Everyone else I know has huge debts and they all tell me how they can't afford to save. When I suggest that by eliminating their debt they could have lots of money left over they just stare at me as if I'm insane.
To cross the streams a little bit, I think money management is one of those things you can only learn by experience. Telling people in their early 20s to stay out of debt and start saving for retirement is like yelling into the wind. All the graphs and anecdotes and pithy sayings aren't worth spit when the person you're talking to doesn't want to listen. There are some lessons that you just have to learn the hard way.
My mom certainly tried to teach me about money when I was growing up. She told me about the 10% plan and compound interest and even went so far as to set up a bank account for me, but it didn't matter because when I was in highschool I fully expected to die before I was 30.
But I was lucky. I was so bad with money, I got into debt doing a paper route. That experience of being in debt as a kid, even though it was only around $700, immunized me against ever going into debt again. I hated the feeling of owing someone money, and knowing that even if I paid $X per month it would take years to pay off.
Because of that experience the only time I've been in debt as an adult was when I wrecked my car, and decided to go into my line of credit a little to get a really good car that would last a long time. And even though I didn't get serious about saving until I read The Wealthy Barber a year and a half ago, aside from the one time I've always had a positive bank balance.
Maybe part of the lesson is getting out
of debt, and experiencing the huge sense of relief. Whatever the reason, I think the earlier you get burned the better off you are. A lot of people go into debt in college and take years to get out from under it, but once they do they stay out. If you keep piling up consumer debt as an adult and add on to your mortgage via HELOCs, refis or just "trading up" to a more expensive house, it may not matter whether you ever learn the lesson because by that point you're in too deep to really fix it.
If I were running a personal finance course in highschool, I'd try to get all of my students credit cards with $500 limits. Let them learn the lesson of debt with a small amount of money when they're young, so they don't waste more time and money learning it later.