Financial literacy best learned at a young age

By Colleen Thorpe

In a world where more and more activities cost money financial, education is just as important as learning to read and write, says Dr Pushpa Wood.

The new director of the New Zealand Centre for Personal Financial Education is passionate about teaching others to be financially savvy.

She is the former education manager at the Retirement Commission, and doesn't want to contemplate a New Zealand in 30 years' time where today's young people have failed to save for their retirement.

Wood is based in Wellington and the centre she now directs is a joint project by the Westpac bank and Massey University.

Its certificate courses will be able to be taught at any of the university's three campuses.

Wood thinks there is a big gap in New Zealanders' financial knowledge, a gap that costs people dearly in bad and unproductive debt.

She says people learn how to manage their money at home if they have enlightened parents.

Others learn at school or by informing themselves when they have to.

On the other hand, other people just muddle along.

At the same time as society is becoming more money-oriented, financial products such as insurances, credit cards and hire purchase agreements are becoming more complex, she says. And young people are doing more and more transactions with cards rather than handling notes and coins.

They do not see or touch money coming in and going out, which tends to distance them from their own financial situation.

To make matters worse, the concept of delayed gratification and saving for things doesn't seem to exist any more, Wood believes.

"It's interesting how many people can't budget, and how many people think the answer to all their problems is a credit card and a bank."

Ideally, young people learn how to manage money at home, at school and through their work.

In such cases, when they take on debt, credit cards, insurance and hire purchase they will read the material carefully and ask lots of questions, making sure they understand everything before signing anything.

The internet is a great source of information, Wood says.

"The Sorted website has done tremendous work in the past 10 years."

The basics of financial literacy are to live within your means, give priority to what you want and plan ahead.

Avoid debt unless it is of the productive kind, or will help you get ahead financially.

It is also important that debtors know the true cost of borrowing, Wood says.

For example, many people are not aware that the 24 per cent interest charged on credit-card debt is applied to the interest on outstanding interest as well as the debt itself.

She suggests keeping a daily spending diary and regularly checking bank accounts to make sure there is money there and that automatic payments are going out of the accounts as organised.

And there is nothing wrong with deciding not to spend. "It's okay to say, 'No, I don't want or need this today,' and withstand the pressure of sales pitches."

- Hamilton News

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