CPAs can teach how to 'operate in the real world'
Why volunteer to promote financial literacy: What drew me to personal finance, financial literacy, and volunteering is that this important subject was not being taught in our schools. And, historically, we as parents haven't been the best source of information because we don't have the greatest habits when it comes to our own personal finances.
Working together: Most of what I do with financial literacy is on the volunteer side through CalCPA [the California Society of CPAs], which started its financial literacy initiative in 2003, and California JumpStart Coalition, which sets out to improve the financial literacy of the state's youth. CalCPA has a program geared toward high schools and one that's geared toward adults.
Educating students about personal finance: An effective way is to explain such concepts with something they understand. I use the example of the prom. I ask them, "What do you need for the prom? Where do you get the money? What kind of car are you driving? What are you doing about pictures?" It's something that's real to them. The kids all get excited and give each other a hard time because maybe somebody's going to Taco Bell for dinner and the other one's going to a sit-down restaurant. That's an interesting way to discuss the budget and expense side of a timely issue for the kids.
What adults ask: Adults have already been through situations [such as buying a house and filing a tax return], so the discussion is different. They've got more specific examples about what has happened to them, and they often want information on how they can best improve their situation.
Emphasize saving: The most common mistake is not starting to save soon enough. I tell the students to start saving from their first paycheck because that's going to be key in building wealth for their lifetime. The theme I try to get across is taking personal responsibility for your own financial well-being.
How CPAs can help: CPAs can teach about what it takes to operate in the real world when we talk about finances. Look out for opportunities. It could be the local legislator or member of Congress who wants to put on a personal finance seminar for their constituents. Or it's a local committee, the Rotary, or a school that wants to have us come in during class time or after school.
Flexibility and opportunities: When I went into business for myself in 2003, it brought some things full circle. Being self-employed gave me more flexibility and opportunities to volunteer. That all meshed together.
—As told to Sheon Ladson Wilson (firstname.lastname@example.org), a freelance writer in Durham, N.C.