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Why the Early Bird is Afraid of the Worm

Surprise, surprise! This summer I’m working on a book for teenagers to learn how to invest! I am trying to learn as much as I can from teens about their knowledge of investing. So, I recently did a survey. It consisted of five different questions. There was a range of answers, some had very little knowledge to the other end of the spectrum of teens who already invest. I want to share the anonymous answers of each question. I hope you enjoy and learn as much as I did about educating teens.

Within the first few minutes of surveying, I could get a sense of the overarching responses. Teenagers are closed off in general, but what really surprised me is how they acted when the term “investing” and “money” was brought into play. That is expected, money is a valued and personal subject and everyone quiets when it is brought up. What surprised me is teens shut down more than adults. Many of the teenagers would apologize for their lack of knowledge on the subject and they said maybe they aren’t right for the survey. People, especially teens, don’t like to be thought of as dumb, especially when it comes to money. When there was a question they didn’t know a lot about they would quickly respond “I know how it works.”

I pushed for more information to build this survey. I learned a lot of this survey, I hope you do too. Here is the survey:

“What are the first words that you think of when you hear the word “investing"?”
Here I made a wordle of the most common words used. I noticed that the majority of the words they chose were investing and numbers terms like market, money, ownership, etc..


“Why do you or don’t you invest?”
As I expected, the majority said they don’t invest. Most would just stick to a simple “No, I don’t have interest in it.” Luckily, some people went into more depth and I could back up my conclusion for why teenagers don’t invest. They would say, “I don’t invest because I do not have the money,” or “I don’t understand how to invest and I have never really thought about investing.” Almost everyone was open to investing, starting and learning how to do so. More than anything, this question made me realize that everyone needs to be educated that investing doesn’t require a lot of money. You can start small. The beauty of investing is watching money grow itself. I started with $100 dollars, that’s it. Everyone spends money unconsciously, some people on coffee, others on fidget spinners and some on snapple. If you were to reduce your spending on those purchases you could easily save up the money you need to start investing.

“What scares you about investing?”
The answers were, “Losing money”, “It is money and money is valuable”, “Nothing?”, “You can lose everything super quickly”, etc.. Everyone was scared of losing money, whether they already invest, they don’t have an interest in it or want to start. They are all scared of losing money. Losing money is a real thing, but you have to think about in other ways than just “losing money.” To learn how to play baseball or ballet or learn anything, you have to make mistakes and learn from them, and for all of those cases, you do have to pay for those lessons. What if people thought of losing money in an investment as a lesson? They would learn what went wrong, what to look for, what to avoid. You aren’t losing money. It’s a lesson to learn, not a price to pay.

“What do you know about investing?”
Only two people said “not much” or “not a lot.” The common answer was somewhere along the lines of, “I know it involves putting money into a company or a product and getting some of its revenue, but that’s about it.”  And that is the basic idea, so. yes! To anyone out there that answered the questions and are reading this now, you do know enough to start investing. The next step would be finding financial services to help you develop your investing style.

“Why is it important to invest?”
Many said “Because it’s the most effective way to gain money,” (who said teenagers aren’t smart?!) but there were some that didn’t know. Another answer was “You get a sense of what is happening in the world and you can make money without having to do physical labor.” Each answer that was given showed me that everyone was on the right track, they knew the basics they just needed a little more information.

Hopefully you learned as much as I did. Teenagers don’t like being doubted or talked down to. They don’t like talking about things they don’t know. As experienced investors we need to clear up misconceptions. Misconceptions of the investing world are the reason that people feel a barrier of complexity, preventing them from entering.

One misconception that I run into all the time is that “Investing takes a lot of money.”  Investing doesn’t take a lot of money, I started with only $100. Five years ago, I sold my American Girl Dolls, I took half of that and invested in Mattel (MAT) and took the other half and invested in Hasbro (HAS). My parents and I have a deal, that whatever I put in they’ll match. Here we are five years later, I have earned a total of $288.

The root of this problem is misconceptions. This prevents teenagers and others from investing. Teenagers, more than anyone, should be educated in this field. The earlier the snowball starts, the better.


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