In a special section in today's print and online NY Times, the paper is pushing a "Financial Tuneup." The paper published a series of articles with such titles as "How to Self-Diagnose Your Financial Health," "Start Saving Early, and Keep an Eye on Shifting Needs," and "Take a Few Hours Each Year to Unlock Some Cash."
More than that, the Times has moved beyond the type of reporting on personal finance that we're used to seeing (as with HelloWallet) and has now put online a variety of tools to assist readers in assessing their personal finance (and following along with the articles listed above)--there's a 31-step checklist, which includes some helpful tips and short instructive videos, there's a savings calculator, a podcast and a host of other activities planned.
Education is great and it's exciting to see the NYT put time, effort and resources into pushing this type of information (and tools!) out to such a wide audience. Making good guidelines and reminders easily available to individuals is important, and hammering home repeated messages about best practices and the importance of savings matters. Education is a powerful tool, however, we know that even the well educated often make bad and irrational decisions when it comes to their personal finances and if we truly want to make a difference in the financial security of large segments of the American populace, using the human tendency toward inertia and other behavioral learnings as well as large-scale interventions are much more likely to yield results. One of the 31 recommendations the Times proposes is to "Automate your savings," this is great advice that is out of reach of many workers. Policy interventions like the AutoIRA and to a different purpose, our work on AutoSave can impact more people's lives than are likely to be reached otherwise. The Financial Tuneup also recommends sitting down, reading your tax forms and thinking about changes you could make to improve your finances. How much more powerful would that moment be if there were real money attached to incent savings and the option to open savings and investment vehicles was right there on the tax form?
Financial literacy works better when students have a real investment in the subject, that's one of the reasons why we think a universal platform of accounts at birth would be such a powerful teaching tool. You'd have the opportunity to raise generations of fiscally literate and savvy investors.
So kudos to the NYT and keep it up, but real change is going to take more.