Despite fiscal woes, we still have means to better future

This column was originally published as part of my “From Where I Sit” series at in Towson Times.

The tip of the plaque peeked from behind my printer, where it had settled two years ago during my move to Lutherville. A new printer stand installation revealed the full text of the memento, and I realized why I had kept it.

“Courage doesn’t always roar,” the quote from Mary Anne Radmacher began. “Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’ ”

How true! Especially now in these times of unprecedented uncertainty when the stock market roller coaster has us shutting our eyes and hoping the dips and turns will soon smooth out to a safe landing.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed.

Our first thought is to look back and roar, fixing blame and venting at the injustice of it all. But after we tantrum for a while, we realize that we cannot go back. We cannot rewind our lives and the choices that were made.

The best we can do is to learn from our mistakes and quietly try again. As an old farmer once said, “Don’t tear your pants on the same nail twice.”

So what are the lessons from our roller coaster ride?

Perhaps it’s the simple message, “Live within your means.”

I wonder, though, where do we begin to learn this lesson? With all the turmoil on Wall Street and the apparent poor choices that lenders and consumers have made regarding finances, what educational venue for learning about personal finance do we provide our children? Where do they learn about spending and savings goals, credit-card dangers, credit scores, rent/buy decision making, mortgage qualifications, stocks, bonds, insurance offerings, etc.?

Without question, it is our job as a parent to instill these core values to the best of our ability. However, many of us have limited experiences or rely on professionals whose motives for imparting knowledge could be clouded by their own business goals.

Perhaps it is time to renew the focus on these basic principles of personal responsibility in our educational systems. Beyond the big picture of economic courses, business technology classes and a few finance-focused clubs, perhaps a required offering on personal finances would be a timely addition to our high school curriculums.

Granted, the class day has its limits. But I’m convinced that some simple inclusions or adjustments could help: A math problem that requires the calculation of the true cost of paying the minimum balance on a credit card; adjustable-rate- versus fixed-rate mortgage comparisons, IRA and 401(k) long-term benefit computations and problems that require students to calculate the financial risks of unbalanced portfolios.

Even beyond the classroom, perhaps SAT testing should reflect more of these real-world settings geared toward personal accountability and the consequences of our choices.

Now more than ever, we need to plant the seeds early about personal financial responsibility and have it grounded in unbiased education.

And that may be something to roar about.