Financial Literacy Programs: Stuck in the 20th Century?
Education and Careers Most financial literacy programs are stuck in the past. They fail to recognize that working families live different financial lives than families even 20 years ago.
Today, financial insecurity is increasingly the new norm. Many workers patch together earnings from multiple jobs with irregular working hours, seasonal employment and bouts of short-term unemployment.
Their monthly incomes are both volatile and unpredictable.
In the U.S. Financial Diaries (USFD) study, poor and middle-income working households typically had three months a year when their incomes dipped at least 25 percent below their average and three months when their incomes spiked at least 25 percent above their average. Income dips often coincide with spending shocks.
"What do you do when you’re low on cash and the car breaks down? How do you deal with a costly health emergency?"
Most financial literacy programs are geared toward steady paycheck earners who are saving for long-term goals like higher education or retirement. But what do you do when you’re low on cash and the car breaks down? How do you deal with a costly health emergency? Should you lend your brother-in-law money when he’s short on his rent, or borrow from him when you’re short on yours?
These are the types of financial challenges that many working households today need help addressing. They need help holding onto income when they have extra and prudent ways to cobble together resources when they get stuck.
Technology can make a difference. Simple text message reminders like “pay your bill today” can help people stick to a payment plan. New mobile apps can even help low-income workers turn impulse buys into “impulse saves.”
To make these kinds of innovations work broadly, we need financial services providers, social service agencies and educators to team up and embed financial learning opportunities directly into an array of products and services that address the up-and-down incomes of today.
If our public schools continued to use the same curricula used 30 years ago to educate today’s kids, we would call for change. The same applies to educating people financially. We need to get with the program—a program that acknowledges the new financial reality that so many Americans are confronting and offers strategies for creating stability.