Lacking financial literacy, young people are taking it into their own hands
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In 2020, Jonathan Atwin and his partner jumped on the personal finance wagon, teaching themselves all about money and how to manage it better.
“At the time, we were carrying some debt, so we wanted to try to tackle that,” said Atwin.
It started with TikTok videos. Then, the Halifax-based millennial couple turned to recommended personal finance books like “Money Like You Mean It” by Erica Alini and “I Will Teach You To Be Rich” by Ramit Sethi, along with podcasts about similar topics.
With the cost of living skyrocketing, Atwin said these tools were especially helpful and “totally changed” how the two spend and save their money today.
“I went from not having a monthly budget to having one. And it kind of also helped me keep track of things,” he said.
Atwin and his partner are among a growing group of young Canadians relying on self teaching when it comes to personal finance, in the absence of financial literacy being taught in their schools and households and with the rise in personal finance content being shared online.
“It was almost non-existent that my family or my partner’s family kind of chatted about (finances) and the same with education, like (my partner) and I both have university degrees and that’s not something that we learned about,” said Atwin.
“It’s almost like we had to take things into our own hands.”
Sam Lichtman, a certified financial planner who educates young Canadians through his TikTok videos and podcast called Millennial Money Canada, said he, too, had to take matters into his own hands, deciding to work in the finance industry to learn “the secrets of the insiders.”
However, Lichtman acknowledged that embarking on a similar career path to learn about personal finance is not realistic for everybody. That’s why he’s sharing free, educational content with his thousands of followers online.
“A lot of people try to gatekeep the information that really needs to be helping Canadians,” he said. “That information deserves to be online and available for free and social media provides an excellent platform to post it.”
But where should people turn when they want reliable resources to learn about money and how to better manage it?
While there is a lot of personal finance content online on platforms such as TikTok, Reddit and Instagram, Lichtman cautions against falling into internet rabbit holes and following any financial advice that is about investing in a specific stock or fund or other form of investment.
Instead, Lichtman recommends consuming content from people with specific qualifications.
“We have to understand that it’s different when someone has an investment licence and a planning designation, those types of things, and is on social media giving information for free, versus when someone’s just sharing their story,” he said.
Getting involved with organizations like Junior Achievement, which teaches students about financial literacy and entrepreneurship, is also worthwhile, said Lichtman.
Podcasts can be a good place to turn as well, he added, because they’re longform in nature, which makes it easier to tell whether someone knows what they’re talking about. Lichtman named “Rational Reminder” by Benjamin Felix and Cameron Passmore and “More Money” by Jessica Moorhouse as examples of informative podcasts by Canadian experts.
Gary Rabbior, president of the Canadian Foundation for Economic Education, pointed to two resources the non-profit organization primarily offers for youth looking to improve their financial literacy.
The first is a booklet called Money and Youth and a website with the same namesake, while the second is FinLit 101, an online self-instruction course for high school students that is also available to teachers, parents and others looking to develop personal financial capability.
Rabbior said these resources have been well received by youth, with many indicating that they wished they were being taught the same information in school and that they would ideally like to learn about personal finance in school or at home.
Beyond the CFEE’s resources, he recommends the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada’s online learning resources for young Canadians, which touch on a host of areas such as budgeting, insurance and planning your finances at different life stages.
Rabbior further advises people to check the credibility of anyone offering financial advice and to avoid content from influencers who tell their audiences what kind of financial moves they should be making.
“The key thing is to be able to stay in control of your money, set your own limits,” he said.
Rabbior stressed the importance of investing in yourself and taking the time to improve your financial literacy.
“A lot of learning that’s required to truly stay in control of your financial matters, you have to dig a little deeper. So rather than just grabbing advice from social media, tips here and tips there, this is one area of learning that’s worth investing in this time,” he added.
Like many other young Canadians, Maeve Ellis, a 19-year-old university student in Toronto, has become more focused on her finances ever since inflation rates and the cost of living have increased.
Ellis said it’s “pretty surprising” that other life skills are taught in schools, but public education barely scratches the surface when it comes to financial literacy.
“I think it is really a shame that this is something that people kind of have to figure out for themselves,” she said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 4, 2023.