Despite being a part of the National Curriculum since 2014, turns out only 40 percent of school children are being taught money management. Still, while that might not be Every Single Child in the UK, it's surely better than pre-2014. The only thing finance-related thing I ever learned was how many euros Marie and Jean-Luc from my KS1 French textbook would need to buy 30 oranges.
Suffice to say, I was never taught the important stuff – and, it would appear, nor are the current crop of 17-year-olds. In a report released this week by Money Advice Service, 32 percent of those surveyed said they didn't have experience of putting money into a bank account, while 59 percent couldn't read a pay slip.
Martin Lewis – founder of MoneySavingExpert.com – told me over the phone that "we live in one of the world's most competitive consumer economies, and yet we're not very good at it. It's an absolutely crucial life skill to learn how to live your life as a consumer, because so many people fuck up their lives at the age when they hit independence."
So just to get things started, I spoke to a number of experts about the money stuff we should have been taught at school. Treat this as a gateway into the world of properly understanding why you shouldn't just instantly shred all your payslips.
CHOOSE YOUR ADVICE WISELY
While your nan might have lived through seven recessions and seem dead set on the reliability of lottery bonds, maybe don't take her word as gospel. Or your parents' word, for that matter; just 61 percent of parents reported feeling confident about talking money with their kids. This lack of confidence might be due to the fact that half of parents don't save regularly, with 68 percent finding it difficult to keep up with their bills and credit card payments. As a result, this month collective personal debt in the UK rose to a record £1.5 trillion, which doesn't bode particularly well for all those parents' offspring.
Still, Nick Hill from the Money Advice Service says that listening to your mum and dad might not be such a bad thing. "You can learn as much from bad habits as you can from good ones," he points out. "So even if your parents aren't doing the smartest thing, you can learn from their mistakes." And when that fails, there's plenty of alternative wisdom out there in impartial, regulated organisations like Nick's. The key message, he says, is to "just take responsibility and accountability for it", and not to expect anyone else to tell you when to get off ASOS.
NEVER GET A PAYDAY LOAN ADVERTISED ON THE TELLY BY A CARTOON ANIMAL
Martin tells me that "a level of skepticism is crucially important" when it comes to assessing the people trying to sell you things, because "a company's job is to make money – they aren't there to help you". A pretty obvious point, but it's worth remembering when it comes to stuff like payday loans, because fuck those up and you might end up having your car repossessed.
According to Nick, there's "a time and a place for payday loans, but if you're having to use them as a way to cope day-to-day, then the chances are it's getting out of control". So unless you're certain about your ability to pay them back, their extortionate interest rates are best avoided.
DEVLOP A BASIC UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT CREDIT ACTUALLY IS
Credit as a concept isn't necessarily an objectively Bad Thing. As Martin puts it, "Debt isn't bad; bad debt is bad. Frankly, the message 'never borrow' is antiquated, because unless you are incredibly lucky then if you want to buy a house you are going to have to have a debt."
Responsible ways of building up a credit score without getting a credit card include: keeping your postal address the same as your parents while you're at university, never going over your overdraft limit and even registering to vote, because it proves that you're a responsible person who cares about the world beyond your immediate surroundings.
UNIVERSITY LOANS ARE, IN FACT, REAL MONEY
University is becoming less of an expected part of growing up, as higher tuition fees and the disappearance of grants mean that you might be saddled with a level of debt that isn't ever justified by your eventual job role. But for those who choose to take the plunge, you need to know that, despite what everyone tells you, you will in fact notice and fully feel those loan repayments. They are made out of proper, real money, which you will be expected to pay back in full.
BUYING BAKED BEANS IN BULK DOESN'T COUNT AS "BUDGETING"
As Martin points out, "Most budgets are bollocks." While your parents shoo you off to university with a recommended monthly budget, you are inevitably going to completely fuck it all up in the first week and blow your entire loan on either three nights out or one very expensive pair of trousers.
So, he says, "We have to accept that life is a bit complicated, and we don't live it by the month." That's why his recommended budgeting system has 112 categories – to accommodate all the unexpected stuff that isn't planned into a normal week, like Christmas, or MOTs, or not getting your deposit back because you drew dicks all over the wall in permanent marker.
Habitually sticking to a budget involves learning about financial priorities early on. So you should get into habits like doing a Big Shop instead of spending all your money on singular Scotch eggs and steering clear of impulse purchases. That includes putting the call in four pints into a Thursday evening. Nick didn't overtly advise me on that one, but he did say that sometimes you should just leave your bank cards at home "to protect yourself from yourself".
DON'T USE YOUR PAYSLIP AS A COASTER
So there's more to a payslip than the figure highlighting how little is actually being transferred into your bank account. For example, tax information! The numbers depict how much money you can earn tax free, while the letters indicate any special circumstances or benefits which might affect your income. Just have a google to figure out the specifics of yours.
While understanding tax might not seem that much fun, actively not doing so could be the cause of your financial downfall. Particularly if you're self employed, in which case Martin says to just accept straight up that "a third of your money isn't actually yours".
Another thing: if your economic situation has recently changed and you're in a new job, it can take a while for The Man to figure out your proper tax code. Being given an emergency tax code (indicated by the letters W, N or X) either results in a rebate or a potentially crippling extra charge, so Nick advises that when you look at your new payslip you should "be a bit pessimistic until they are absolutely certain about what [your] income is going to be".
SAVE MONEY FOR WHEN YOU ARE OLD AND YOUR HYPOTHETICAL CHILDREN DON'T CARE ABOUT YOU ANY MORE
Trying to make a 17-year-old think about the expiration date on their lithe, supple limbs is near impossible. And while pension auto-enrolment happens at 22 anyway, contributing more than the required minimum amount as early as possible is incredibly important if you actually ever want to retire. So when it comes to being aware of the reality of your own impending mortality and the benefits of saving, it's a case of the sooner the better.
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