State, federal and university officials who came together at Indiana University Northwest on Thursday to promote financial literacy in Northwest Indiana found themselves upstaged somewhat by an national icon who is every bit as familiar to Americans as, well, a $100 bill.
Benjamin Franklin, the wise statesman and inventor whose pithy platitudes about the value of saving a buck still resonate more than 200 years after he wrote them, put in a surprise personal appearance Thursday at the Money Smart Week Indiana press conference, which was held at the IU Northwest School of Business and Economics. Franklin’s appearance had changed somewhat from that of the sage, self-satisfied gentleman depicted on the $100 bill, but the Founder’s advice regarding personal finance was as timely as ever.
“Back when I was a little kid, you didn’t need as much money as we do today, but the same principles were in effect.,” said Franklin, whose 18th-century clothes and frosted wig offered notable contrast with the high-tech computer labs and stock tickers in the business school’s Wall Street on Broadway Simulated Trading Floor. “We’ve got to learn how to save our money, live within our means, and become prosperous by the decisions we make.”
Ben Franklin, of course, was portrayed by an impersonator, but while Sharon Mallory’s gender may have put a new twist on an American legend, her economic savvy is as genuine as Franklin’s was. Mallory is the president and CEO of Merrillville-based SDM Investments L.L.C. Mallory is heavily involved with financial-literacy efforts in Northwest Indiana, and she thought that bringing Ben out of retirement would be a good way to introduce students to Franklin’s simple yet time-tested views on how to make and keep money.
On Saturday, Oct. 18, IU Northwest will join with more than 75 other public, non-profit, educational, media, and financial sponsors in bringing to Northwest Indiana a Money Smart Indiana event that will focus on those same topics. This free financial expo is aimed at teaching people strategies for better money management through face-to-face workshops on household budgets, investments, smart credit, mortgages and foreclosures, and avoiding scams and pitfalls. The program has workshops for students as young as 7 years old.
The annual Money Smart program is part of a nationwide education effort to help families make smart financial decisions. The Northwest Indiana program reaches between 200 and 300 families each year. As part of this year’s Money Smart event, state-certified foreclosure-prevention experts will be on hand to help families who are in the foreclosure process look for ways to keep their homes.
This month’s Money Smart expo at IU Northwest is free to Indiana consumers, and lunch is included; advance registration is required. Call (219) 980-4800 or (800) 982-4801 to reserve a space.
The students to whom Mallory, Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita, and others spoke Thursday were winners in a contest, "Money Smart Recipes: Budget Your Dough," that was sponsored by the Indianapolis-based magazine “Inquisitive Kids.” Students were asked to write recipes for how to save money. The winners visited IU Northwest on Thursday to collect their prizes: $25 savings bonds for third place; $50 savings bonds for second place; and $100 savings bonds for first place. In total, 11 students collected awards for their efforts, 10 of them from the McCullough Academy in Gary, and one, third-grader Miles Anthony Lewis (who drew numerous compliments on his sharp suit and tie), from Williams Elementary School in Gary.
Rokita, who joined Ben Franklin in presenting the awards, complimented the students on their accomplishments and their commitment to being Money Smart. But the Republican secretary of state and Munster, Ind. native struck a somber tone when he explained to the students the future ramifications of this week’s stock-market turmoil and the $700 billion government bailout of the nation’s tottering financial institutions.
“I can’t be more angry or more scared than I have been this week, with the straits that we’ve found ourselves in,” Rokita said. “I look at these kids today, and I’m so proud of you. I’m happy for you, and happy that your answers (about money) give me hope. I think every adult here, including myself, needs to look each of you in the eye, and those young adults you represent, and I think we owe you an apology.”
Rokita told the students that a device in New York called the National Debt Clock, which tabulates America’s expanding sea of red ink, hit a glitch this week in the wake of the government’s record bailout of the financial sector.
“That clock broke this week, because that number got so high, because of how much money we owe as a country,” he said. “And we have given you that burden. More than $10 trillion we owe other people.
“We haven’t saved,” Rokita explained. “And we spent when we didn’t have the money to spend. And now, all of us together, and especially you, are going to have to help get us out of that.”
Rokita encouraged the students on Thursday to stay in school, attend college, and spread the word to their friends and family members about the need for financial literacy, which was the cause that brought Rokita and others to IU Northwest for the event.
Doug Tillett, vice president of corporate communications for the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank, told the audience Thursday that Money Smart began as an effort to educate Chicagoans about money matters, but that it has since expanded not just to Indiana but throughout the Midwest and to other regions of the country.
“I don’t think you have to be a brain surgeon to know that the need for financial education and financial literacy is as great as it has ever been,” Tillett said. “You don’t have to read the newspapers or listen to the radio to know that our financial services industry is in turmoil. I guess the safest thing I can say is that if people knew more and understood more about all this, that would at least mitigate some of these circumstances that are occurring right now.”
Tillett emphasized that no student is too young to begin learning about how to manage dollars. If anything, he said, the nation’s current financial problems stem partly from the fact that so many students never learn anything about practical financial management even in high school.
“I was in a high school in Naperville yesterday talking to an advanced-placement economics class. These kids were bright kids, but they were clueless,” he said. “One of these guys was very bright -- he was telling me all about physics and calculus. I said to him, ‘Well, what do you know about a 30-year non-conforming mortgage?’ I might as well have been a Martian talking to him. He had no clue what I was talking about.”
That, Tillett said, is why Money Smart can be such a valuable program for parents, students and every member of the family. Tillett noted that research has shown face-to-face advice about money matters to be more effective than television programs or other methods. He also said that financial education has its greatest positive impact on those who receive it before that person makes a major financial move or decision.
In welcoming the students and other guests to the IU Northwest campus, Chancellor Bruce Bergland emphasized that the university’s role in hosting the upcoming Money Smart workshops is reflective of its overall commitment to serving Northwest Indiana. He also encouraged community members to take advantage of this beneficial program.
“We’re here to serve this region. That’s our job,” said Bergland, who noted that the School of Business and Economics has a number of other financial-literacy components, including the award-winning Center for Economic Education. “And this kind of program, where we collaborate with other agencies to provide a service, is exactly what we like to be about. So we are extremely proud to be a part of this.”
Other award-winning students who received savings bonds on Thursday at IU Northwest were: in first place, fourth-grader Taeylor Carlton, fifth-grader Tiara Philon, and sixth-grader Clarion Sanders; in second place, third-grader Larist Wortham, fourth-grader Shatia Welch, fifth-grader Heaven Taylor, and sixth-grader Havelyn Bowens; and, in third place, third-grader Shannette Smith, fourth-grader Cherise Higgins, and sixth-grader Mikia Lawrence. All attend McCullough Academy.
For more information on Money Smart Week, please visit the Web at http://www.moneysmartweek.org/indiana, or contact Sheila McKean, Senior Outreach Program Manager, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, at Sheila.McKean@chi.frb.org.