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How the School System Has Failed You Financially

Jul 13, 2019

You remember high school, don’t you? Of course you do. If you’re like most people, you have certain memories that come to the surface right away whenever those “glory days of high school” come creeping into your thoughts.

You may have been a sports star. Everywhere you went kids were trying to hang out with you, or patting on the back for a great game, and just attempting to be close to you because you were so amazingly awesome on the field or on the court. Or perhaps high school was a nightmare and you were constantly bullied, hunkering in the shadows and trying to get from one class to the next without being harrassed.

When it comes to thoughts of high school, people’s memories vary widely. And no matter how successful you are today, how much money you’re earning at your job, whether you’re an executive, own a business, or are still trying to find your way in life, one thing most of us can agree on is this:

High school never prepared us for our financial future.

What Financial Classes Did You Take in High School?

Do you remember any? I certainly don’t. In fact, when I researched this very topic to understand whether it was just something I overlooked or wasn’t paying attention to during those teenage years, I discovered something disturbing.

The public school system — and most private schools — throughout the country completely negate financial education.

Money is interwoven in virtually every aspect of our lives.  It can be root source of freedom, security, and peace of mind, or sadly for most, it’s the root cause of stress, pain, anxiety and depression.  Given the importance of this subject, it is mind blowing the school completely ignores this vital subject.  In fact, I think it’s criminal. 

If you can’t remember any specific financial classes, classes about how to manage your checkbook, about investments, the stock market, savings, credit scores, interest rates, and so forth, you’re not alone.

Very few of us were ever exposed to such topics during our high school years. We certainly had plenty of history, social studies, English classes, math, and various sciences and while those were certainly important, has calculus, Shakespeare, or art history impacted your life directly?

If you’re an art history teacher, maybe it has, but most people can’t remember a thing about those subjects, and most have never had to use that information in their lifetime. 

Sadly, even a significant and growing portion of the US population, especially younger people, don’t know much about the beginnings of this great nation and even fewer know what the Holocaust was. Just watch a segment on the Jimmy Kimmel show as they interview people on the street asking them to name any country on a world map.  Any country.  It’s stunning how many people couldn’t do it!  Are subjects like that being taught in school? That is certainly more pressing an issue to understand than the reading a book by Shakespeare or music history, but it highlights a very important point:

Our education system is failing our children. It failed us.

What About College?

If you are one of the millions of Americans who attended college, did you finish with a degree? Surprisingly, only 52.9% of incoming freshmen graduate within six years (CNBC).

Between all of the men and women who start college — whether they finish or not — how many (who don’t go into a specific financial program) take a class rooted in finances?

Did you?

Most likely the answer is the same: none.

One of the most important topics people should be learning at an early age and you’d be hard-pressed to find any school — private or public, high school or college — that is teaching it.

I have my personal theories as to why this is, but regardless of the reasons the effect is measurable.

Currently, 78% of full-time working adults in the United States are living paycheck to paycheck (CNBC). 63% of adults in this country would not be able to get $500 together for an emergency expense (Forbes) without turning to friends, family, or even payday loans.

Those statistics are sobering. They also tell a vital truth about the failure of our education system in this country: it has failed all of us.

Shouldn’t People Know This Stuff Already?

There are numerous successful men and women who are diligent in balancing their checkbooks, who pay their bills the moment they arrive, who put away 10% of their post-tax income into a savings bond or account or CD or some other investment without fail.

Did they get a financial education?

Maybe. But, in most likelihood they either had an inherent desire to know how best to manage their money, grew up poor, needy, and unspoiled, or had parents or grandparents who were diligent in helping them learn about banking, investing, saving, and other aspects of finances early on.

In other words, their belief system surrounding money was rooted early in life and it helped forge a solid foundation that inspired them to be diligent and careful with what they earned.

Most of us, sadly, don’t enjoy the same level of instruction, guidance, and foundation of belief systems regarding money that early in life.

As with most things, we depend on the school system to guide us, instruct us, and teach us. What happens, though, when the very foundation we entrust to guide our children fails in one of the most important subjects of all life?

Think about it: what is the one thing we could learn in high school or college that is important to every single one of us?

Answer: finances.

Think about it:  what’s the number one cause of stress society?

Answer:  finances

Think about it: what’s the number one cause of our most deadly diseases and illnesses?

Answer: finances

This is a crisis of epic proportion that is affecting more people than all diseases combined and yet it’s being ignored by our school system.  It’s mind boggling

Look, we all deal with money. We all have to earn money to buy food, shelter, clothing, and everything else we want. We don’t all need to know the details of the War of 1812 or the gold rush of 1849 or about the Russian Czar Peter the Great. We don’t all need to know what a rhombus is or understand calculus. We don’t all need to know music or art history or English literature. We don’t all need to know a second or third language. We don’t all need to know how to play tennis or football.

Yes, all of those subjects are important to some degree, but none of them are as crucial and critical as finances are to each and every one of us.

When You Don’t Have an Education in Something, What Then?

I know many adults who – pardon the pun — discovered the Discovery Channel or Nat Geo long after their high school days had passed. They learned about the very things they were taught in high school, but somehow had more interest in it as adults, being older and living independently.

Still, is that information benefiting them in any direct way? Maybe, but most likely not.  Yet, it highlights a very important factor: when we don’t have an education in something we can still learn things that are of interest to us on our own terms.

When it comes to our finances, though, being so crucial and fundamental to survival and getting ahead as adults, much of what we learned about it already formed the underlying belief systems we carry with us throughout our adult lives.

For example, as a teenager trying to “make it” in high school, you might have looked at the more popular kids, the seniors, the cheerleaders or football jocks and wanted to have at least a little bit of what they had.

Maybe you turned to rock stars, movie stars, and other celebrities to emulate their fashion. You convinced your mother or father to get you the latest hip jacket, awesome pants, glittering shoes, and so forth.


Because you wanted to fit in or stand out or make an impression or simply be accepted. You got this idea that the new this or new that was going to make you happy or popular or liked.

That was your initial education surrounding finances and you didn’t even realize it at the time. It formed your belief system surrounding money and since none of us really received a financial education in high school or college, then what?

Those belief systems become ingrained in us. And they keep us making the same mistakes over and over and over.

The bottom line is this: it’s not your fault.

No matter your financial circumstances, how much debt you find yourself in, how behind on your mortgage or rent payments you are, whether you’re scrambling to keep the car from getting repossessed, have maxed out all your credit cards and have no possible way of paying even the minimum balance next month, and find yourself just scraping by to survive, it’s not your fault.

The school system failed you.

No, I don’t believe you can successfully bring a lawsuit against a school system for your financial circumstances now. You own it and while, ultimately, it’s not your fault, it is your responsibility.

Even though you weren’t properly educated financially during your school years, it’s not too late. You can develop a solid financial education and foundation now, but the first thing we need to tackle is that broken belief system revolving around money that is dictating your financial behaviors.