Madeleine Greene is an award-winning educator, speaker, author, TV and radio show host and value-oriented penny pincher at heart. In 2014, she added AFCPE Financial Counselor of the Year to her list of accolades. As a longtime, active member of AFCPE®, Madeleine has played an instrumental role in AFCPE’s history and growth, but this past year she was honored by the professionals in our membership for the incredible work that she does as an Accredited Financial Counselor (AFC®).
Madeleine retired as a tenured member of the faculty of the University of Maryland-College Park in 2007, but continues to work tirelessly as a military consumer financial services consultant and money counselor. “Madeleine has a passion for helping individuals understand the importance of their actions today and the impact that these actions have on the stability of their financial futures,” said a nominator. “She helps clients establish a budget, track their spending, understand the impact of credit use and creating a savings plan using available resources to track and reach their financial goals.”
Her clients are diverse – ranging from service members returning from Afghanistan with significant savings and no understanding of how to build wealth to a young widow having to make financial decisions in order to provide for herself and her child. She also does pro bono work with senior citizens, helping them apply for property tax credit, file income taxes, qualify for Medicaid, conserve their resources and avoid scams.
In addition to one-on-one financial counseling, Madeleine has been highly involved in curriculum development and educational programs. She was part of a team that developed the personal finance curriculum used by the military life consultants, and she has presented more than 100 seminars to service members of all groups and sizes. Since 2008, her educational presentations have reached more than 50,000 individuals a year. Madeleine is also currently serving as the Chair of the AFCPE Certification Council.
Her passion for the field and for consumers is evident in her work as a Maryland Financial Literacy Coalition Member. She recently testified before the Maryland Legislature in support of legislation requiring a personal finance class as a graduation requirement and she worked with the Fredrick County Commission for Women to develop the MD Women’s Conference, providing knowledge and skills that positively impact the financial future and quality of life for women and families in Maryland.
Colleagues and clients alike value Madeleine’s unique approach to counseling and education. She makes financial topics that can seem overwhelming or complicated, understandable. Life savers, payday candy bars, 100 grand bars, larger than life currency, shredded money and flashing dollar signs are just a few of the tools she uses when teaching basic money concepts to groups. Madeleine understands her audience and uses real life events as the basis of her financial lessons.
Madeleine educates, counsels and mentors with a level of commitment felt by all whom she serves. Her level of expertise in a variety of areas has allowed her to affect positive change in many different ways within the field. The legacy that Madeleine has built will be the tremendous impact she has had on our organization and on the field of financial counseling and education.
The rich are getting richer. We know, next subject please.
We can whittle away a lifetime wishing our grass was as green as that next door–too many of us do. Instead, I think I know what the next subject should be, and it’s NOT being taught or talked about despite a ridiculous low cost and high level of interest on the part of students–at least the students that I have had the pleasure of working with to date.
On Friday afternoons I serve as a part-time lecturer at the University of Pittsburgh, and my subject is personal finance. An exercise in class revolved around a real-life case of an 18-year student attempting to trade a used car for a similar used car. In addition to his existing vehicle, this student had saved $1,000 to help with the “upgrade”. The class exercise was to review the potential transaction, and consider possible alternatives. For example, keep the car and make a one-time investment using the $1,000.
As a group it was decided to instead open a Roth IRA, invest in an S&P 500 index fund, and not touch the funds until age 70. Using the 10.9% annualized return of the index for the past 100 years, the class came up with an ending value of $216,990 – they were floored. Since no one believed it, we started over from the beginning, and unanimously the class again arrived at $216,990. But that’s not the lesson.
One student was so flummoxed that he stated the calculation wasn’t possible, because, “…if it were possible to turn $1,000 into that much money, then everyone would be doing it.” Candidly I asked about his savings, and he admitted to no such effort. When I asked why, he paused and replied, “I didn’t know…” and the lightbulb went off.How many of us “didn’t know”? How many of our kids, students and employees “don’t know?”
Today’s results are predictable in part because the world is cleverly stacked against our wallets. In addition to peer pressure we are encouraged to take on debt, and billions of dollars are spent each year in a well-orchestrated effort to get us to spend that $1,000 rather than save it. We are NOT taught the consequences of our actions. It has been my experience, after three years of working with high school and college students and hearing their feedback, that the vast majority receive virtually no practical introduction into the world of basic money stuff. Too bad, since basic money stuff is going to touch each and every student, and the decisions they make from early ages have a snowball effect.
How do you solve the wealth inequality that exists? Teach our kids about the decisions they will face. I don’t mean economic theory or investment principles. Basic practical things: the first credit card, college loans, the first car (or not), the first apartment, that cellphone upgrade, the value of a job and of saving a little bit. And don’t teach them once, but remind them constantly. Every high school – andcollege – should be required to review this information annually with each student. Imagine if that $1,000 above were $2 000? Or, $1,000 a year for life?The solution to narrowing the wealth gap – to money ignorance – just isn’t that hard. Instruct and inspire the kids. And the solution is apolitical since it applies regardless of race, creed, color or economic status. Show them that their economic future is something that they can CONTROL! Believe me; they WANT to learn about this.
Leaders are defined by their actions, and in this case we can all be leaders. First, by taking steps to control our own financial future, and second by showing our friends and family how they can do the same. You don’t need to be in the 1% to save and invest, and when you are young (as in the example above) a little bit, can go a long way.
Sometimes the simple solution is the right solution.
Guest Contributor, Gene Natali Jr.
Originally posted February 18, 2015 on The Missing Semester.
Working part time as a PFC, I help military families regain control of their finances. Some come to see me as an order from their commander while others come voluntarily, looking to regain control of their finances. Whether it is a young single airman or a more seasoned couple, the overwhelmed look of not knowing where to start is the same. Where does my money go? How will I ever pay off all these student loans/credit cards? How do I start investing? These are all questions we commonly hear as financial counselors.
But, they all boil down to one larger question: do you want to be in control of your finances? Or do you want your finances to control you?
My solution? A budget.
It is the most basic and underutilized tool, and the best way to regain control of our finances. Here are 6 things to remember as you get started:
- The budgeting process seems scary at first. No one likes seeing how much they owe on paper – especially when it outweighs what they own. But, being vigilant and aware of finances and debt is better than burying your head in the sand and ignoring the problem at hand. In the military, if your finances get out of control, you can lose your security clearance and the ability to do your job or make the next rank. It can also create oppressive debt and bad credit, which affects many other financial decisions in your life.
- A budget is a living document. It changes as life changes. A budget, or spending plan, allows you to stay in control of your money and be sure that it is working for you and your goals. It is important to review this each month and adjust as needed to accommodate different seasons of life.
- You must track your expenses. An organized financial management system can help you save money. But, first you must put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and fill in the blanks. Income and fixed expenses are more obvious since most people are usually aware of what they bring in and spend on a regular basis. Then, you must think through the variable expenses: how much is spent on gas for the car, groceries, or eating out? Many times it’s the little expenses that add up: a cup of coffee, stopping at a drive through, the vending machine, contributing for a gift at work, etc. Other times it’s the unexpected expenses such as a flat tire or unexpected medical bill that come up and there is no savings to pay for it so debt is incurred.
- Systems may vary, but finding one that works for you is important. Start with an educated guess, but then you will need a system to track your money. One way to do this is to spend as you normally would and keep receipts for at least 2 weeks in an envelope. When separated out, the receipts will fall into categories (gasoline, eating out, groceries, etc.). Multiply those expenses by 2 and record in the appropriate category. Keeping receipts and calculating every 2 weeks will keep you honest with your budget. Other ways of tracking spending is to keep an index card or small notebook in your pocket and jotting down all your daily expenses. You might also use an online budgeting system like Mint or YNAB.
- You must define your priorities and goals. Budgets are based off of priorities, which make them unique to each client. I ask my clients to find places where they can cut expenses and save money. This process can be personal and frustrating. Clients have to face the hard truth and decide whether an expense is an actual need or a just a want. Having a priority list sitting next to you is useful to refer back to when having trouble making a decision. If religion/church is a priority then tithing is not an area one would be willing to cut so maybe they are more willing to go to a salon less or get rid of cable TV. You can afford to do whatever you want as long as there is money in the budget. If you have debt then there is not money in the budget to do everything you want, hence the creation of debt.
- Budgets don’t stop you from living – they help you start living the life you want! People are surprised by how much they can live without when trying to get out of debt. The majority of places I find that can be cut are: beauty supplies/salon, eating out, cable or satellite TV, cell phone plans, smoking, drinking, and recreational activities. I also inform them that many utility companies offer budget billing which spreads their yearly usage over a 12 month billing period. This is easier to place in your budget then having an unexpected large electric bill. For active duty service members, I also look at and loans obtained before entering the military and ensure they have a maximum interest rate of 6%. Under the Service member Civil Relief Act (SCRA), while on active duty those interest rates can be lowered to 6% and the excess interest is forgiven.
As financial counselors, we do our best to educate and lay out all options for our clients. But ultimately these budget decisions must be made by the client and become an action plan on their goals. Sometimes the hardest part of being a counselor is trusting the process: providing education, support and accountability and then letting go so that our clients can apply this knowledge into their own lives and begin to realize their goals.
Guest Contributor: Rebecca Denton, AFC®
Sometimes the easiest ways to save money fall close to home. For so many, just the thought of changing a spending habit in order to save more money causes a cold sweat and heart palpitations. But if you get creative, saving money can be easier than you think.
Below a few of our AFC® certified professionals and candidates offer some easy tips for saving money on everyday expenses. You don’t have to take money away from what you value most—just find ways to free up funds that you didn’t know you had! The additional savings can go toward saving for education, retirement and being prepared for those unexpected life emergencies.
- Go through your closet—and storage before going shopping! “I knew I still had that shirt somewhere!” See what you already have on hand before hitting the stores!
~ Kate Mielitz, AFC®
- Thrift stores are a great way to save money on clothes. And then when you’re done, donate them right back!
~ Dana Chitwood, AFC® Certification candidate
- Struggling to make ends meet but still want the treats? Buy day old cakes and breads at discount and freeze them. Defrost slowly on the counter and they’ll be like fresh!
- There’s a 3 prong approach to grocery shopping in order to save:
- Grocery List: A grocery list reminds you of the item you need to purchase and it also will remind you that you need a coupon for that item, too.
- Coupons: Create an email account for your family (ie SmithFamilyCoupons@xxxxx.com) so you can receive coupons, rebates and discounts to that email account so you will have one main location for your coupons.
- Meal Planner: Use a meal planner to ensure you have accounted for all foods needed to create each meal (breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks) that way you can ensure you’re purchased a variety of foods for the week and you won’t feel the need eat out as much.
~ Erica F. Drame, AFC®
- Make your own coffee (not with Keurig pods).
~ Jennifer Lear, AFC®
- Always always drink water. If a family of four eats out once a week and only drinks water, they will save enough money in a year to pay for a new set of tires!
- If the restaurant gives big portions, plan to bring home your leftovers for lunch, or split a dish. Sometimes it’s cheaper and fun to order several appetizers for the whole table to split and only eat these.
- Keep your car for at least 10 years.
~ Jennifer Lear, AFC®
- Buy used, or the previous year’s model, when purchasing a car.
~ Carlos Colon, AFC®
- Turn out the lights when you leave a room. Big draws on power are dryers, irons, hair dryers. With some attention, a large home can reduce the power bill to under $100 per month for a typical 3000 sq. ft. home.
- Often, the cable companies offer new customer incentives; but once the initial time is up, your rate rises. When this happens, call the company and ask if the cheaper rate can be reinstated. Many times, they will reduce the rate but you will have to call again every 6 months. This is only available to customers who always pay on time.
- Try to lock in a fixed rate for your gas bill out of season, when the rates can be lower. Also, check the setting on your water heater to ensure it is set at the appropriate temperature; and make sure you reduce the dial when you go out of town.
- Make your own Laundry Detergent and stain remover.
Homemade laundry detergent is a great way to increase savings at the grocery store. This recipe can also be found in a liquid version on the internet. It is safe to use in all machines.
A spray on spot remover that is safe for colors. Just spray, let sit and wash!
- 1 part Dawn dishwashing liquid
- 2 parts Hydrogen Peroxide
Think Outside the Box:
- Trade services with friends—I don’t sew, so if I want something fixed or hemmed, I’ll offer to babysit for a friend who does in exchange for sewing services.
- Need a deep clean on your house, but can’t afford a housekeeping service? Have a cleaning party and rotate houses once per month. Everyone who helps gets in on the cleaning rotation—cheaper, and a good time with friends!
What are some of your top thrifty tips for frugal living?
A primary focus of America Saves week is for organizations to promote good savings behavior among individuals nationwide, and a large aspect of this promotion is building awareness and providing education. In order for individuals to increase savings and begin to build a strong financial foundation we must first provide them with access to reliable tools and resources and train the professionals who help to educate and mold their financial foundation.
This is why we feel it’s important to bring attention to two organizations who are leading the charge in the field of financial literacy and financial education and the tools and resources that they provide.
AFCPE is a longtime partner and Board Member of the Jump$tart Coalition. Jump$tart has helped build the framework for financial education and financial literacy. The organization focuses on effectively introducing strong financial principles to our youth, in order to prepare our children for a brighter financial future.
What makes Jump$tart unique is their ability to effectively bring together organizations from the business, financial, non-profit, association, academic, government and other sectors to collaboratively deliver one common mission – to educate and prepare our nation’s youth for life-long financial success. Jump$tart encourages inclusion and partnership to deliver more effective financial outreach and education.
Jump$tart was the original supporter of April as Financial Literacy Month and is entering its 7th year of hosting the National Educator Conference, which focuses on training, motivating and supporting classroom teachers.
One of the most valuable tools that Jump$tart offers is its online library of financial education resources, the Jump$tart Clearinghouse. The Clearinghouse is the nation’s most comprehensive collection of financial education resources suitable for students in pre-kindergarten through college. All materials listed in the Clearinghouse meet the National Standards of K-12 Personal Finance Education. The library is not only geared towards educators, but also parents, caregivers and anyone committed to financial smarts for students.
To learn more about Jump$tarts resources, visit http://www.jumpstart.org/resources.html.
NEFE is passionate about “serving the underserved,” and they have devoted themselves to the public good for more than a quarter-century. As a non-profit organization, NEFE provides financial education and information to people at all financial stages. They believe that more financially informed individuals are better able to take control of their circumstances, improve their quality of life and ensure a more stable future for themselves and their families. Most importantly, they believe this is true regardless of background or income level.
Not only does NEFE provide financial literacy resources at no cost to consumers, they are also leaders in financial literacy and behavioral research and engaged in national public policy efforts. This past year, AFCPE was proud to have NEFE’s Director of Education, Billy J. Hensley, Ph.D., serve as a keynote speaker at the 2014 AFCPE Research & Training Symposium. Dr. Hensley, who directs the grant-making, innovative thinking, research, college, and adult education programs for the foundation, spoke on the current state of financial education. The talk was centered on a NEFE research project titled “Examining Financial Education: How Literacy and Interventions Affect Financial Behaviors.”
NEFE provides a number of valuable tools and resources for consumers, educators and researchers. Some of our favorites include:
Smart About Money A user friendly website that provides consumers with a wide range of financial tools and topics that empower them to make educated financial decisions to reach their financial goals.
Financial Workshop Kits Financial Workshop Kits provide financial professionals, social service professionals, community vounteers, financial educators or human resource professionals with a number of tools and resources to effectively deliver financial education information based on the audience that they are serving.
NEFE Research As an organization founded upon and rooted in research, AFCPE believes in the importance of research. Research is vital for shaping and informing the education and counseling that our professionals provide. NEFE helps provide funds to support financial education research efforts that directly inform the work of our field – providing needed and requested insight to both financial professionals and the public.