I’ve been doing some volunteer work as a course facilitator over the past few months with Junior Achievement of Idaho, a great organization promoting personal finance education and entrepreneurship among elementary through high school students. I’ve enjoyed a great variety of age groups, having worked with 5th graders back in February, 1st graders in April, and currently with high school juniors. I’ve also visited several other elementary school classrooms (1st, 2nd and 3rd grades) to read and discuss the Berenstain Bears Trouble with Money book that illustrates the role of earning, spending and saving money in our lives.
As I usually am, I’ve been so impressed by the students in all these classes. They have a genuine interest at this age in learning about personal finance, which Junior Achievement defines as the process of managing our goals and needs… I love that definition. One thing that has stood out to me in all of these classes is that all of the students could identity our physical survival needs (shelter, food, protective clothing).
“What do we need to survive?” “Shelter, Food, Water, Clothing…”
Now, I’m sure that many of them, that same afternoon, may tell their mother or father that they need an Xbox One, but that’s more a result of linguistic habit.
However, ask that same question of adults, and the answers are not so concise.
“What do we need to survive?” “A home, food and water, clothing, a car, family cell phones, access to the Internet, business-appropriate attire, air conditioning, education, etc….”
What happens between elementary school and being adulthood? Yes, we all learn the importance of transportation and communication in our lives, but too many of us forget that much of the American consumer experience (think ads, marketing campaigns, etc.) exists solely to make us feel that we NEED things that are actually still just wants. Can we survive without a vehicle? More than half the households in Manhattan do. At the other extreme, only 6% of Boiseans (Idaho) do.
I make the point in my classes that vehicles are not needs but very high priority wants that contribute not to our survival but to our lifestyle. Without a vehicle, we would find a way to survive, but our way of living would likely change dramatically.
The reason I seemingly harp on this point stems from the part of human nature that decides that if something is a need, we can stop looking for alternatives. If my car is a need, then I don’t consider carpooling, public transportation, ride sharing, bicycling, walking, telecommuting, cutting back, etc.
We need to resist the urge to justify overspending on wants if we’re having trouble taking care of our needs. A newer car, a higher rated minivan, a more efficient vehicle, etc. These are all wants that need to be prioritized BELOW eating, paying a reasonable rent/mortgage, and having sufficient clothing to protect us from the elements.
I am often heard to say in my classes that we need to do a better job of educating the next generation (our children) in all things financial. This, however, may be a case where we could stand to be educated by them!
Have a great week!