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.
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.
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:
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?
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.
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.