How do we learn to speak money?

Learning about finances, says Lanchester, author of How to Speak Money, is a bit like learning Chinese – ‘figuring out the meaning, word-by-word’. This, he says, is how he learned to ‘speak money’.

Many of the theories used to explain language acquisition, Furnham reports, have been used in conjunction with learning about money. (Including behaviourism and cognitivism).

Just as our mother tongue is learned primarily in the home, supplemented by formal lessons at school, many of our ideas about money are formed in our early years in the family.

Summarising studies of ‘money troubled’ adults, Furnham states that many of their troubles originate in ‘lessons’ learned as a child, with the family as the primary socialisation unit. ‘Teaching economic literacy, good money management and sensible saving and spending should be a parental priority, Furnham points out. He refers to Charles Collier’s notion of ‘financial parenting’ in the book Wealth in Families.

The principles of Financial Parenting

‘Financial parenting’, defined as ‘financial education to preserve family wealth’ (notably, Collier was writing mainly for what he calls ‘families of wealth’) consists of several principles:

  • setting a good example,
  • providing consistent guidance,
  • allowing children to make mistakes, and
  • using mentors.

These recommendations reinforce the importance of Bordieu’s four forms of ‘capital’. Ideally, children should have access to some economic capital in order to experiment. But they also require cultural and social capital in the forms of guidance and mentors. In addition, children need symbolic capital in the form of good examples they can emulate.

Children need more than money

Most important, recognising these forms of capital helps us to understand inherited inequality. It’s more than just about money in terms of figures. Finally, how we speak about money, and the financial behaviours and attitudes we exhibit can also affect children.

Yet, Lanchester queries, if the language of money is so useful, ‘how come it seems offputtingly difficult, so closed and excluding? How come we don’t learn it automatically as we grow up, the way we learn the language that we actually speak?’ In the next post, we’ll answer Lanchester’s question.

Children need more than money to learn to speak finance. They need mentors and good examples too.

This post is the seventh of a 10 part series over 10 days introducing Enrichmentality.

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What kind of money talk did you hear growing up? Let me know in the comments.

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