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Financial literacy is a fundamental life skill

By Christy Brady

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan’s adage, “The No. 1 problem in today’s generation and economy is the lack of financial literacy,” continues to ring true today. Understanding how money works is a fundamental life skill that does not come easy for many. In fact, it’s a matter that becomes exacerbated when there’s little to no educational support. We need to raise awareness about this important issue as part of Financial Literacy Month in April.

With a career rooted in finance, I have often been surrounded by people who were savvy with money. Many of my colleagues would talk freely about saving, investing, contributing to a pension or 401k, and more. When I first started working, while trying to balance paying student loans, rent and other bills – they encouraged me to start saving $25 from every paycheck and increase that amount when I could afford it.

Looking back, I was fortunate to have access to education, work experience and mentors who taught me about financial systems and how to establish healthy habits with my money. With a career built on almost 30 years working in the City Controller’s Office, I’ve learned that exposure to, comfortability with, and investment in personal finance education is far too uncommon for most.

Philadelphia is the poorest big city in the country. As we work tirelessly to lift people out of poverty, we need to invest and implement social programs that can create family-sustaining jobs and a sense of self-sufficiency. Financial literacy needs to be incorporated into these programs with every available opportunity.

Beginning in the 2026-27 school year, Pennsylvania’s public and private high schools will be required to offer a course in personal financial literacy that students must complete to graduate. This is a giant leap forward in setting the next generations of Pennsylvanians up for success when it comes to finances. I applaud our elected state leaders for reaching this milestone and aligning the commonwealth with many other states that have already implemented a similar mandate.

Gaps in financial literacy follow most of the dynamics we see all too often in society. Creating generational wealth within the underserved communities and those with the lowest levels of financial literacy rates who, out of necessity, are more likely to make risky financial decisions and/or fall victim to predatory financial institutions or practices should be our mission.

In 2023, lack of financial literacy cost Americans a total of more than $388 billion, according to National Financial Educators Council. Furthermore, WalletHub reported that of all 50 states, Pennsylvania had the highest total outstanding college-loan balances at $37,000. Bringing financial literacy courses to high schools will prepare students with how to deal with the cost of continuing education. But, for folks who are saddled with the debt now, learning to navigate that debt on the way to homeownership, business ownership or other ventures is just as important.

If we want to make a worthwhile investment in the long-term wellbeing of Philadelphians and keep them out of poverty, we need to give them access to financial literacy resources.

The Community Affairs Division in my office disseminates financial literacy education almost daily. By request, we visit with high school students and senior citizens to offer resources on financial planning and avoiding common money-related scams. Soon, we hope to partner with local Boys and Girls clubs to build a foundation of financial education for young people, so high school is not the first time they are exposed to these lessons.

People of all ages in Philadelphia deserve access to financial literacy education. It will empower them to make smart money decisions and set them up for short- and long-term success. ••

Christy Brady is the city controller.

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