It’s not just teenagers

A recent article in the East Bay Express gave an interesting snapshot of what it’s like to be young and wealthy in Silicon Valley. In the course of her interviews with employees working for companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter, the author was surprised to find that many were actually living paycheck to paycheck, regardless of their paycheck’s size. To make sense of the phenomenon, she turned to Carl Richards, a financial planner whose clients include members of the tech world. He remarks that a lot of tech employees cannot envision themselves decades into the future, and as a result have a difficult time with financial-planning exercises:

There’s a common financial-planning exercise that asks participants to try to imagine themselves and their lives in twenty, thirty, forty years — where do you want to be living? What do you want your job to be like? According to Richards, some tech employees have particular trouble with it: “There’s this problem with not understanding risk because you sort of think it will always be this easy — you’re young, you’re on top of the world. And that leads into this issue of not being able to imagine your future self.”

Not planning for the future while working in an industry that shifts as rapidly as technology is to court danger. These are people in their twenties and thirties, working white collar jobs in lucrative businesses. In a way, being so highly paid at an early age can be a disservice to young people, because if individuals never have to struggle to make a living, they don’t have to peer inside themselves and ask the really tough questions.

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Getting on the same page with basic concepts

I’m not sure if I’ve already mentioned in this space how I fell into what I’m doing. Basically, one evening my husband came home from a mentoring training session and told me how his group facilitator was struggling with the question of how to help her young people transition to adulthood. I remember commenting that adults seem to be constantly telling teenagers that they have to “grow up,” but I wasn’t sure that kids always fully grasped what that meant. I wondered whether the mentees had firmly defined adulthood for themselves, and I set out to explore how I would draw that definition out, or help them to form one if they hadn’t already. My reasoning was that adults could talk till they were blue in the face about “adulthood,” but if youths don’t make a deep personal connection to that concept, it would remain an abstraction.

Earlier this week I mentioned that I’d started to research financial literacy programs, and it came to my attention that an old high school classmate gives financial literacy classes in schools, communities, and prisons. I haven’t yet read Brandale’s book, but I did read a blog post about an eye-opening experience he had in a fourth-grade classroom, where he realized the polarity of the students’ thoughts on financial standing. He begins his class by asking students to define what they think it means to be rich and what it means to be poor, and he was surprised by one young girl’s conviction that anyone who didn’t drive a Bentley was poor. I won’t go into more detail about Brandale’s post because I want to urge you to read it for yourself, but I will say that what I learned from him is that it will make little sense to give a class on financial literacy when the young people you’re teaching have no concept whatsoever of financial stability. Brandale realized that they not only lacked a picture of middle class life, but they had no grasp of how much things cost and how much money people made. The post is worth a read to remind educators that in order to meet our students at their level, we have to start with the most basic of concepts and nip any misconceptions in the bud.