger project than I originally anticipated, but it was great getting to know more of the amazing personal finance bloggers out there, whether they participated or not. Even so, I still can’t keep a regular posting schedule, but I’m working on it.

      And you can always download the ebook so you’ll have all the interviews handy for your next flight or road trip!

      Thanks for participating!


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