There’s an interesting poem by Robert Fulghum from a book called All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. I first came across it while I was training to be a teacher. Working in a number of kindergarten classrooms made me realize that there was a lot of truth in the poem, but I didn’t fully appreciate its message until I had children of my own.
Since it’s Fall and the kids are back in school, I thought we might look at some of the major themes of the poem and see how they apply to personal finance. The bullet points under each theme are the actual kindergarten lessons mentioned in the poem. They are followed by a few important ways we might be able to use them as we navigate our financial life. Surprisingly, these Kindergarten lessons are still very applicable to our lives.
1. We’re All in This Together
- Share everything.
- When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.
We’ve evolved into an “every man for himself” kind of society over the past couple of decades. We tend to argue more than debate, and compete rather than collaborate. Given the financial challenges we face globally, I’d have to say that approach isn’t working very well for us right now.
Our greatest accomplishments are achieved when we work together. Sharing our money with those less fortunate than ourselves feels good, and it often comes back to us in ways that we can’t predict ahead of time. What goes around comes around.
2. Be a Good Citizen
- Play fair.
- Don’t hit people.
- Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
- Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
At first I thought the hitting advice was a little off-course for a personal finance post, but if you think about it, people have done a lot worse than hitting one another over money. Making money by taking it from others or otherwise “gaming” the system will not provide the satisfaction of earning money through consistent effort and prudent management. If bending the rules to get ahead at work, in business, or with your taxes moves you ahead, rest assured that success will be temporary. Again, what goes around comes around. If you do find yourself on the wrong side of accepted ethics, a sincere apology coupled with adequate reparations can go a long way toward making amends, and perhaps cementing a valuable relationship that might otherwise have been lost.
3. Organization & Maintenance Matter
- Put things back where you found them.
- Clean up your own mess.
- Wash your hands before you eat.
I’m a huge fan of cleaning up your own mess – not just because it’s absolutely the right thing to do, but because it’s really empowering to dig yourself out of a hole of your own making. Still, an even better plan is to avoid that hole in the first place. Organizing your finances with the use of a proper filing, budgeting, and organization system can prevent “accidents” like overdraft charges, excessive debt, and overspending. Like washing your hands before eating, these tasks can be easy to forget and kind of tedious, but a healthier life and a stronger balance sheet are worth it.
4. Everything in Moderation
- Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
- Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
- Take a nap every afternoon.
Balance has become increasingly important to me over the years and the concept, like the others in this poem, applies to all areas of our lives – finance included. It’s great to be right on top of your budgeting, spending and investments. But let’s not forget why we’re going through all of this work in the first place. We want to enjoy the good things in life. Some of those things can be bought. Most cannot.
I don’t know of many working adults who can take a nap each afternoon or many who ever take the time to make a meal out of milk and cookies. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make the time to allocate money for the fun stuff every now and again. And yeah – sometimes a quick nap on a Saturday afternoon is just what you need to tackle those financial issues with renewed vigor and to simply be happy.
5. Pay Attention: Time Is of the Essence
- Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: the roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
- Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.
- And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.
We can’t know what will happen in our lives, the economy, or the how the stock market will perform next year or next decade. In the end, all we can really do is our best. The main goals of our time in the kindergarten classroom, and of our limited time on this planet, are to learn as much as we can, have fun doing it, and leave it in better condition than we found it. If you can do all of those things, you’ll pass kindergarten – and life – with flying colors.
What are some of the basics you learned in kindergarten that have stayed with you?