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.