Smart About Money: Teaching digital-age kids about making money real

Nick Maffeo Sep 1 2020In “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big,” Dilbert creator Scott Adams makes the case for a list of skills he believes all adults need “a working knowledge of” in order to live a successful life. By success, Adams says he is talking about an overall happiness – something, he writes, “good and lasting.”

His list ranges from Accounting to Proper Voice Technique, with a serious bunch of skills in between.

Since by “Accounting,” Adams says he’s referring to business accounting, I would say that – as comprehensive as his list is – it’s lacking one skill that is fundamental to happiness and to success. Specifically, being able to manage your own money.

As a father, a banker and a school sports coach, I am worried about how the realities and unrealities of our digital economy are affecting young people.

Many young people today very rarely, if ever, use cash. They get Direct Deposits instead of paychecks. Their transactions are done primarily online and with their phones.

I’m not saying it was better before. The “old days” had downsides that no one would want to go back to. And plenty of people had trouble managing their money back then too.

But money represented reality more clearly in those “old days,” in a way I am concerned it doesn’t today.

There are dangers to becoming desensitized to the reality of money – dangers companies and service providers are happy to use to their advantage. It’s not because the companies are evil. They’re not. It’s just that companies tend to be focused on own their self-interest in a way they seem to prefer their customers aren’t.

Getting customers into the habit of paying an annual fee for expedited “free shipping” (sometimes bundled with other services) is one good example of companies making it easy for customers to just presume something has to be a good deal when it may not be.

One-click purchasing is another example. It’s widespread and convenient but tends to discourage comparison shopping while seeming to imply that not using one-click means wasting precious time. (Sometimes that’s true and sometimes it’s not.)

Online shopping has made it easier than ever to become almost hypnotized into impulsively buying “fun” items that are actually neither wanted or needed.

Zapping money around while distracted and being unaware of online scams can lead to problems too.

I was encouraged to hear about a group of young people in an office who (before the Coronavirus) stopped using a food-delivery service because they got tired of paying all the add-on fees.

Opting in and out of streaming services – instead of going with inertia and paying month after month – that’s another good development.

And the decrease in sales of smart phones seems like a positive sign too. People of all ages are realizing that paying up for the latest phone isn’t worth it to them.

Some experts say young people aren’t interested in money or getting value for their money. In my experience, a few are genuinely interested and others get much more interested when their money becomes real to them.

Learning how to steer clear of the downsides of the (digital) marketplace while understanding how to get value for both money and time is a solid step toward an overall happiness that’s “good and lasting.” Having a conversation about those realities is a valuable gift you can give young people you know.

Nick Maffeo is the President & CEO of Canton Co-operative Bank in Canton. Have a question? Email to

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