PRN: Apply Repetition to Learning

I like to avoid writing on the same subject twice. I've always thought that if I've learned something, why repeat it and beat a dead horse? The financial world is so vast, encompassing so much of our experience, that there is only a distant limit to our possibilities.

Education Tendencies

But as our editor-in-chief Greg Kelly ironically reminded me, human nature requires repetition for most learning. We might read or hear something of interest, hear it again, and perhaps rephrase it in our minds and digest the information. Isn't that how we have been educated? Financial affairs are only different from traditional schooling in that there is no recognized time or place for people of any age or station in life to address this important area in a formal way. That's one reason why publications like Physician's Money Digest often revisit ongoing topics of interest like retirement, taxes, and investing.

While we're on the subject, I ask you rhetorically, shouldn't there actually be a part of our scheduled education devoted to learning about money life instead of a catch-as-catch-can apprenticeship? It certainly would ease some pain and probably save a lot of money. We may or may not use algebra in our lives, but no one escapes having to cope with financial affairs in its myriad aspects.

Financial Functioning

Think back to your first experience with income taxes, taking a loan, looking for a job, buying a house or car, etc. It's possible that you did okay, but there probably wasn't a good reason to predict success. Some of these experiences were embarrassing or expensive, which we know is another way to learn, but hopefully were not repeated.

No one would argue that this is how we should prepare young people to flourish, or simply function, in a complex financial society. Maybe money education should be like sex education, tacitly left to parents, but defaulted to the schools because we parents are unprepared and unreliable. Studies have told us what we already know: People are more uncomfortable talking about money than any other topic of their life. Look at the vast unburdening of secrets people talk about on TV and then try to think about the last time anyone told you what their income was.

Financial Education

Because we're less informed than we could be and emotionally uncomfortable in dealing with money issues, this potent subject is always listed as the number-one reason for divorce. Arguments usually result from a pastiche of poor communication and ignorance. The good news is that these are both preventable and even fixable. Don't give up just yet.

While I am on the soapbox for financial education, let me repeat the message that humans prefer positive exposure and repetition as an evolved technique for learning. That means everyone in the family, in an age-specific way, could participate in an ongoing, planned money education. You know your kids will learn from watching how you manage money, and your marriage can only benefit from better communication and participation in your financial situation.

I just noticed that in an attempt to explain why we need to repeat financial information for retention, I ended up keeping my fresh column subject string going and not repeating myself. How long is Andy Rooney's record?

Jeff Brown, MD, CPE, a practicing physician who is a partner on the Stanford University Graduate School of Business Alumni Consulting Team, teaches in the Stanford School of Medicine Family Practice Program. He welcomes questions or comments at

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