We’d all be a little better off if Canada’s basic education system included a thorough run through of basic finance. Such a course would allow young people to make better decisions with their money and ultimately keep more of it in their pockets. Nowadays, making mistakes with money is almost normalized as part of the journey toward managing it well, and there’s really no reason that should be the case with the right financial foundation.
Here are ten concepts that might serve as the base of that foundation.
Inflation is the sustained rise in the prices of goods and services people use in their everyday lives. A pack of bacon twenty years ago was a lot cheaper than a pack of bacon today because of inflation. The same can be said for orange juice, cars, houses, bathroom tissue, and pretty much anything else you need to live your life. We invest money in stocks because they offer a return that has beaten inflation over time. While you can buy approximately 3.3% less with a Canadian dollar with each passing year, a diversified stock portfolio would have earned you an average yearly return in the high single digits over the past few decades.
Debt is what you take on when you borrow money. Usually the agreement is that you have to pay your lender back the full borrowed amount, aka the principal, after a certain period, plus periodic interest payments along the way. These interest payments tend to be expressed as a percentage of the total borrowed amount payable in monthly, annual, or biannual installments depending on the arrangement. One well-known example is credit card debt, which is some of the highest-interest debt you can incur at about 20% or so per year. On the flipside, no pun intended, taking out debt, aka a mortgage, to buy a house could be financed at only 3 or 4% because of Covid-19’s obliteration of housing demand.
Financial Independence means having enough money to finance your life’s expenses such that working becomes optional for you. We’re not talking about being rich here, just being able to support yourself and live with decency. The earlier kids know about this concept, the more years they’ll be able to save and invest and take advantage of compound interest.
Compound Interest is the process by which an investment grows in value. When an investment earns you interest, which is synonymous with a return, over one year, it’s added to the original amount you invested such that your $1000 is now $1200 for example. The $200 you earned in interest now has the opportunity to let the following year’s interest grow on top of it, essentially earning you interest on your interest as they compound into a higher amount.
Opportunity Cost is a perspective you can take when it comes to spending money. It consists of looking at what you’re about to spend, say $15 on a burger and fries, and considering what you’ll no longer be able to buy once you place your order. If you’re saving for a car, you won’t be able to put that money toward to car anymore. If you’re hoping to take a certain course to add depth to your skills, that $15 will no longer help you enroll. You get the idea. When you actually manage to hold off on dropping your cash on something in favor of a future desire, it’s called delayed gratification; not the easiest ask for young people looking to have a good time, but certainly a rewarding one in terms of making larger-scale dreams come true.
Investing is using money with the intention of making more of it. You invest in assets.
Assets are things you can own that make money. These include stocks, which rise in value and can pay you a bit of cash every month or quarter called a dividend. Bonds, which basically work the same as the lender-borrower relationship we delineated above, where the lender, or holder of the bond, receives regular interest payments and the return of principal at the end of the bond’s life. Real estate, which pays you monthly when you rent it out to people. Businesses that hopefully produce profits that line your pockets in proportion to the percentages of the businesses you own. Patents, which generally entitle you to a royalty for every time your patent is put to use. Guaranteed investment certificates, which, like bonds, function as debt. And so on. Think of how motivating it might be to have a working list of these in your head walking around as a daydreaming sixteen-year-old.
Retirement Planning is the last thing you want to talk to a high school kid about at length because it’s so far away and you gotta learn to live before worrying about the logistics of the end of it. I’d limit the spiel to saying that it’s a good idea to think about how much money you need to live on a yearly basis. Multiply that number by however many years between your age and 90, to be conservative, and that gives you a rough idea about how much money you would need until you croak. It can feel grim to think about death. I get it. Just wanted to acknowledge that.
Insurance is money you pay someone else to financially have your back in case something catastrophic happens to you, like croaking, getting seriously injured, losing your job, getting into a car accident, or having to deal with damage to your home. You get insurance for peace of mind. Your payments for it, called premiums, are ones you hope to make without ever having to file a claim due to this or that disaster. Knowing about insurance as a kid is important to instill the idea that certain things are worth protecting more than others, modified of course by each person’s individual values.
Taxes can be defined as money you pay the government to run the country you live in. The earlier little Timmy can develop a sense of what this means in hard numbers, the less of a surprise it’ll be compared to when those dollars have a tangible effect on his quality of life.
Feel free to drop a question or a comment.
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Disclaimer: This article is meant for general education purposes only. It does not constitute financial advice as I am unaware of your personal situation. Consult with a professional who abides by a fiduciary standard before making any investment decisions.