There is a Merit Badge many young men and women wear that rests on the path to Eagle for the Boy Scouts of America.
Oh sure, there are a lot of fun badges in Scouts such as hiking, coin collecting, nature study and swimming. Note as well the program is now co-ed.
There are useful badges as well, such as personal fitness, emergency preparedness and citizenship in the community, nation and world.
As a long-time booster of Scouting (and a former leader), I have always made the argument that several elements of the curriculum should be taught universally in public schools, especially that personal management badge.
Last week I met with Niagara Falls district Superintendent Mark Laurrie and found validation. He gave me an overview of “Career and Financial Management,” a new class mandated for ninth graders.
Yes, indeed, they have reinvented the wheel.
There remain differences. For example, the first 10 weeks or so are focused on soft skills also taught in scouts. Little things like handshakes, elevator pitches and being on time all are crucial. (An “elevator pitch,” for the uninitiated, is how to introduce yourself in 30 seconds or less when meeting someone who might further your interests. First impressions are everything.)
Other topics include understanding the job search process, exploring different careers, professional and trades, volunteering, business etiquette and communications.
The second half of the class is where the parallels to Scouting get stronger.
Money Management in the school curriculum involves understanding financial goals, budgeting and budget factors as well as the difference between needs and wants.
In Scouts, budgeting includes preparing a 13-week budget including income and expenses. It also includes discussion about the emotions tied to money, buyer’s remorse and even how we shop differently for food when hungry.
Meanwhile, in ninth grade and Scouts, the curriculum also addresses banking and investing, benefits and what comes out of your paycheck before it gets to you.
As you may know, before coming here, I worked for almost 15 years as a financial adviser. Along the way, and as a father and Scout leader, I had tons of conversations with clients as well as children.
My take on all this stuff?
Interpersonal skills are everything. Eye contact matters. So does clear writing. Use complete words and sentences. Learn to speak clearly. Listening is an underrated skill.
Debt is evil but sometimes necessary. A four-year loan for a used car might be OK if you keep it for 10 years and save to pay cash for the next one. Never lease a car. The sooner you get to a point where a car loan is not part of your budget, the better off you will be.
If you can buy as house, even with a 30-year mortgage, do it. You will pay down the mortgage and the property should appreciate. It's how many families build wealth.
Credit cards are a slippery slope, just like student loans.
Buy used things whenever possible, even if you like really expensive high quality. For example, I brew coffee with a Technivorm MoccaMaster. I paid $80 for it at an estate sale. It sells for $340 on Amazon. I will still be using it long after I wore out four $30 coffeemakers, and the coffee is better. I purchased a 1956 standalone Montgomery Ward cabinet for $15 about 20 years ago and still use it in my living space.
Investing: A Roth IRA is your friend. You can stash $6,000 annually after taxes and have your money back, tax free, after age 59-1/2. Also, up to basis (the amount you put in) you can always get your money out penalty-free. It’s a great way to save for retirement and have an emergency fund (which should always be enough to cover three to six months of expenses.)
How to invest: Mutual funds are the answer. Focus on equities that generate dividends and income. Bonds have not been worthwhile in 20 years. Individual stocks are too risky. Don’t panic if the market corrects. Think of it as having a sale. It’s a good time to invest more.
Aside from Scouts, and school curriculum, there are many other sources of good information. I’ve always valued radio personality Dave Ramsey’s advice, though I caution people, when he “endorses” a local provider or they speak at his "Financial Peace University," please understand, he is requiring an expensive monthly commitment from that provider, so the pressure is on for them to recoup the investment by selling you significantly commissioned or fee-based product. I trust professionals and expect them to be paid for their service, but keep your eyes open. Don’t expect someone to work for free. Understand when Ramsey recommends someone he is getting paid whether you use that someone or not.
Newspapers, Boy Scouts and public schools all spread good information, just like Ramsey. You are best off, however, to always seek second opinions and move cautiously.
Joe Genco is the regional news editor for the Niagara Gazette and the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal. Contact him at email@example.com or 282-2311, extension 2250.