Timothy Geithner, Arne Duncan and Valerie Jarrett, in their joint utterance at
, tell us that “most Americans don’t have the knowledge and skills they need to make the right financial decisions for themselves and their families.” Well, yeah. What most Americans will need to know, in the economy now evolving before us, comes down to ten very simple precepts:
1. Never believe anything a lender, a salesman, or a current or potential employer tells you, especially if it includes the words “trust me” or promises some sort of future benefit in exchange for a current benefit foregone or postponed, even if it is presented in a signed, dated written document.
2. But never let this healthy mistrust keep you from doing business with such inherently untrustworthy people. (Who else is there?) Just cut the cards yourself, and get everything in writing, even if you have to write it down yourself.
3. Do anything necessary to avoid taking vacation, maternity, family leave, or sick time, even when your employer encourages you to “take all the time you need” (see #1 above.)
4. Keep your overhead as low as possible consistent with health and safety. This applies especially to fixed costs such as housing, education, and health care.
5. Stay current in your rent and utilities.
6. Avoid using credit for anything other than a mortgage.
7. Never cosign a loan.
8. It is better to be the poorest person in a rich neighborhood/suburb than the richest person in a poor neighborhood/suburb (unless you have ambitions in local politics.)
9. Stay on good terms with your family. You may not be able to afford independence.
10. Be active in your community, and join a church or other religious organization (or the equivalent for atheists and agnostics—yes, there are such things.) Do favors if you can afford it—they may come back to you when you need them most.
The stuff about investments and retirement plans is no longer worth a rat’s patootie to ordinary working (or would-be working) people. This is how Third World people survive. This is the financial literacy we really need these days.