Business

Tokyo entrepreneur's advice for parents and kids: It's never too early to teach financial literacy

by Mai Yoshikawa

Kyodo

Some say shortcuts are cheating, but multimillionaire investor, financial educator and bestselling author Sami Mian understands that’s the route to riches most high achievers take.

The well-worn path from good grades at school to a good job is not how to do it, he says. He was not an overachiever at school but his father gave him a leg-up on money management and emotional management at an early age, and it made all the difference.

And where did that get him? Today, as an entrepreneur living in Tokyo, he is his own boss, works on his own terms and has assets worth more than ¥1 billion.

“Rather than blindly working hard, for me, it’s always like ‘What’s the trick?’ It’s about identifying the 20 percent task that produces 80 percent of the results and then going all in on that task,” Mian said in a recent interview.

After years of living inside his own head, Mian realized what was stopping him from having a financial breakthrough. He shared those financial secrets in his book “Financial Literacy is Everything.”

The 39-year-old, who has four sons, has a passion for helping children understand the money game, something not typically found in the Japanese school curriculum, and to get parents to understand they are the first and most influential money mentors for their offspring.

Like it or not, the person you are today has a lot to do with the financial blueprint that has been passed down through the generations in your family tree, Mian says.

A dual British and Pakistani national who was born and raised in Japan, Mian inherited his financial way of thinking from his father, a self-made businessman who beat the odds and achieved his own rags-to-riches story as a car exporter.

“He believed that having control of your own fate, as opposed to being at the mercy of an employer, is the only way to be free and live a fulfilling life,” Mian says.

His financial upbringing taught him that your childhood shapes your relationship with money. If you’re sticking to the old adage about money talk being impolite, Mian will tell you that silence comes at a price.

When he gives tips on how to teach your child monetary responsibility, he doesn’t mention math flashcards, piggy banks or lemonade stands. To him, it’s more about the subconscious mind and less about the mathematics of money.

“Our money beliefs make a big difference, and that’s very difficult to change because you’re given that by your parents, and your parents get it from their parents. You need an outsider to help you become aware of these beliefs that seem like undeniable truths to you,” Mian says.

Mian is not the only one in Japan who believes rearing the next generation of financially savvy kids should be a national priority.

Since 2003, the Japanese Bankers Association has been delivering financial education workshops in addition to developing and distributing study materials to consumer affairs centers, schools and homes.

“Financial literacy is a critical life skill and it’s all the more important in the era of the 100-year life, when the definition of adulthood is changing, and it’s important to start young,” a JBA official said.

The JBA teaches topics such as household budget management, life planning, financial planning, asset formation and proper credit use, saying they believe these programs will promote responsible consumer practices.

When the legal age of adulthood is lowered from 20 to 18 in 2022, Japan’s 18-year-olds will be able to apply for credit cards and loans without their parents’ consent. By then, according to Mian, their brains will have been programmed — to succeed or to fail.

Banks say know your numbers, escape poverty; Mian says know your financial obstacles, boost your well-being.

Through different approaches, people like Mian and organizations like the JBA help young adults start off on the right foot so they can avoid the financial pitfalls so many people fall into. But to the government and Mian, the catch-all term “financial literacy” means different things.

“The strongest belief that you can have in terms of money is that there’s more than enough for everybody. But it’s quite difficult to have that abundance mentality when you see your parents struggling and going to work every day trying to make ends meet,” Mian says.

“When you talk about money, it’s not really about money, it’s about life. Society tells you that money itself has value, but money is just a store of value. To me financial literacy is not how to make money, but the ability to identify true value.”

Mian recently published a second book, a work that quickly became a best-seller in its category, with a simple message: Shatter the taboo against talking about money.

Despite advice from his father to shun the corporate rat race, Mian chose a high-paying job over personal fulfillment as a new grad working for securities firms in Japan. He wanted out almost immediately but it took him 17 years to escape what his father would have called “wage slavery.”

After a short break out of the workforce, a startup failure put Mian on the verge of bankruptcy when he was 30, and he found himself dragged back to his former career. Three years ago, after having recovered and rebuilt, he left his salaried job for a second time.

“I always had a desire to be free, and I think it’s everybody’s desire to make your own choice and have the option to do what you want, when you want,” Mian says.

“The hard-working, self-sacrificing Japanese are never taught of any other way other than to sell their time for money. And this just starts from a very, very, young age. Most people are stuck thinking it’s either freedom or peace of mind, and they cannot have both. This is simply not true.”

He says he wrote the book because he wants the readers — those who are counting the days to payday each month and worshipping the Almighty Yen — to know they can choose to retire with dignity and financial independence should they wish to do so.

It’s never too early to learn about improving your personal finances, and it’s also never too late for parents to learn how to teach their children to become financially literate, Mian insists.

He talks to his 6-year-old about cryptocurrency and his 9-year-old about stocks, and both conversations start with the question, “What is value?”

If you are not on top of your own finances or have not been setting an example for your kids until now, why not learn together, Mian suggests.

Games and videos can help enhance your financial literacy, a 21st-century survival skill, and you can make it fun, he says. “How the Economic Machine Works,” an animated video by hedge fund billionaire Ray Dalio, is his all-time favorite and one he often watches with his children.

Mian teaches his sons the more problems you solve for people, the happier you make them, and the more money you make. He encourages them to think of money as an amplifier of the good you can do in the world, a way to get them to think big.

For Mian, writing a book and starting a finance gym, a subscription-based community for those looking to improve their financial health, were ways to reach out to the masses. Money should not be your motivation, but only an indicator of how well you’re doing, he says.

“To me, the amount of money I make is like a report card. It has almost become like a game in which you get points for solving big problems,” Mian says.

Mian’s pet peeve is when people give him inflated job titles like money man, finance guru or wealth adviser, and emphasizes that he is not coaching kids how to make money and get rich.

He says he is not a child-rearing expert and can only speak from his own personal experience, but he does have a piece of parenting advice to equip children for the ever-challenging world ahead.

“If both parents are working and they don’t have much time to interact with their kids, what is the one thing I would recommend they do? Help them raise their financial literacy. It doesn’t take that much time, but it probably has the most amount of impact in terms of your child’s life. It definitely did in mine.”