• EDITOR’S NOTE: Anna Frank is the financial education program coordinator at First Commonwealth Bank, where she promotes financial education within the community as well as for employees of the bank. She recently sat down with Gazette staff writer Margaret Weaver to discuss America Saves Week, a celebration of saving successfully that is spearheaded by the national nonprofit organization America Saves.
Question: America Saves Week is coming up. Can you tell me a bit about that?
Answer: America Saves is a nonprofit organization that really exists to encourage Americans, all Americans, to save more, to grow their wealth, to just become more financially confident. Their signature program every year is called America Saves Week. It is every year celebrated the last week of February.
Question: What are some different ways to save?
Answer: When it comes to saving, I have never heard anyone who says “Oh boy, I have all this money left over. What should I do with it? Oh, yeah, I should save.” That is not typically the case.
When it comes to saving, ironically speaking the first step to do is not necessarily to look at how can I save, but to really scrutinize how are you spending your money. Because what does everybody say? “I don’t have money leftover at the end of the month to save.”
And that might be a very valid and true statement, but my question back for you would be “Well, where’s the money going?” And oftentimes, we think we know where the money is going but until we really look and see where the money is going we don’t know.
So I encourage everybody for one week, only seven short days, track every single penny that you spend. Bills that you pay. Online shopping. Plugging the parking meter. Going to the vending machine. A couple of bucks for lunch. Just write it all down. Don’t stress out about how much it is. Just get some knowledge, some data to work with, because oftentimes, your eyes will be opened. … I hear “I had no idea I spent that much at” at whatever it is. Oftentimes people will say “Oh, just eat out less.” Well, I’m not going to say that to a busy, single mom, when eating out is the one minute of peace she gets in the day, right? But just have a real awareness of where that money is going. Because once you know where the money is going, it becomes much easier to identify money to save. So that’s one piece of it.
But the other, maybe even more important piece of saving, is to find a reason why. Set a savings goal, because we all have good intentions, right? But when we’re in the minute, and the choice is between plugging the meter or just walking a couple extra blocks, or stopping for coffee today, if we don’t have the bigger picture in mind, oftentimes we make those little choices that add up to little expenses that add up to a lot of money over the month. … If I have an awareness of where my money is going, plus a goal for why I want to save, it’s oftentimes easier for me to make those small decisions that can really add up.
Question: How much should people be saving? Is there a general guideline?
Answer: There’s all kinds of rules of thumb out there. A very common rule of thumb, when it comes to say, an emergency savings fund, is that you should have three to six months of your take-home pay as a cushion. … If I looked at how much six months of my income would be, I would become completely overwhelmed with that goal and think “that’s never going to happen” and then the temptation is to save nothing. The other really common one is you should save 10 percent of your income for retirement. … That might work for some people.
My encouragement always is “Saving something is 100 percent better than saving nothing.” So if you’re not saving anything, find a dollar. Don’t spend it. Congratulations, you’re now a saver! That’s great. Follow up on that of course, right? If you can find one dollar to save, where can you find another dollar? Then again it comes back to, where is your money going in the first place?
So any savings goal, any rule of thumb that works for you, is good in my book.
Question: When should children be introduced to financial education?
Answer: I’ve never met an adult that said “I’m so glad I waited to start saving.” What do they all say, including myself? “I wish I would’ve started saving when I was young.” In my opinion, as soon as is humanly possible, because one of the biggest favors we can do for our young people is to instill with them the habit of saving. It can have an enormous impact on your financial confidence later in life if you start saving when you are a kid.
In addition to that, I think another real big favor we can do for young people is give them the opportunity to learn about money and make money mistakes when they’re young, when the stakes are low. Give kids the opportunity to earn money, or give them an allowance, and give them guidance on how to spend and save that money but allow them to make those mistakes because it’s much better to have a low-stakes mistake of not having enough money to join the class trip to Kennywood than it would be later in life when the stakes are much, much higher.
Question: What can parents do to help children learn to be fiscally responsible adults?
Answer: Give them the opportunity to save. Show them through your actions that saving is important, but if you’re in a situation where you feel like “I, as a parent, I don’t really know how to teach my kids this,” … this is a wonderful opportunity for you and your kids to learn together.
And that is one of the reasons why America Saves is such a great idea. If anybody, certainly parents, go to the website AmericaSaves.org, they can sign up for a fun savings pledge, where they will get really encouraging emails and texts if they choose, to keep that big picture in mind, but there’s also a ton of educational resources out there so that parents can start learning how to save, start getting ideas of how to save, and then of course I would be remiss if I didn’t invite everybody to go see a friendly banker. We love talking about this stuff. We’d be happy to share some information there.
Question: What groups do you normally work with when you provide education?
Answer: We have gone from kids as young as 3 and 4 — we teach them about coins, we take them on a pretend trip to a place called Sunny Money Town — all the way through our senior citizens, who we do a lot of financial education for. We are always interested in going into senior centers or working for nonprofits to help protect our seniors. So really, the whole gamut. We oftentimes work with school-aged students but we certainly have many wonderful relationships with the nonprofit communities, certainly here in Indiana. … So kids, adults, senior citizens. I always say “two people and a water cooler and I’m there.”
Question: What special challenges might senior citizens face with financial management?
Answer: No matter what age you are, we are all in danger of falling prey to scams and identity theft. That is, unfortunately, the state of the world today. But oftentimes, senior citizens have spent their lives working incredibly hard and accumulating their resources, so they can be kind of prime candidates for thieves and criminals and scammers who are specifically targeting senior citizens. Unfortunately, as quick as we can do financial education and help senior citizens protect themselves, thieves are just coming up with new scams. There will never be an end to the need to make sure that our seniors have all the tools and resources to keep themselves safe. But in addition to that, I don’t think there’s any age cutoff you can’t learn more about saving or budgeting.
Question: What are some of the mistakes adults are making?
Answer: I see people make some assumptions about money. … One would be that people assume they’re the only people struggling with money. Then, I also see people assume that it’s unfixable.
If they are in a situation where things are not going as it should when it comes to your finances, people just assume “well, I’m in this mess and I’m never getting out of it.” That’s certainly not true. The vast majority of people struggle with money at some point in their lives. It’s just a fact. … People just feel like whatever situation they’re in today is the situation they’re going to be in forever, and that is simply not true.
Like anything else, any type of change that you want to make in your life, the key to success is just deciding that this is something that I want to give some time and attention to, and then coming up with small steps to take.
If you feel overwhelmed because your finances are not where you want it to be, just pick one aspect of it that you can control, that you’re ready to start trying something new and just making small changes. It can be as simple as just organizing all your bills so you know when they’re due so whenever you can you can avoid the late fee. There, you’ve made one small change. Or it can be as simple as really buckling down on going to the vending machine and finding $10 a month extra that you’re putting on your credit card. Is that going to deal with all your credit card debt this month? No, but it’s going to give you a sense of control that “I am making a difference,” and over time, it’s math.
Small changes over time adds up. It is math. It works that way. Again, if you feel like you don’t know where to start, find help. Ask a friend. Reach out to a nonprofit group. We have great organizations in this community that can help. Sign up for America Saves. Talk to a banker. Just find one small thing to change and you can really make a difference.
Anna Frank, at a glance
Job: Financial education program coordinator, First Commonwealth Bank
Where I grew up: Bloemfontein, South Africa
Family: Husband Chris
Hobbies: Cooking, creating all kinds of art
Favorite food: Steak and crab cakes
Food I refuse to eat: Not a big fan of liver
Favorite movie: “Fargo”
Favorite way to spend a day: On my back porch, slow smoking a big brisket for 14 hours
Pet peeve: Closed-minded people