Financially Intentional: Going Beyond Financial Literacy

April 30, 2024

Originally published in The Bulletin (Bend, Oregon), April 28, 2024

I was that odd kid who rarely spent the money I received for Christmas or my birthday. Instead, I saved it; either to see a higher balance on the toy ATM I used, to protect my money from thieves (my siblings), or for some bigger expense that I was excited for, like the newest video game my neighbor was playing. Thankfully, my interests have developed as well as my personal finance knowledge.

April is Financial Literacy Month, which allows me the opportunity to view that younger version of myself with a little less embarrassment and a touch more pride. Teaching personal finance in school is growing in popularity, and statistics from FINRA point to a gradual increase in overall financial literacy. There is still a large gap to make up for as a FINRA study shows that 56% of American adults describe themselves as ‘financially anxious’ and 61% are living paycheck-to-paycheck. Like most others, in my schooling, I was told to remember that Mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cell. While that may be important information in some professions, it is undeniable that being able to manage one’s own finances is a universally valuable skill that needs to continue to be widely taught in schools.

Even among those who have received some education in personal finance, most have been taught that the end goal of financial wellness is to have the largest nest egg. In my opinion, this has been a fundamental flaw in most personal finance courses. Retiring and becoming a millionaire can be excellent goals, but without an understanding of why that goal is important to the individual or family, reaching the goal will fall flat. Having financial literacy without financial intentionality leads to viewing a balance as a high score rather than as a resource to accomplish something personally meaningful.

The reality is that we all want different things from money. Many people cherish freedom and flexibility in life. Some prefer contributing to charitable and philanthropic causes. Others value having high-quality possessions, convenience, or comfort. What can be accomplished with money is only constrained by the limits of our own imagination. The fact that we have different goals naturally means that we should manage our finances differently. While there are universal principles that are important for everyone to know, there is not a one-size-fits-all solution to managing finances.

This is why it is vital to start our financial journey by understanding why money is important to us and what we want to achieve with it. Do you know what you want from life? Do you know how to use your finances to reach this end? With this as the foundation, we will not only have more direction, but also considerably more motivation to reach those goals. Uncovering our own passions and values can be a difficult and complicated process, but it is one that is critical to true success in personal finances.

As a financial advisor, most people view my job as dealing with dollars and data having my head in a spreadsheet all day. While this is an important component of my job, I see some of the greatest value delivered by helping clients align their finances with their stated values and goals. Converting financial resources into the lifestyle we most want to live is the truest form of financial literacy, and the definition of the “Rich Life,” that is, a life rich in things money can’t buy.