A Path to Financial Empowerment

As our nation works to rebuild after the financial crisis and looks for lessons learned, a national dialog has emerged around what we all can do. How does an individual make a difference in a complex economy? There has been no shortage of debate around what could have been done differently, but as we work toward empowering a new generation to lead our country toward a brighter, stronger future, financial education has emerged as a clear solution.

As State Treasurer, I have the opportunity to talk to students across Rhode Island about financial education. The conversations that I have with these students are always insightful.  Recently, during a trip to Westerly, RI, I spoke to a young woman who was showing me her course work on budgeting. Her comments said it all: “Wow, I guess I can’t get everything I want all at once.”  We had a great conversation about saving up for big purchases and the great feeling that happens when you reach a financial goal.

When it comes down to it, personal finance is just that: personal. We each build our own relationship with money, and education can mean the difference between an empowered confidence and a confusing inconvenience. Habits and opinions are formed at a young age, so to create lasting change we must build educational foundations early.

My team has been dedicated to meeting these needs for the next generation of Rhode Islanders.  Together, in partnership with EverFi, our office has launched a financial education program in nearly 40 high schools around the state – and that number is growing.  EverFi is an online, interactive platform that supports our teachers in instructing students about budgeting and saving, making smart investments, credit, renting vs. owning, taxes and insurance. It is even helping them determine whether what they need is actually what they just want.

Financial Discipline in a Hyper-Connected World

Often when I talk to students, I tell them about how I saved for my first apartment in New York City, and how proud I was to be a recent law school graduate and be able to write a check for my first month’s rent and security deposit.

The harsh reality is that these days, when it comes to financial discipline, students have it much harder than I ever did growing up. Like a song?  Download it from iTunes. Want that new book? Press a button and you can download that too. Can’t find what you’re looking for at the mall? That’s what Amazon is for. Today, more than ever, spending is easy.  And as technology advances, it’s going to get even easier.  It can be difficult to set goals and resist temptation.ri 1

But empowered with financial knowledge, students can understand the impact of their decisions before they click ‘Buy’.  They know their financial well-being depends on it. They know that they need to think about the terms of their student loans before they sign on the dotted line. They know the importance of saving for retirement when they are young and starting their first job because time, and compounding interest, are on their side.  They know the importance of a good credit score, and how this number can impact their major life decisions such as going back to school and buying a house and a car.

Before we know it, our students will become financially empowered adults. By working together with schools and EverFi, we are creating a stronger Rhode Island where the stress of debt and financial uncertainty is replaced with confidence and a plan for the future. We’re working toward a solution.