Why you don’t have to be the smartest person in the room to get a grip on your finances

Read as much as possible and watch YouTube videos to know more about different investing styles

One of the things I love about working in education is being an academic games coach. Academic games is an activity involving a bunch of children who enjoy trivia and join teams to compete on who knows the most and can buzz the fastest.

It usually attracts intelligent high school pupils with very quick minds and are deep repositories of knowledge. What has always shocked me is that even some of my smartest children struggle to be successful academically.

A perfect example was a pupil I had for a few years in Dubai named Jan. He was one of the smartest children in school and had the standardised test scores to back it up. When he met me for the first time as a seventh grader, he gave me a mixed-up Rubik's cube, told me to mix it up further, took it back, looked at it, closed his eyes and solved it sight unseen.

He was also great at academic games but struggled as a student. He only wanted to learn things that interested him and do assignments that inspired him. While he received top marks in my class, he failed two others because they did not interest him.

This is because success in school is not only determined by intelligence. You have to learn how to play the game of school by being well-organised, putting in work even when you do npt want to, forming social networks to help you study, doing group projects and forming positive relationships with your teachers.

This is why there were always a lot of schoolchildren who received excellent marks but were not as intelligent as their peers who participated in academic games.

Similarly, it does not take native intelligence to understand index fund investing, read the right personal finance books or blogs or meet the right people who are not trying to exploit you.

Intelligence is not even linked to high-paying jobs. For instance, the jobs where you would have to be the most intelligent, say theoretical physics, applied mathematics or philosophy, are not highly paid compared with other careers.

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It does not take native intelligence to understand index fund investing, read the right personal finance books or blogs or meet the right people who are not trying to exploit you
Zach Holz

It does not matter how smart you are if you constantly anger your boss by showing up late to work, not following the dress code or having bad interpersonal skills.

Intelligence is picking a career that pays you enough to live on and not when you go into debt to study for a degree in a field that will never allow you to pay off those liabilities. It means networking, so you can be aware of opportunities to grow and build a great career.

The good news is that, as with any game, you can learn these skills and are not limited by a factor such as intelligence.

Figuring out do-it-yourself index fund investing is not difficult. Read a few blog posts, a book or watch a few YouTube videos from reputable sources, decide which two index funds to buy and in what percentages, and do it consistently for years.

Tracking your spending takes 30 seconds a day but it gives you so much more control over your finances and will help you save more and spend in ways more in line with your values.

If you are struggling now, you are not locked into that state. You can learn how to play the game better. It only requires you to observe and learn or find a person to help you, but it is not determined by intelligence. You can take actions to improve your life – and your finances.

Schoolteacher Zach Holz (@HappiestTeach) documents his journey towards financial independence on his personal finance blog The Happiest Teacher

Updated: July 2nd 2021, 3:30 AM
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