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Financial Literacy Report Card – What have we learned?

We recently commissioned a national study asking youth (high school grads 17-20 years of age) questions about their expectations, behaviour and attitudes towards money. 91% were enrolled in post secondary courses.

Media coverage of the study focused on the incredible optimism of these kids.

For example when asked how much they’ll be making in 10 years, the average answer was $90,000. The actual average wage for that age group is just over $31,000.

Almost three-quarters believe they will own their own home within a decade, yet stats show that number is closer to two-in-five.

Media asked the question: what’s wrong with these kids, why are they so out of touch. My answer has been two fold: first, I am glad that Canadian youth are optimistic and ambitious. We mustn’t stifle ambition at that age.

I also suggest that they need a reality check. They need to know that what lies ahead, and plan accordingly and that means managing the financial side of their life.

The next question the media asked is what about the parents’ role in helping their kids develop financial life skills? The study tells us that the majority of those surveyed learned about money and personal finance from their parents. Only ten percent said that they took a course at high school.

Learning from their parents could be a good thing, if their parents understand how to manage their personal finances well. But the reality on this front is that Canadians’ average household debt hit six figures last year, surpassing the Americans!

So what do we take away from this? Well first, we need financial life skills taught well in our schools so that we give our youth the tools to manage money going forward. They need to learn how to put together a budget and a financial plan, in particular to pay off any debt, particularly student loans, that they acquire along the way.

The Canadian Federation of Students claim that by the time students graduate from post secondary schools, the average student loan debt is closer to $25,000. A recent federal actuarial report says that national student debt is about to reach a whopping $15 billion by 2013.

In fact, I would suggest that before anyone gets a student loan, they must take a financial life skills course.

The key value that we need to instil in our youth: the premise that it is better to save your money, and then buy what you can afford, reversing the practice of buying on credit that has become the norm.