Learning how money and finance work was the best thing I ever did for my career — and that’s not just because I’ve worked in accounting since 2006. Whether you’re an aspiring entrepreneur or looking for a leg-up on a major decision, knowing the score when it comes to your finances should be second nature. That’s why it’s so stunning to hear stats like these from a 2018 national survey of financial literacy:
- 46% of U.S. households have no emergency fund
- 19% reported spending more than their income
- 29% use payday lenders or title loans to make ends meet
- 54% have not figured out how much they need to save to retire
It’s crazy that the educational system puts more emphasis on teaching algebra and geometry — which almost no one ever uses than on teaching kids how money and finances work. And that lack of financial education explains why many here in the U.S. rely on their tax refund as their primary method of saving money. That’s possibly the worst savings plan around. You’re essentially giving the government an interest-free loan. It’s your money, why not put it to work for you?
Now, you don’t need to learn the intricate details of accounting to benefit from a basic understanding of money. Financial literacy is about making smart decisions with your money so that you control your finances, not the other way around. It’s about building long-term wealth and developing enduring financial well-being. Besides the obvious benefits of having enough cash to pay all your bills, financial literacy can have a big impact on your career.
Also Read: Career Opportunities in Finance after MBA
Reduced Stress = Better Workplace Performance
Financial stress spills out across your entire life, and can seriously impact your performance at work. Financial stress comes in large part when people don’t understand how to budget, how to save for the future, or how to manage debt.
That stress can be overwhelming. You might lose sleep. Your health can decline precipitously. Relationships can fail. At work, you might lash out at a co-worker, your boss, or even a customer or client. Any of those can get you fired.
That extra weight of worry about whether you’re going to make rent or pay your bills seeps into your brain and may result in making poor decisions. It keeps you from being all-in when you’re at work. And trust me, the boss can tell when something’s off in your performance.
Build a Career, Not a Series of Jobs
The purpose of a career is to advance up the pay scale, as well as to become a better human being. But if you’re living paycheck-to-paycheck, every payday is crucial for paying down at least some (if not all) of your outstanding bills. You become dependent on that job. That may cause you to stay in situations that are at best, not in your long-term interest, or at worst, possibly dangerous to your health or sanity (maybe both).
But when you have an emergency fund, you can make decisions based on your long-term career goals, not just how you’ll spend your next paycheck. You’ll have the freedom to leave a work situation that’s not working for you.
You can think about ways to improve your long-term earning ability. That may mean going back to school or finding additional training, even if it’s on your dime. Remember that while the bank can repo your car or house, they can’t do that to your brain.
Also Read: Skills You Can Learn From Home
Become a More Valuable Employee
When you understand how businesses work, and how companies make a profit, you can become a better employee. You see how your actions can impact the bottom line.
This basic understanding can help you find ways to help your company make more money. Maybe there’s a software subscription that no one’s using or a better deal on office supplies. Or maybe you can think of new ways to get more cash in the door. Besides getting more people to buy from your company, what if you treat every customer so well that they want to buy from you again and again?
Become a Better Negotiator
Understanding the bigger financial picture can help you become better at negotiating deals, whether that’s your own compensation package, a better deal on a new home, or fighting for a bigger budget for your team’s project. You’ll be able to express the value of your position in monetary terms and how that brings a benefit to the organization as a whole.
Speaking of compensation, you’ll learn that not everything of value comes in the form of dollars in your bank account. The most valuable part of a compensation package just might be the stock options or other non-cash items that cash-strapped start-ups may be more inclined to offer. Without basic financial literacy, you might forego something that could mean a big payday in the future.
Also Read: Different Types of Accounting Courses
Financial Literacy Gives You a Bigger Picture of the Future
One of my CPA friends told me about a client she helped in her early days at a storefront tax prep service. His income was $10,000 higher than the year before, which meant that his earned income tax credit refund was $1,000 less than the year before. He completely freaked and shrieked, “What am I supposed to do, work less??”
Financial literacy lets you see beyond the numbers on a tax refund check or in a bank account to what those numbers are building for the future. Sure, a hefty windfall from a tax refund is nice, but improving your skills and knowledge so you earn more and serve your company better will pay off much more in the future.
There are tons of ways to learn about how money and finance work. Books, Youtube videos, free online courses, and podcasts can teach you the basics you need to know. The most important step is to just get started so you can grow your wealth and your career.