Minding your money
Thursday, September 20, 2018
Let’s face it. Money matters.
It’s not only about how deep your pockets run – or don’t run. It’s also about managing your stash of cash, regardless of its size.
Tulsa high school senior Julia Rutherford is more familiar with this concept after participating in Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension’s Reality Check, a financial simulation program for youth.
“The experience was very awesome because it gave me a little reality check on how it is. Luckily, I had an easy task. The character I had was single with no children so I was just worrying about myself. In reality, it’s hard for people to work off that and if they have kids and are married,” Rutherford said. “It gave me a reality check on how stuff is with money and how tight it can be for people. You have to budget.”
As one of about 85 junior high and high school students visiting OSU’s Stillwater campus with Unidos Se Puede, a Tulsa-based mentoring program for Latino immigrant families, Rutherford took part in the simulation in July.
“It did help a lot, just to open my eyes to budget more in real life when I get home, just to make sure I save more,” she said.
In fact, helping people not just find, but stay on the path to good financial health is a main theme running through Reality Check and the rest of Extension’s impressive slate of financial literacy programs.
“People don’t always like to talk about money, especially if they’re struggling. But anyone can find themselves faced with financial troubles,” said Cindy Clampet, OSU Cooperative Extension family resource management assistant specialist. “Extension’s financial literacy programs are designed give people and families the tools they need to confidently manage their finances and deal with financial crisis.”
As part of the Reality Check simulation, students learn baseline money management skills such as using and managing a checking account. Participants are selected for roles and given explanations of their circumstances, such as marital status, number of children, income and monthly expenses.
The goal of the simulation is to successfully navigate one month without overspending.
“At first, I thought it was going to be really easy. I thought I’d be a millionaire,” said Alex Luevano, a ninth grader at Will Rogers Junior High and High School in Tulsa, who also completed the Reality Check activity at OSU this past summer. “I learned you can’t always afford the best stuff in life. Sometimes in life you’ve got to go with the cheap stuff.”
In addition to youth-oriented financial literacy programs, Extension provides a variety of classes and activities for adults and those at different life stages.
For instance, Check and Balance is a solid A to Z course on the basics of money management covering topics such as budgeting, setting financial goals, credit and insurance. Another course, Dollar Decisions, tackles budgeting, while other programs help people prepare for retirement or buying a home.
Extension also offers financial programming aimed at farmers and ranchers.
An emphasis on helping people find firm financial footing directly affects Oklahoma families, obviously, but it also can have a big impact on the state’s well-being.
The Prosperity Now (formerly CFED) Scorecard annually ranks all 50 states on 58 family financial health and policy recommendation outcome measures such as financial assets and income, homeownership and housing, health care and education.
In the 2017 version of the scorecard, Oklahoma ranked 40th overall. More specifically, the state ranked 43rd, 47th and 49th in income poverty rate, underbanked households and high-cost mortgage loans, respectively.
Clampet put the issue in more stark terms: While Oklahoma does mandate financial education in public schools, the state still has a high rate of financial illiteracy.
“People just aren’t learning it, but it’s important,” she said. “Oklahoma, and the nation, has a problem with credit. People have too much of it and they’re not saving enough money, including for retirement. They think they’re going to get Social Security, but the average worker receives about $1,300 a month and it’ll be hard to live on that.”
Ultimately, Extension recognizes arming Oklahomans with the tools to successfully manage their money can create a powerful ripple effect for the state.
“If you have good money management skills it will help reduce stress related to financial issues such as unpaid bills and debt, not to mention, they’ll be able to better absorb financial risks and hits,” Clampet said. “The more people in our state who are budgeting, saving, reducing debt and taking charge of their finances, the fewer people will need public assistance and Oklahoma will be able to better withstand economic downturns, budget constraints and even various natural disasters.”
Extension financial literacy programs are available statewide and may be requested by contacting the nearest county Extension office.
Story by Leilana McKindra