‘If You Can Manage Your Money, You Can Control Your Life’
By National Association of Medicaid Directors Executive Director Matt Salo
Utah State Treasurer Richard Ellis
Chairman, National Association of State Treasurers Foundation
My colleague, Idaho State Treasurer Ron Crane, likes to say that, “if you can manage your money, you can control your life.” Unfortunately—when it comes to financial literacy—it seems a lot of Americans are out of control. This is unfortunate, because financial literacy is a clear first step toward financial stability.
A recent study by the Center for Financial Literacy at Champlain College assigned grades to the states, ranking the quality of their financial literacy education from A to F. Only seven states received an A ranking, while 22 garnered a D or F.
Crane’s home state is one of the few that received an A. And I know that financial literacy is near and dear to his heart. Crane uses his office as a bully pulpit to teach students and adults about financial literacy topics. He created a private nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that has produced a “Smart Women, Smart Money” conference for the past 15 years.
More than 19,000 women have attended these conferences, learning about everything from creating a budget to estate planning. Crane also regularly goes into schools to teach students the ABCs of credit card finance. He figures he’s spoken with at least 1,000 kids since he took office.
An early leader in financial literacy education is another colleague, West Virginia State Treasurer John Perdue. Perdue has said he believes it is a treasurer’s “duty and responsibility” to take the lead in this effort and he’s putting his money where his mouth is.
In 2008, Perdue’s office partnered with the West Virginia State Board of Education to implement NetWorth, a comprehensive financial education program designed to teach personal financial management in all of West Virginia’s public schools. In 2009, NetWorth received the Excellence in Financial Literacy Education Award from the Institute on Financial Literacy.
NetWorth trains teachers to implement financial literacy education into the existing curriculum. Perdue has said he believes this approach is the best way to produce financially literate adults, that financial literacy education must be implemented all the way from kindergarten through high school.
Many of our peers in other states also have made financial literacy education a priority. In Utah, I serve as chairman of the Utah Council on Financial and Economic Education. This organization serves as a centralized access point for financial literacy information, linking state residents to programs and resources that meet their needs. The National Association of State Treasurers Foundation, a private 501(c)(3) organization affiliated with NAST, has adopted financial literacy as a primary focus.
Utah was one of the first states that had a requirement for financial literacy courses before graduating from high school. There are lots of programs and a lot of resources focusing on the younger population in my state. Perhaps that’s why Utah also received an A ranking in the Center for Financial Literacy’s recent study.
As chairman of the NAST Foundation, one of my goals has been to have treasurers across the country link to a financial literacy website called tomorrowsmoney.org from their own sites.
More than 1 million people, including many Spanish-speaking residents, have used this site over the past year to gain information about handling their finances. Beginning this fall, the NAST Foundation is planning to produce a series of webinars on financial literacy topics as a resource for treasurers throughout the United States.
Many more of my colleagues are equally active in promoting financial literacy. Often referred to as the people’s bankers, state treasurers, I believe, are seen as officials who have expertise in this area. After all, treasurers serve as the chief financial officers of the states and, collectively, we’re responsible for the management and oversight of trillions of dollars in state funds.
This makes treasurers a natural fit for advocating for financial literacy programs. And—as this most recent study indicates—there is a continued need for these programs.