By Carolyn Bigda
Conventional wisdom says the more you know about personal finance, the better off you’ll be at managing your money.
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But a new survey suggests that knowledge alone is not enough. For your finances to be in good shape, you also need to be aware of something else: your attitude toward time.
Dwell too much on the past, present or future, and you could make decisions that are bad for your financial health, even if you know to do otherwise.
“Ideally, we’d all have happy memories, take time out in the present and plan for the future. But if you get out of whack in any one of those, bad things can happen,” said Nick Clements, co-author of the study and co-founder of MagnifyMoney, which reviews credit cards and other bank products.
Survey participants had to complete a “time personality” quiz developed by Philip Zimbardo, a professor emeritus of psychology at Stanford University and co-author of the study.
Participants were also scored on their financial smarts (say, whether they could calculate compound interest) and the state of their finances (for example, had they ever filed for bankruptcy).
In all, 3,000 people in six countries, including Brazil, Germany and the U.S., participated.
The results showed that, despite your financial know-how, your time personality has a lot to do with how well you managed your money.
Someone, for example, whose personality skews toward living it up today is often financially sick.
You may understand how compound interest works, but the knowledge doesn’t help if you habitually overspend your paycheck.
On the flip side, you may think primarily about the future.
But people who are too goal-oriented are often so harried by career and other obligations that they have little time to think through their financial options.
“It may be on your to-do list to buy insurance or invest in your 401(k),” Clements said. “But because you don’t have enough time, you rush through and make bad decisions.”
You might assume that young adults would fall into the camp of people who think too much about the present, the so-called hedonists, according to the survey. But that was not the case.
In fact, 25.3 percent of millennials have a past-negative personality: This group came of age about the time of the 2007-09 financial crisis, and the experience, colored by home foreclosures, big stock market losses and high rates of unemployment, dominates their financial decision-making.
In comparison, only 16.5 percent of baby boomers (people born from 1946 to 1964) were past negative in the study.
What to do?
To get a sense of what your time personality is, take the quiz at magnifymoney.com/timeperspective.
After answering the questions, you’ll see where you fall on the time personality spectrum. What if the results show you’re past negative?
According to the survey, most millennials don’t rate themselves as being money-savvy. But those who land in this group tend to be financially healthy because they’re not taking the kinds of risks that can lead to bankruptcy or other money catastrophes.
Just keep in mind that too much caution can be a bad thing.
Without some risk, you may never be hired for that dream job or grow your savings into a comfortable nest egg. (A fact that young adults might appreciate more if they had more financial knowledge.)
Similarly, you don’t want to be so financially conservative that you forgo having any fun today.
Said Clements: “Think of Ebenezer Scrooge, sitting on a pile of gold coins. He is financially healthy, but you probably don’t want to be him.”