As we wind up the month of March, and the winter that refused to end (in the northeast at least!), we are coming up on the fine month of April.
April brings wonderful things: spring, warmer weather, longer days. But it also brings mid-month that dreaded day when personal income taxes are due in the U.S.
But April is also something else financial, and really positive. April is officially Financial Literacy Month. You might be wondering, and…? So what does that mean to me?
April is a great opportunity to try one new thing to help you or someone in your family become more financially literate. It’s a great step toward knowing how to take care of yourself financially, and enjoying life to the fullest. Here are some ideas to get you started:
1. Read the paper. You may already be doing this, and kudos to you if so. But if not, make a point of reading the major news everyday, including at least one article about the stock market. Choose a well-regarded newspaper or website like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, or Bloomberg.com. What happens in the world impacts your money, to put it simply, and following the story on a daily basis will help you begin to make the connections you need to for understanding the bigger picture of your financial health.
2. Take a class. The immediate response to this one might be the plaintive wail of the opening lyrics to Paul Simon’s A Hazy Shade of Winter: “Time, time, time.” A class does not have to take over your life. You can find something local and easy to attend, or something online that fits your schedule any time of the day or night. The beauty of a class is it’s a commitment, it’s structured, and it will have standards. It can be difficult to make time to learn about money even though it is so important, and a class will require you to carve out that space in your life, for a potential big gain.
3. Talk to your kids about money. This one falls into the category for many parents, of being willing to do things for your kids that you do not take time to do for yourself. Talking to your kids about money is a double bonus. It features the obvious positive of teaching kids about money at a young age, so that they can grow up to be financially knowledgeable and healthy adults. But the extra advantage is that it will encourage you to learn more about money, even just by articulating what you already know.
4. Start investing. Again, you may already be doing this, and if so, that’s great. If not, the beauty of investing is it is a way to help earn the money you need for retirement, and it is an experiential approach to learning about money. I do not recommend throwing a bunch of money into the stock market with complete abandon. Start with #1 and #2, or skip right to working with an expert who you trust, feel comfortable with, and who can collaborate with you in the process so that you both learn to understand investing, and enjoy it.
5. Understand your taxes. Taxes are the dreaded part of April for many of us. They are just one of those things that cause anxiety. But if you understand how taxes work, and how to make the most of your income and tax strategies, it can be an empowering experience. This is another area where it can really help to work with an expert, like an accountant. If you work with someone who collaborates with you, you will be empowered to take control of your financial life, including planning your taxes over time so that the strategy helps you and is not a source of pain and anxiety.
Happy (almost) Financial Literacy Month!