father and daughter sitting on the Bank of the riverMuch has been written about the increasing waistline of the average American but not as much time has been spent on the state of our financial wellbeing. Just as food with saturated fats and our sedentary culture are harming our health, our consistently low savings rate with corresponding high debt levels are wreaking havoc on our financial health.

Millions are spent in advertising to move us into actions that may not be in our best interest. Buy now, pay later; 60 month payment plans; daily offers for credit cards; and buckets of Diet Coke constantly hit us in the face. It gets tough to fight the messages we hear that we should keep up with the Jones. We want what we want and we want it now and we’re told we can have it.

Personal finance isn’t a mandatory course in most schools. But even if it were, one class doesn’t help build the proper discipline necessary to properly budget, spend, and save any more than taking gym class makes you an athlete. Do as I say, not as I do is not a recipe for success.

What are steps we can take then to improve our financial wellbeing? Start with yourself; focus on willpower. We have to want to change first. We have to want to provide our children better financial futures. You have to remember why you’re going to the gym at 5 AM when you don’t want to get up. One resource that might help is The Willpower Instinct by Stanford University professor Kelly MGonigal.

Second, explain to others why you’re making financial decisions the way you are. The Roman philosopher Seneca said, “While we teach, we learn.” Teach a spouse, child, or grandchild lessons as they happen. Why do you choose a generic product for some things but not for other things? Verbalize your wish that you could buy a new couch but need to save for it. Demonstrate that it’s good to have cash in the sock drawer for the unexpected.

Third, don’t let money become a taboo subject in your house. Studies by Lynsey Romo out of North Carolina State University in communications reveal that parents who don’t talk about the more sensitive topics like family income and debt levels have kids that actually show more anxiety about these things than if they were talked about. Again, teach them so the advertisers aren’t the only ones doing it.

Last, consider seeking the help of popular radio personality Dave Ramsey. Every day, he hosts a show that answers questions about helping people get out of debt and make common sense decision about their money. We know countless people who have transformed their habits and developed great money management skills from reading Dave’s Total Money Makeover. There’s also a kit designed for children called Financial Peace Junior.

I don’t have this down perfectly by any means but I’ve found that forgiving myself for not being perfect, knowing that it is alright to fail again, and desiring to see a better result for myself and my child is a great place to start.

(Aaron Pickert, CRPC is Associate Advisor at Stewardship Capital. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Advice is intended to be general in nature.)