The Importance of Financial Literacy

Children are not born with an innate sense of financial literacy. The best way a child becomes financially literate is for a parent to lead by example. Young adults need to know how to balance a ledger and live on a budget to become fiscally responsible adults. Not knowing these life skills can lead to devastating results, so says panelists at the Junior Achievement of the Eastern Shore’s Financial Literacy Summit on October 2 in Easton.

Talbot County Superintendent Dr. Kelly Griffith (left), Jayme Hayes, President of JA of the Eastern Shore, and Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot discuss the importance of financial literacy at a recent event in Easton.

The evening was led by remarks from the Comptroller of Maryland Peter Franchot, who feels that financial literacy is the most important subject to cover. Financial literacy allows thriving citizens to be successful and happy. A lot of ground was covered during the event, including such topics as retirement savings and college loan debt, but one mantra was repeated by all on the stage: Junior Achievement is making strides with the youth in our community.

Junior Achievement, which will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2019, has been steadily educating our local youth on financial literacy, work readiness and entrepreneurship. Hands on, age appropriate programs inspire youth to live within their means, prepare for the working world and understand the free enterprise system. In Talbot County alone, about 1,400 students last year were introduced to these important concepts in tandem with what they are already learning in school with the help of local business members.

While panelists expressed dismay and concern for today’s teenagers entering college who don’t know how to write a check or realize how their spending habits can impact their future plans to purchase a home or car, they feel there is a shift happening. According to Laura Shahan, assistant director of financial aid at Chesapeake College, we are starting to gain ground on financial illiteracy. “I recently spent time with seventh graders in the classroom. I’m seeing it. They get it. They are asking the questions.”

All could agree that we have a way to go, however. Moderator Geoff Oxnam, founder and CEO of American Microgrid Solutions, asked the tough questions, including what would the panelists do to knock out financial illiteracy if they could wave a magic wand.

Coming from the college perspective, Laura wishes that students entering a higher learning institution knew how to build and stick to a budget. She also explained that students need to know what things cost and what it means to the family to pay for their tuition.

Deborah Elmes, Easton branch manager and first vice president of Morgan Stanley, adds, “Parents are the biggest problem. Children aren’t entitled to go to college, but we breed in them that they go to college regardless of the consequences to the family.” With the high cost of college, students and parents need to be mindful that college at all costs isn’t always plausible.

Geoff questioned Chad Nagel, owner of Nagel Farm Service, about how we as a society can click on the proverbial light bulb for our students. Students, like the farmers that Chad works with, need to understand how running a business, like a farm, should be run with a multi-prong approach. Every business owner has his or her strengths and weaknesses and all aspects of the business need to be addressed to avoid carnage. Using a “Hunch” versus a “Plan” is not the best way to turn a profit, Chad explains. “We all like to spend money on what we are passionate about,” said Chad. “We tend to justify purchases whether it is justified or not. As businessmen we need to work on our approach to avoid future carnage.”

Eric Brotman, president of Brotman Financial Group, points out that combating financial illiteracy can be accomplished with a partnership between the public and private sectors in conjunction with the family. Along with other changes involving the evolution of college savings plans in Maryland and giving students more real work experience before graduation, Eric is passionate about requiring high school seniors to pass a financial literacy class to graduate.

“You can say what you want about Millennials,” explained Eric, but “they have created a concept called the ‘side hustle.’ They know they are on their own … but they’re changing the world and making it a better place.”

Eric went on to explain that at one time, financially responsible citizens relied on the Three Stool Approach – preparing for retirement with 1) personal savings, 2) Social Security and 3) pensions. We no longer use the Three Stool Approach. It’s now the “Yo Yo” Approach – You Are On Your Own.

All kidding aside, panelists were cautiously optimistic about how the country’s financial literacy was improving. In her closing remarks, Jayme Hayes, president of the Junior Achievement of the Eastern Shore, said, “We are seeing positive things and it’s growing on itself. My worst fear is that people sit back and hope financial illiteracy works itself out. We all have to be a part of improving financial literacy.”

Jayme adds, “Our role at Junior Achievement is to educate, but it falls on a deaf ear if we are not going into the community to advocate.”

For anyone interested in getting involved, Junior Achievement has plenty of volunteer opportunities available throughout the school year in Talbot and neighboring counties. Those interested may email Mary Holden at mary.holden@ja.org. For more information, visit easternshoreja.org or call 410-742-8112.

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