Are graduates ready to get their personal finances under control? Andrew Pennock, associate professor of public policy at the University of Virginia’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, wants to make sure they are. He offers an annual financial wellness workshop, which he conducts in addition to his usual teaching activities.
On March 30, around 70 UVA students, both graduate and undergraduate, attended his final workshop. In addition to financial skills, the workshop had a unique focus. At a university where students are encouraged to be leaders inside and outside the classroom, participants were asked to think about how they can spend in alignment with their values.
“Personal finance is a life skill that empowers you to make conscious decisions that reflect your values,” Pennock said. “That applies to both your spending and your giving.”
Pennock began the workshop in 2017 when he briefly compared government budgets to personal budgets while teaching public policy at the Batten School. Sensing confusion, he did some research and found that most students had never seen a budget. This prompted Pennock, who had spent years discussing personal finance management with various community groups, to create an opportunity for students to approach a commonly shunned topic: money.
Students today report that financial management creates fear and confusion. One participant mentioned to Pennock that setting and tracking a budget is overwhelming and instead the student just tries to spend as little money as possible.
However, many students recognize that avoiding personal finance is not realistic. They hope to have a stable income after graduation (possibly for the first time) and want to learn to use their resources responsibly.
“One of the things I’m emphasizing is that getting started is an exciting time because you can build a culture for yourself about how you allocate your money,” Pennock shared. “They can enact their values through their spending and giving.”
UVA students for all reasons expressed an interest in learning financial fundamentals. While many Batten students enrolled in this workshop, students outside of the Batten School who had not previously met Pennock also participated.
“Less than 20% of the students in the class report having sat down with their parents and discussed their parents’ budget, so they’re hungry to know what’s to come,” Pennock said.
Students came up with questions about setting financial priorities and understanding how a personal budget works. They wanted to know what decisions they would have to make in the future.
“Professor Pennock gave us a chart to help you keep track of what you’re saving for,” said Emma Karnes, a Master of Public Planning student who took the course this March. “I already knew it was important to have savings, but I learned about the different ways you can plan and categorize your savings.”
Pennock approaches the workshop as a consultant, drawing on his own experience and research. His workshop focuses on standard industry advice and summarizes it for easy understanding. The topics of the 90-minute seminar include:
- Do you have an emergency fund. Pennock recommends having three to six months of expenses available as cash and explains why it’s important.
- attack debt. The class discusses different types of debt, debt consolidation, interest rates, and mortgages.
- Save for retirement. Students will be introduced to different types of retirement accounts and potential employer matching programs.
- Buy the right insurance. Students are encouraged to consider what insurance they need to take out and when, including life insurance and renters insurance.
- Look at the income side. Pennock encourages students to find work that fits their financial goals and suggests that sometimes a side career or paid hobby can be useful.
- Have a budget and use it. Good financial management requires discipline and students are shown the power of good budgeting and tracking.
“I think Professor Pennock is a good person to lead this workshop because he’s not afraid to say things as they are,” said Karnes. “He helps students face their fears of leadership [his course at Batten]so I think he’s willing to do the same when it comes to personal finances.”
Pennock emphasizes that financial management requires continuous learning. He encourages students to continue learning about personal finance by reading books and visiting websites (like Mr. Money Mustache) or forums (like Bogleheads.org). He recommends planning your finances in partnership with family members or a spouse and with input from friends. And he always emphasizes giving back.
“UVA students and faculty have been given so much,” he said. “I think it’s important to be as grateful as possible and to express that gratitude through generosity to people and places that are close to our hearts.”