Fed Chair Bernanke: Smart Consumers Are Good For The Whole Economy

Too often when people talk about being a good consumer or being educated about financial matters, the big picture is ignored in favor of images of individual wealth and well-being. But Federal Reserve Chairman Ben “It rhymes with stanky” Bernanke says that it’s really in everyone’s best interest for us to be smart about what we do with our money.

“Financial education supports not only individual well-being, but also the economic health of our nation,” explained Benny B. (I can call him that because we both get confused for Paul Giamatti) earlier today at a town hall chat with teachers held deep in the bowels of the Federal Reserve batcave in D.C. “As the recent financial crisis illustrates, consumers who can make informed decisions about financial products and services not only serve their own best interests, but, collectively, they also help promote broader economic stability.”

Families who put some thought into their savings and financial planning are better prepared for emergencies and the down times that can rend relationships for those who are not prepared.

And Bernanke pointed out that it doesn’t require immersion in macroeconomics to get people on the right path, citing a Fed study that found people who had taken a high school financial education course were more likely to save regularly.

“Effective financial education… involves teaching them the essential skills and concepts they will need to make major financial choices,” he explained. “High school students might not recall specific information from a lesson about loans a year later when they go to get their first car loan or student loan. However, if they understand and remember some basic ideas–for instance, that it’s important to shop around for a loan to get the lowest interest rate, to review the fees charged, and to know how to contact financial counselors and advisers–they will be more likely to make a good decision.”

With regard to the hot-button topic of student loan debt, Bernanke echoed the sentiment we discussed last week of going through financial puberty early, so that young consumers understand the ramifications of taking on debt before they ever take out that first loan.

“Students with some exposure to economic thinking will be more likely to conceptualize their spending on post-secondary education as an investment in their own human capital and choose their school, course of study, means of paying for their education, and profession with that thought in mind,” said Bernanke. “Likewise, the economic tool of cost-benefit analysis should help students make sounder personal and financial decisions.”

And, added the Chair, becoming a good consumer tends to spill over into other aspects of one’s life that aren’t always directly tied to finances: “Making good financial decisions requires that consumers seek out relevant information from trustworthy sources, and that they use critical thinking, quantitative reasoning, and decision-making skills. These competencies are also some of the fundamental abilities our schools seek to inculcate in our children.”