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Financial Literacy Empowers Consumers

By Cindy Atoji Keene

These are turbulent times for banks: branch closings, debit card swipe fees capped, record low savings rates, and increased bankruptcies and mortgage delinquencies make for troubled financial waters. So gaining customer trust and generating positive coverage ranks high for banks, big and small, which are finding that one way to generate good will is by championing financial literacy programs. Evan Diamond, a financial education manager, spearheads the financial literacy efforts at Cambridge Savings Bank, reaching out in particular to youth and minority groups, for whom basic knowledge about checking accounts, mortgages, taxes and credit cards and smart shopping, is amazingly lacking. “When I asked a group of students how much a new home is worth, one responded “$2,000?” This answer highlights the vital need for financial education,” said Diamond, who said there are many financial urban myths, even among adults, who often struggle with sound budgeting. “People can avoid the “ignorance is bliss” attitude that too often leads to disaster. Just hoping (and praying) that everything will somehow work out well is no way to manage your finances.”

Diamond, who began as a bank teller almost 21 years ago, said that financial education is so important because “financial knowledge is power.” With studies showing that minority groups are disproportionately affected by the financial crisis, holding the largest percentage of sub-prime loan and having a greater incidence of foreclosures, Diamond has held programs for homeless and low-income families on money basics.

Q: Is money a mirror into the soul?
A: Money can bring out the best or worst in any person. How we handle money is definitely a reflection of our character.

Q: Recent surveys have shown that more and more young people, in particular, are engaging in "risky" financial behavior, such as maxing out credit card limits or not paying bills on time. How can we encourage more fiscal responsibility among youth?
A: Parental involvement and formal financial education in school are positive influences. We as society also need to stress the huge advantages people gain by becoming regular savers. Kids need to learn how to save and work toward affording what they need in life without amassing unmanageable debt. Too many people do not think of debt as the opposite of savings. It’s hard for people to develop the discipline to ask themselves, “Do I need it or do I just want it?” before making a purchase.

Q: What creative means do you use to teach financial concepts?
A: I give examples of money-management strategies from my own life. For example, I discuss how important it is to compare prices at different supermarkets. I am proud to say that I save money by shopping at discount grocery stores. We also do role-playing such as acting out “Lunchtime Loan.” Students act out a borrowing and repaying scene to demonstrate the concept of “creditworthiness” in an emotionally memorable way.

Q: We all have soft spots, when it comes to money. What's your weakness and how do you deal with it?
A: My soft spot is sweets. Please don’t tell my dentist. I buy sweets of all kinds, too frequently, and probably over-indulge my children with candy as well. As Benjamin Franklin said in “The Way to Wealth,” which introduces his famous “Poor Richard’s Almanac,” “Beware of little expenses; a small leak will sink a great ship.”

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