Dollars & Sense

Dollars & Sense

Managing money can be tough, especially for young people. At the beginning of their professional lives, many young adults struggle to balance student loan debt, bills, rent, and all the other difficult realities of adulthood. There’s also the lure of easy credit, which can be hard to resist when tempted by the prospect of trying a new restaurant or taking a weekend trip with friends.

Seema Sheth ’04 can sympathize. “I come from a financially savvy family,” she said. “My parents were good with money and tried to give us good advice, but I still insisted on going out on my own and making all kinds of stupid decisions.”

Seema believes that the problem isn’t that young people aren’t getting good advice, it’s that they’re not getting it at the right time. “You need to learn the relevant stuff right before you use it or it’s not going to stick,” she said. “Understanding how the stock market works when you’re 17 is good in theory, but you’re probably not going to be involved in the stock market when you’re 17. What you are going to do is get a job and have to figure out how to live within that paycheck.”

Seema is well prepared to give good advice. In addition to her job as a financial advisor with Northwestern Mutual, she’s a regular speaker on financial literacy at KCD, where she also serves on the Board of Trustees. She’s also the founder of Adulting Academy, a series of classes for high school and college students that offers a fun, engaging way to learn (or relearn) adult skills such as basic budgeting, tax filing, and starting a savings plan.

“Kids want to do well,” Seema said. “They want to be responsible and live within their means, but they just don’t know how. They need simple, practical advice on what that means and how to do it. My goal is to teach students basic skills that let them create successes early on so their financial language becomes something positive instead of negative.”
According to Seema, there are a few key concepts that can keep young people on the right track. The first, she said, is to be prepared for the worst. “Nobody prepares for the fact that life is going to go wrong. People forget that their car is going to break down or that they’re going to get stuck overnight in a hotel somewhere because their flight got canceled. There’s nothing that will make you feel more successful financially at an early age than having a tire blow out and being able to take care of it yourself. That feels really good, and it creates positive reinforcement around taking care of yourself financially, which creates more responsible adults later on.”

It’s also important to establish habits that build self-sufficiency. “When people want to spend beyond their means, there are two main ways they do it. The first is to open a line of credit and go into debt. A lot of young people make financial mistakes with credit in the beginning, then feel like they’re never going to be able to get past it. A lot of young people I talk to have just given up. They say, ‘Well, I’ve already got $50,000 in student loans, so screw it. What difference does a little more make?’ It makes a big difference!

“The other way to live beyond your means is to lean on your parents, which becomes a really hard habit to break. You never really become self sufficient and you create a very pervasive guilt language around money in your head. You feel like you’re never going to be successful without your parents.”

Seema said that the most important thing is to establish a positive feedback loop early on: “If you can create situations where you’re being responsible and doing the right things from the beginning, it feels so good that you continue to make choices that reinforce that.”

Although she graduated more than a decade ago, Seema has no trouble remembering teachers at KCD who helped prepare her for success. “When I got to KCD,” she recalled, “I was in the fourth grade and couldn’t read, because I needed glasses and nobody knew. I felt stupid and thought I would never be able to learn. In one year, my fourth grade teacher—Ms. Vander Borgh—got me caught up. She took so much time with me and was so patient with me. That set the tone for what my life at KCD would be like. If you have people like that to support you, of course you can succeed! From fourth grade on, I had a great academic career.

“In fifth grade, Ms. Shoulta had me sign up for the speech team, and I learned that I could speak eloquently in front of a group of people. That’s where my passion for performance began. Speech team with Ms. Scinta made me even more confident in my ability to communicate verbally.

“The other teacher who had a huge impact on me was Mr. Gander. I was very math-shy, but he gave me the confidence to understand that it’s not always about being naturally gifted, but instead it’s about grit and continuing to try even though it’s hard. Now I work every day in finance and in professional communication, and the basis for my success in both those areas started in KCD.” 

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