Michelle Singletary
Michelle Singletary
Columnist

Time to improve your financial knowledge

The major financial activity people associate with April is tax day.

But April is also the perfect month to push financial literacy. After all, you’ve had to pull together major information about your finances to do your taxes.

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So what ya doing for Financial Literacy Month?

I get questions all the time from people who want to be better at handling their finances. During a recent speaking event, a worker asked how he could get his wife to show more interest. Take her to a financial class, I recommended.

Look, if you can spend hours watching NCAA basketball games (and I’m not saying you shouldn’t; I’m disappointed that my Maryland Terps didn’t make it to the finals), or two hours watching a dumb movie, or waste time playing any number of apps on your smartphones (I can get trapped in an “Angry Birds” game for much longer than I care to admit), then why the heck can’t you take advantage of the many workshops or programs offered this month?

The answer is that you can. And you should because you keep saying to yourself that you need help. Forty percent of U.S. adults graded themselves a C, D or F on their knowledge of personal finance, according to the most recent financial literacy survey by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling and the Network Branded Prepaid Card Association.

Nearly four in five survey participants said they could use some professional advice and answers to everyday financial questions.

When asked what worries them the most, 57 percent of Americans said a lack of savings. Forty-three percent are concerned about not having enough money for an emergency.

Well, stop worrying and do something about it. America Saves, a campaign managed by the Consumer Federation of America, has launched a text-message service that will send tips and personalized texts to people who pledge to save.

The campaign is offering a nice little carrot to encourage a commitment. It is giving away $500 to one person, chosen at random from all who sign up for the text messages. You have to be 18 or older. Standard messaging rates apply, so be sure you aren’t running up text charges trying to win money.

The promotion runs until April 30. To sign up, go to americasaves.org/pledge. Here’s what some of the agreement says: “I [you type your name] pledge to save money, reduce debt, and build wealth over time. I will encourage my family and friends to do the same. I pledge to save $ [fill in the dollar amount] for [set a time frame] month/s.”

There’s a pull-down menu so you can select a specific savings goal. The texts will be customized based on the goal you pick.

America Saves Director Nancy Register said her organization is intrigued by experiments conducted in the Philippines among low-income bank account holders. Researchers found that sending regular text messages reminding and encouraging people who had set a savings goal to stay on track increased the total amount saved by 6.3 percent.

“Even now, a significant number of lower-income consumers don’t have home access to computers,” Register said. “Youth and young adults communicate more frequently by text than e-mail.”

In the case of the America Saves promotion, organizers are banking on the cash award to spur actual saved dollars. “So many incentives are really retail strategies,” she said. “You have to spend to save. Many savings tips, like clipping coupons or waiting for deals, are about spending less.”

I love the idea of the contest. It’s also very true that many savings strategies still encourage spending. I always say, you never save when you spend. You might be spending less, but you are not engaging in the action of saving.

America Saves has it right. A little enticement doesn’t hurt. The Council for Economic Education is having a contest for K-12 teachers. The council is offering a $1,000 prize for the educator who comes up with the most creative video (30 or fewer seconds) demonstrating a specific financial literacy lesson, activity or project. Teachers can find details at councilforeconed.org. Videos will be accepted through April 14.

The American Library Association and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago are promoting “Money Smart Week” April 20-27 at local libraries. You can find a class at moneysmartweek .org and more information at ala.org/offices/
money-smart-week
.

Even if money isn’t on the table, take some time to search for a local financial literacy event this month. Yes, leave your home so that you can improve your financial house.

Readers may write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or singletarym@washpost.
com. Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read previous Color of Money columns, go to postbusiness.com.

 
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