Financial literacy programs don’t work?

 In Money Habits & Attitudes Blog

In a not-subtle article in MarketMatch, Paul B. Farrell, asserts that:

Financial-literacy programs are getting popular again. Warning: They don’t work. Maybe for 7% of us. But for the rest of Americans, they are a big waste of your time, and your money.

There may be some truth in financial literacy programs aren’t as effective as they could or should be. And could financial education curricula be, in general, more interesting, engaging, less boring, and less threatening? Yes, certainly. But the article is perhaps throwing out the baby with the bath water and probably giving too much credit to Wall Street obfuscation. After all, much of financial literacy is far, far removed from the complexities of trading stocks and buying mutual funds and deals simply with balancing wants and needs and managing income with expenses, setting goals, and the like. It’s hard to say that no one ever walks out of a financial education class or counseling session without a better understanding of how to manage his or her finances, get out of debt, save for a house, or the like — and that such efforts don’t result in truly healthier habits around money. Is this an argument that there should not be any financial education efforts at all; that where we are now is healthy and good and cannot be improved? That schools shouldn’t teach financial education?

And, to Farrell’s assertion that financial companies have “clever ways to turn your irrational behavior against you, to manipulate you, to siphon off your money,” it misses the reality that just as big banks are coming to better understand the role of emotion in finances, so are consumers and those putting together financial education curricula. Money Habitudes is, for example, but a small component of a change in thinking that gives consumers a better understanding of their own (rational and irrational) money behaviors.

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