Should I save money or pay down debt? Should I pay for my child’s education or save for retirement? Should I pay down my student loans or build my savings? These are valid questions, as many of us have multiple savings and debt repayment goals to achieve at the same time. Figuring out how to prioritize them can be a struggle.
The good news is that in most cases, the answer to these questions is the same: DO BOTH. A recent Boston Globe article discussed savings strategies for every age and touched on situations where multiple goals commonly arise including:
Paying Down Student Debt vs. Saving for Retirement
Young and first-time workers may want to pay down their student debt as fast as possible. And paying down debt is a good thing. But, if these workers are not also saving for retirement, they are missing out on some of the most important years to save. Because of the miracle of compound interest, money saved for retirement in your 20’s grows more than money saved later. Contribute at least enough money to get a company match while you continue to pay at least the minimum payment on student loans.
Buying a House vs. Saving for Retirement
Workers in their 30’s and 40’s may be tempted to cash out their retirement saving accounts to buy their first home. But this could be detrimental to their retirement savings. Don’t touch your retirement savings to buy a home. Instead save a portion of your pay in addition to saving for retirement.
Saving for Your Childs College vs. Saving for Retirement
Parents want to provide the best for their children. Saving money for your child’s education will help them avoid taking out large loans they will need to pay back later. But don’t forgo retirement saving and only save for education. Research lower-cost schools, find free money for schools, and continue to save for retirement. Remember, you can apply for grants and scholarships – or take out student loans, if your savings doesn’t quite cover the costs – but these options are not available for retirement.
Get Started During National Save for Retirement Week, October 19-25, 2014
National Save for Retirement Week is an opportunity for employers to make employees aware of how critical it is to save now for their financial future, promote the benefits of saving for retirement, and encourage employees to take full advantage of their employer-sponsored plans by starting or increasing their contributions. Encourage your employer to participate and learn more at http://www.nagdca.org/dnn/NewsEvents/NS4RW.aspx
Katie Bryan works for America Saves, managed by the nonprofit Consumer Federation of America (CFA), which seeks to motivate, encourage, and support low- to moderate-income households to save money, reduce debt, and build wealth. Learn more at americasaves.org.
Member Spotlight: Dr. Michael Gutter is an Associate Professor for the Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences at the University of Florida. He earned his BS in Family Financial Management and his PhD in Family Resource Management from The Ohio State University with a specialization in Finance. A longtime Member and current Board Member of AFCPE, Dr. Gutter will assume the role of Board President in 2015.
Your research, teaching and outreach are all focused around one common goal – helping families achieve financial security. What inspired you to take this path in your career?
I grew up in a household with very limited resources. My parents were extremely hard working but fell on tough times for many reasons beyond their control. Despite their best efforts this took its toll on my brother and me as well.
When I learned of a financial management degree in college, I became intrigued. The more I learned, the more passionate I became about helping other families to make better decisions, arm themselves for the unexpected, and prepare for the future.
Tell us a little about your current research project. What is inspiring you right now?
Currently I am working with the NC 2172 multistate research team consisting of researchers across the country focusing on “Behavioral economics and financial decision-making and information management across the lifespan.”This project was developed with a goal to better understand consumer financial decision-making across the lifespan. How consumers process information and make decisions regarding housing (rent vs. buy & mortgage), post-secondary education financing, and Social Security retirement will be examined.
The importance of this project is to address the problem of consumer decision-making in an increasingly complicated financial world. Simply providing consumers with information and education are necessary steps, yet not sufficient to address the larger problem.
As someone who wears “multiple hats,” what do you find most fulfilling in your career?
I find the mentoring of students and junior faculty to be an amazing experience. Watching them blossom into future stars of industry and research has been the highlight of my work, in addition to the impact my own efforts have made in peoples’ lives.
You are currently serving on AFCPE’s Board of Directors and next year will step into the role as President of the Board. What are you most proud of during your time on the Board and what are you most excited about during your term as President
AFCPE has been at the forefront of financial education and counseling helping to shape the industry. I am very excited to be working with members and stakeholders to help build the future of financial education and counseling. I look forward to being a steward of that energy and dedication as we work together to move this field forward continuing to inform practice through state of the art research.
If you are interested in learning more, Dr. Gutter’s research will be featured in three poster sessions at the 2014 AFCPE Research & Training Symposium in Bellevue, Washington this November. Mike can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or follow his regular tweets on personal finance under @mikegutter on Twitter.
Member Spotlight: Don Fulton, AFC®, CRC®, and longtime member of AFCPE®, has more than 15 years’ experience in financial counseling and coaching through employee assistance programs and employee benefits services. A graduate of Golden Valley Lutheran College and Augsburg College, Don earned a Masters of Divinity and a Masters of Theology from Luther Seminary. He currently lives in Minneapolis with his wife and two children.
You have a very unique background as both a Lutheran Pastor and a financial counselor. What led you to your work as an Accredited Financial Counselor?
From an early age I was drawn to church as a place of belonging. A growing sense of what the church refers to as “call” eventually led me to attend Lutheran colleges, as well as seminary. I became an ordained Lutheran Pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America called to a ministry of word and sacrament.
During a transitional period in my life, I explored making a career shift. I asked a coworker who would hire someone with my background, and he suggested an employee assistance program (EAP). I then had what some describe as a “six degrees of separation” experience, or what I call “Higher Power” stuff, and decided to pursue and obtain employment with an EAP.
In this new position, financial counseling was among the services I provided to client companies and their employees. I became a member of a dedicated financial team which focused on financial issues including budget, credit and debt management. In order to share a common base of financial knowledge, members of this team pursued their Accredited Financial Counselor (AFC) designation.
So began an unexpected journey that combined faith and finance. These days I talk about wearing two hats – one of a Lutheran clergy and the other a financial coach. Some people seem to think this is an unusual combination, but I disagree. In the church world we call this stewardship, or what could be broadly defined as resource management.
In practicing stewardship, themes of generosity and scarcity emerge that are important to how we as individuals, couples, businesses and a society approach decisions about money. The question gets raised, “How much is enough?” Generosity takes the viewpoint that there is enough for all and is gratitude based. Scarcity takes the viewpoint that resources are limited and is fear based. The point of view we chose to take can influence and motivate our behavior. To live as “wise stewards’” means we become aware of what motivates us in managing all that we have.
Tell me about Money for Two workshops. How did these workshops come about and why is the initiative so important to you?
Money for Two Workshops, LLC started in response to a need. A fellow Lutheran pastor, who had been doing pre-marriage workshops for a number of years, mentioned that more couples were asking financial questions. She saw that financial decisions were a major source of stress in relationships and was looking for a resource who would talk about financial issues without trying to sell a product. I knew I had gifts I could offer in this area, so we started putting ideas together.
Since I had been practicing financial counseling for a number of years and understood financial issues, I built the workshops to address these issues. I connected with S.C.O.R.E. = Service Core of Retired Executives and was assigned mentors who helped me put together a business plan. Then I found people who specialized in communication to help me develop a website and, thus, moneyfortwoworkshops.com was created.
Money for Two Workshops, LLC is faith-based because, I believe, faith is a resource. In the workshops listening with respect and offering a safe place to share is emphasized from the start. Interactive exercises are used to communicate about money and we talk about how each member of a couple comes from different financial backgrounds. Inventories are used to gauge the financial knowledge of each member of a couple. Stewardship stories from the Bible are used to help illustrate how faith and values relate to the role of money in our lives and the importance of managing money well. Time is spent on financial terminology and where to find financial resources. Each couple sets goals and identifies the steps they will take to reach those goals. Overall the goals include reducing stress around financial decision making and building healthier relationships.
Please share a story or anecdote that has made your work so rewarding.
I offer a version of Money for Two Workshops as a class through a local community education program. One evening, about an hour into the class, I asked if the financial information I was sharing was new to them. The response was overwhelmingly affirmative, and at this point all we had covered was the importance of credit, budget basics and thinking about financial goals. These were couples in their 20s and 30s and this information was new to them. Obviously the need for couples (and all of us) to receive sound financial information is there. I find it rewarding to offer financial information that can help strengthen a couple’s relationship and decision making for the future.
If you are interested in learning more about Money for Two workshops, or networking on issues of faith and finances or financial health within relationships, please contact Don at email@example.com.
Member Spotlight: Mary Howard is the Financial Literacy Program Manager for Student Assistance Foundation (SAF) in Helena, Montana. She has held the Accredited Financial Counselor (AFC®) designation since 2013 and has been an engaged member of AFCPE® since 2010.
You are both a member of AFCPE, as well as an AFC certificant. Why did you chose to pursue your AFC and what does the designation mean to you?
The AFC designation means that I am not only very willing to help students with their financial situation, but that I am qualified to do so as well. It provides the students I serve a measure of trust and confidence in me. My employer, Student Assistance Foundation (SAF) generously invested their resources to allow me to obtain my AFC Certification. SAF recognizes the value of having a professional credential from a national organization backing me when I work with students and their finances. It is an honor to be a part of AFCPE.
What led you to your current role as the Financial Literacy Program Manager at the Student Assistance Foundation of Montana?
I started my career over twenty-five years ago working in a financial aid office at a small, rural community college in Montana. I have since worked at a variety of colleges and universities helping students prepare for college through awarding of financial aid. I began working for Student Assistance Foundation in 2003; my background in student financial aid provided valuable experience which I brought to my current roles as Financial Literacy Program Manager, Outreach Supervisor and Outreach Manager.
What is most rewarding about the work that you do?
I feel a true sense of accomplishment when students listen to and understand the information I provide on financial aid and student loan borrowing, and then make a decision not to borrow student loans or even to reduce their borrowing to the bare minimum. I also love working with our Matched Education Savings Programs (MESAs) which help low-income students establish savings habits for college. In communities where many families are unbanked and do not have an established savings plan, it is particularly rewarding to help students take an active part in funding their college education. To see students actually get excited about financial literacy and saving money for college is very rewarding.
If you would like to network with Mary on topics regarding student financial literacy or student financial assistance, or are interested in learning more about the programs at the Student Assistance Foundation of Montana, please contact Mary at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their website at www.smartaboutcollege.org.
Member Spotlight Jean Lown, PhD. is a professor in the Department of Family, Consumer, and Human Development at Utah State University where she teaches investing, retirement and estate planning. She is a charter member of AFCPE and was present at the meeting where AFCPE was formed. Since then has only missed one annual conference, and for good reason. She was on sabbatical leave in New Zealand and Australia. Jean has served two terms on the AFCPE Board of Directors and received several AFCPE Awards, including the Mary Ellen Edmondson Educator of the Year award.
What made you decide to pursue a career in Personal Finance?
I started my focus on consumer issues and gradually evolved to concentrate on personal financial wellness. I attended college during the feminist movement, so I am conscious of the disparate economic situation of women and men, especially when women are single.
Tell us a little about the monthly seminar you teach for the local community, Financial Planning for Women (FPW). How did this initiative come about and why is it so important to you?
FPW started with an invited presentation on women and financial planning for the local chapter of the American Association of University Women in 1996. After the presentation a number of women expressed an interest in learning more, so I offered a monthly meeting to teach about finances. A plethora of studies have confirmed that women need to be encouraged to take more responsibility for their financial security. It’s now 2014 and I’m still teaching the monthly FPW seminars on a wide range of financial topics and encouraging my students to participate in the presentations so they gain experience. A monthly email newsletter has been replaced by a searchable blog: http://fpwusu.blogspot.com/. Please check it out as well as the FPW website: www.usu.edu/fpw.
Have you seen the impact of your workshops on the women within your community?
I’ve received lots of anecdotal feedback that FPW has changed women’s lives. And I continue to conduct research to determine what topics women are most interested in learning about, how to motivate them to take action, and to document the impact of FPW.
You’ve also done some great work to encourage and aid your students to attend the AFCPE Symposium.
At the 1993 Symposium in San Antonio, I was sitting in a session with one of my grad students when I had the idea that our undergrad Family Finance students should attend AFCPE. So I proposed, developed and taught a 1credit career seminar course for the Family Finance students. I designed an assignment to conduct informational interviews with professionals in areas of career interest, and encouraged students to attend the Symposium so they could conduct their interviews with conference attendees. Due to this seminar, USU has had Family Finance students attend the AFCPE Symposium almost every year since 1995. To help finance travel to the conference, I offer financial advising throughout the year, and donate the fees to a student travel fund. I’m proud to say that many of my past students are now active professionals in the association.
Jean is interested in networking with AFCPE members who have a similar interest in encouraging women to take responsibility for their financial future. She is also working with fellow AFCPE member, Karen Richel, in an effort to provide financial education for jail inmates and is interested in educational materials targeted to prison inmates to help them transition to life outside. If you would like to connect on these topics, please contact Jean at email@example.com.