At certain times in the distant past, I’ve looked into learning a second language. Let’s face it, it would be a great life skill to have.
Some of the basic principles of learning I picked up can actually be applied to the idea of mastering your personal finances. In other words, money mastery has some common elements to mastering a language.
Not everyone is able to learn a language in the same way and it’s all about finding an approach that works for you. The same goes for finding the right skills to learn about your money.
Here are a few tips I’ve picked up over the years that might at least give you a head start in one or both:
Focus on What’s Relevant to You
When I first started to learn Spanish I struggled to get a grip. I was learning all kinds of nouns, verbs and situations that were totally irrelevant to my existence. As a result, it took longer for me to connect with the language.
And if you’re a single person with no intention of having kids, why invest your time in reading about kids’ education programs and the like. Maybe you’re a bit curious and are intrigued by the mechanics. But that’s not an area you should be focusing on now.
So even if you start by learning how to order a beer in a bar in language terms, or how to save for a new car when thinking about money, that could be a start that makes sense for you.
Use What You Learn
It’s not always easy to immediately apply what you learn if you’re not living in the home country of the language. But there are always ways to get around that. You could always practice a bit through language exchange groups, or even ethnic shops and restaurants in your town. There are even people you can practice with online.
Similarly for your money, being book smart is great but unless you give it life there’s a lack of focus behind it. So if you learn the principles of creating an emergency fund, create an emergency fund. If you learn how to budget, get down to budgeting. You don’t have to wait until you are in the ‘right’ environment. Use what you learn.
Don’t be Perfect
Early on it’s all about getting yourself understood and you being able to understand. ‘Good enough’ is very often better than ‘perfection’.
Too many people put off sorting out their finances because they are waiting for the perfect time, the perfect information or the perfect teacher.
Get comfortable with starting and applying what you know. You will probably need to know a lot less than you think.
Exposing yourself to the language is important. If you were able to immerse yourself in it, great. But the next best thing may be listening to the language online or on television. The more you listen to it, the more you can “get it”.
And you may hate financial television media – all those letters and numbers whizzing past at the bottom of the screen, with guys in suits talking in an alien language about “equities”, “the Fed” and “QE”. It’s hardly Oprah. But it’s still worth giving it a go once in a while. To get better at your finances you have to stretch yourself once in a while. And you might just surprise yourself with what you learn from the TV.
Get a Buddy
I’ve done this a couple of times, buddying up with a native speaker to improve my Spanish. In hindsight, I felt a bit overawed with one and felt a bit overly conscious with another. It might not have helped that one spoke Spanish from Spain and the other from South America. But giving the language life is important. And one of the best ways of doing that is simply speaking it.
Finding someone that “speaks your money language” can help with your learning process. Maybe that could involve joining an investment club. Maybe it’s worth bouncing off ideas with someone you know in the industry. Giving your knowledge a voice and sharing it will show you just how much you actually know about money.