When it comes to personal finances, can you manage your money? Most of the public would answer yes, said Western economics professor Pamela Whalley. But in reality, only about 40 percent of college graduates, and even less high school graduates can, Whalley said.
Whalley will present “Nice People Don’t Talk About It,” a lecture about personal finance and financial literacy, on Nov. 16, as part of the Turning Points Faculty Speakers series. The series hosts five to six Western professors each academic year, who present on topics from their area of expertise.
Financial literacy consists of the ability to balance cash flow with expenses, plan for the future, save for big expenses in the future and mange credit cards and loans, Whalley said.
Recent graduates often fall victim to not understanding financial plans at their first jobs, Whalley said.
“[Human Resources] will put a stack of paper five inches high and say ‘Here are your choices for heath care, your optimal life insurance, your disability insurance, and your different investment potions for your 401k’,” Whalley said. “If you’re like most people who just got out of college, you’ll say, ‘What? What is this? No one has talked to me about this and I don’t understand.’”
Fran Maas, the event and lecture coordinator for the president’s office, plans the speakers for the faculty series. Maas sees financial education as a tool to prevent future financial problems.
“If you start paying attention to it at a younger age, perhaps credit card debt and things that plague us currently will not anymore,” Maas said.
To educate yourself on finances, know where your money is being spent. Track each transaction to know how much money is being spent for three weeks, Whalley said.
“Last time [I tracked my spending], I was shocked to discover how much money I was spending on coffee,” Whalley said. “I was just appalled.”
Whalley also suggests checking your credit report to protect yourself from identity theft. Western offers a personal finance class that teaches students to be financially literate.
Western junior Sean Peterson, who has taken Finance 215, Personal Finance, said he tracked his funds and learned exactly where his money was going.
“I spend a lot of money on food,” Peterson said. “My dad always tells me, ‘Save your money, save your money,’ and then I buy a burrito.”
Peterson’s high school, Mercer Island High School, did not require a personal finance class in their curriculum.
“I can understand why they didn’t [make a financial class mandatory] because as a teen you are not completely in control of your finances,” Peterson said. “But people get to college and don’t know how to manage their funds.”
Most parents do not talk to their children about finances, even though it is important, Whalley said. When asked, 75 percent of parents say they talk to their children about money, but only 25 percent of children say their parents talk to them about money, Whalley said.
Whalley’s approach to financial education is great, Maas said.
“She’s teaching teachers [financial education] who are then teaching their own students,” Maas said.
Whalley said everyone should also know what kind of services their bank offers and shop around for a bank or credit union that best fits them.
“I knew a little bit about the bank system [before Finance 215],” Peterson said. “It gives you a closer look on how it and credit cards work.”
Once you track where your money goes, the next important step is to budget money spending toward personal preference, Whalley said.
“Figure out what is important for you to spend your money on,” Whalley said. “It is different for everyone.”