Personal Finance Should be Part of Core Education

I believe personal finance should be a core subject taught to our children at school. We should teach how to manage and budget money, the concepts of savings and compound interest, and the risks of credit and deferred payment. Finance and money management education should be threaded through each year of schooling. I think it would offer more practical value – and a better return on investment – than some of the traditional subjects taught.

An opinion piece in The Age by Liora Miller, “Is PayPass the enemy of the young?” reflects on some of the risks of tap and go payments, especially for young people.

Australian Tax Office research this year reveals that only one in five Australians still prefer using cash for purchases.

Last week I bought lunch from a sandwich shop. I paid with cash. The look of surprise on the server’s face was clear; to the point where we both made a joke about the rarity of somebody paying with ‘real money’ as opposed to PayPass tap and go. In Australia, tap and go is essentially the default.

Cash use in Australia has fallen by a third in a period of six years.

That’s about how long tap and go transactions have been available, and I would think the next third of cash usage will decline more rapidly than another six years.

When I use tap and go, I take the extra step of entering the transaction into YNAB on my phone. YNAB’s direct bank import features don’t work with Australian banks but I consider that a feature because entering each transaction keeps me connected to my money and my budget. I recognise, however, that I’m an outlier. Most people are not taking a similar extra step – it’s spend and forget.

A cashless society in the near future appears to be an inevitability. We need to focus on ensuring young people understand the implications of deferred payment.

This is the key point of the article, but unfortunately, Miller fails to suggest how this might happen. This brings us back to my initial premise: that we as a society need to get serious about financial literacy.

I am Treasurer and Director of Midlas, a not-for-profit organisation that offers financial counselling as one of its key community support services. The government provides funding support to enable Midlas to offer this service. Yet demand is outpacing supply, and this is a common refrain across all the providers of financial counselling.

As great as it is that government provides financial support to assist organisations such as Midlas help people in financial stress, the policy settings are wrong. Just like medicine, where spending on prevention is cheaper and more effective than spending on a cure, spending on financial education would be more effective and deliver greater good than spending on help after the damage is done. Avoiding financial stress would lessen the prevalence of issues that often stem from financial stress, such as illness and poor mental health, relationship damage, homelessness, and drug and alcohol abuse. Not only would this benefit the individual but it would help broader society who share the negative impact of these societal problems.

Through us, the government needs to get serious about teaching our kids about personal finance and money management. The growth of tap and go is a lead indicator of a problem that may come to bite us in years to come. We should act before personal indebtedness becomes a national plague.

Searching for Hobbies

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

It’s very easy to spend time focusing on work. It has a tangible reward – income! It provides an emotional response – we might love it or hate it (or even just feel meh about it). And, for many, it defines who we are.1

I’ve been taking stock, and have realised that I need to add some more variety to my days. I do my work, I look after my kids, and despite us sometimes being ships passing in the night, I share time with my wife. What has gone missing though, is a third interest. What else can I do? How else can I bring some interest, variety and further meaning to my life?

I don’t want to be passing time here on our earth, responsibly moving projects and tasks forward without having some fun and spontaneity along the way.

It’s clear what my answer must be – I need to find some hobbies!

Ideally, these hobbies will stretch me out of my comfort zone. While I have always been enjoyed technology and basketball, I should move outside these domains to see if I can find something else that is fun and different.

I’ve drafted a list of ideas, with ideas ranging from board games to cooking. I plan on experimenting across a range of areas to see if anything grabs me. And because you can’t manage what you don’t measure, I will try to keep a journal in Day One to track any major hobby events and record my thoughts and impressions of things I try.

I hope I find a new and interesting activity to engage with, but even if I don’t, it will be an interesting life experiment.


  1. This concept of work defining who we are is particularly weird. The work we produce is a product, not a state of being. By defining ourselves by our work we are limiting our potential. The work we do should be a combined result of our skills, traits and personality. The work is achieved because of who we are; it is not who we are.

    Have I just buried the lede in this footnote? 

Replacing Social Media

I joined both Facebook and Twitter many years ago, when they were technical ideas, as opposed to advertising machines driven by algorithms.

Part of the reason for joining in the first place was for me to reserve my namespace. Just like gold rushes of old, it’s always important to claim your username before somebody else jumps in before you and puts their stake in the ground. While Twitter and Facebook took off, I also had my namespaces at long-forgotten sites like Pownce, Myspace and Technorati.

The Halcyon Days

Over the following years, my engagement with Twitter and Facebook increased. Facebook was great for retaining connections with people I knew IRL while on Twitter I built a list of followers that I didn’t know, but whose insights and commentary I enjoyed. This ultimately revolved around my two greatest hobbies: basketball and the Apple IT ecosystem. From around 2011-2015 really were the salad days of these two services.

The problem for them (not me), however, was that I wasn’t paying the bills. Nor were any of the other users. We know how this story goes. As per the trope, if you’re not the customer, you’re the product. There was a realisation that I was certainly the product – being sold as advertising fodder by these services that needed revenue to keep the lights on, and investors invested.1

Addiction

Over time, these services added dopamine to my day. The nefarious social engineering tweaks they built to maintain my engagement were difficult to defeat. Likes, comments, shares, retweets. All these things built in a way that tries to make you feel like you are valued by your audience, but which are all just further measures to build an advertising profile of each of their human products. But it kept me coming back.

My usage continued to grow until a series of events made me question what the hell I was doing. Firstly, most of the Facebook people I realised I either saw in real life — which was much more satisfying — or I never saw them, and didn’t have space in my life to genuinely care about them. The algorithm would occasionally surface them to my feed, then they would bubble down again to be forgotten. On Twitter, there was growing awareness (and evidence) of the hate, vitriol, bile and mistreatment of people, both inside and outside my personal feed.

Downfall

As the services became politicised, they became weaponised. Intolerance grew, they became echo chambers, and the value of what was being expressed was minimised. From link bait to listicles and lame videos, both services were serving up nothing but empty calories. I realised that I was using my most valuable resource — my time — on two services that were giving me nothing back in return for my investment.

Hence, the decision to withdraw my namespace claims. I have deactivated Facebook. I have deleted Twitter.

Reversion

What is great is that I don’t feel I have lost anything. I feel just as informed, and I actually feel calmer. I don’t have this buzz in the back of my brain, like an itch I can’t scratch, knowing that I need to check my feeds. It has freed up the time to do more productive things. I’ve been reading actual books again. I have watched TV shows and movies with full focus.

It’s been great to have more free time to invest in activities that provide mental nourishment, rather than the fast food diet I had become used to with social media. Ironically, I think I had it more right 10 years ago, before the age of social media, where this is exactly what I would do. I would read, learn, converse. I didn’t like, share and tweet. But I think, on balance, I was all the better for it. I’m enjoying this rebalancing I’m going through now, and I hope that it continues.


  1. If you want evidence of just how much you are the customer, be sure to download the document from Twitter that shows just what information they have on you, and how you are linked with a range of brands and services for marketing towards. It’s kind of chilling. 

Deprioritising Facebook

A few months ago I stopped using Facebook. I deactivated my account, deleted the Facebook apps from my iOS devices, and went cold-turkey. I have subsequently had to reactivate my account because of the need to engage with some groups that exist only on Facebook, but I continue to ignore my timeline.

It has been a great change for the better. Facebook adds a huge weight of nothing. It’s empty calories. It uses up time that could be better spent elsewhere. I haven’t missed any news; I don’t feel less engaged with the world. To the contrary, actually. I feel more engaged. I don’t crave the little dopamine hits of likes and comments. I’m still writing and recording aspects of my life, but now they are feeding content that I own, whether it’s on my own microblog, or in my Day One journal, or (heaven forbid) through one-on-one conversations.

It surprised me just how easily I was able to ‘kick the habit’ of using Facebook. I thought I would miss it. As if to emphasise just how hollow the platform is, I’ve not had any of my myriad followers reach out to check if I’m still alive since my departure! That point highlights the disconnected connectedness Facebook promotes. Sure, you ‘like’ somebody’s post, but do you remember it 30 seconds later? Would you notice if it were not there? The evidence would suggest not, and that spot in the timeline would just be filled by something else.

If I could dump the Facebook platform entirely I would. As it is, I will use it as little as possible, and only as required for specific functional tasks. I am not willing to gift my attention to Facebook, for it to leverage into profit. My hours on this planet are too valuable to give you them for free.

Sisyphus’ Notetaking App

I am always searching for the perfect notes app, and the best way to integrate that into my workflow. I’m not sure I have found the former and I haven’t achieved the latter, but I keep trying. It’s ultimately a Sisyphean task, because there’s always another note taking app just around the corner which will constitute a new way of working with it. Nevertheless, I try.

With our proliferation of devices it’s no longer enough to have a decent desktop-based notetaking process. Access needs to be ubiquitous, and that means cloud sync. While a few years ago that would limit the candidates significantly, nowadays sync is the price of entry. When the iPhone arose and syncing was hard, the best option was Simplenote. This app used its own sync engine to provide lightning fast sync. I had a large number of notes in Simplenote, but it was convoluted getting them on my Mac, which required Dropbox and NVAlt – an app which I love the concept of but it never really grew on me.

Nowadays there are an abundance of options, such as Apple Notes, OneNote, Notability, OmniOutliner, and the list goes on. The problem with this is fragmentation. Taking notes is one thing, finding them again later is quite another. If I don’t have all my notes in one location, they may as well be lost. Plus that location needs to be available wherever I am and whatever device I have to hand. Spotlight search is useful, but I want to know where that note is, and I don’t want to have to trawl through search results to find it.

For the moment I have settled on Bear for notes. It syncs reliably across iOS and macOS, it supports Markdown syntax and can export into a variety of formats. It also looks really pretty.

Despite my use of Bear, I haven’t totally solved the fragmentation problem. I continue to use Goodnotes for handwritten notes taken with my Apple Pencil, DEVONThink Pro for reference material, and Ulysses for long-form writing. So stuff remains scattered.

And so my stone rolls back down the hill…