Georgia Tech underclassmen learned valuable lessons about saving, handling money
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
Ask any Georgia Tech student-athlete or student, for that matter what is their key academic success and they’ll probably say it’s being able to budget time.
Yet, these same student-athletes and students have probably never considered budgeting their money as a key to financial success. It’s a common trap into which a majority of Americans fall.
It’s now also one that nearly 300 Yellow Jackets freshmen and sophomore student-athletes have a better shot at avoiding, thanks to the Total Person Program and its initiative entitled Financial Literacy.
The hour-long lecture took place Tuesday night at Reinsch Pierce Auditorium in the East Architecture Building, and was led by Eric K. Smith, founder of The EKS Group, LLC, and creator of The Financial Literacy Coach and The Money Game Literacy Program, who boasts nearly three decades of experience in the finance industry.
“I think if you go back to the foundation of the Total Person Program, one of the principles that Dr. Homer Rice believed in was financial stability,” said Director of Total Person Support Services Leah Thomas. “So regardless of how much you have or how little you have, you can still be financially stable and smart. We wanted to lay the groundwork with this group tonight and the hope is that we will build this program into a four-year progression plan. I think that was Eric’s message tonight, they don’t think they have money but they can manage what they do have.”
Smith, who several times jokingly referred to his short-term attendance at the University of Georgia (he graduated with honors from Georgia State then from the Graduate Banking School at LSU), is a renowned financial expert, has been delivering these lectures for seven years and estimates that he does them 70 to 75 times a year throughout the Power Five Conferences, as well as at several NFL Rookie Camps. His fast-talking, wise-cracking delivery kept the group engaged and entertained, but also got his points through.
“I got a lot out of tonight,” said aptly named sophomore basketball player Martine Fortune. “He had a lot of information about pretty much anything financial that could be important for us. He gave me a good perspective on how I should be planning, how I should be saving, I got some new ideas about how I’m going to handle my money from now on and he actually alerted me to a few dangers I didn’t know about, especially credit fraud, different fraud schemes and that kind of stuff, the kind of stuff I didn’t really know about.”
“We’re at a point where we have to start thinking for ourselves and our future. He made me realize the importance of holding yourself accountable and figuring out what you need to do and how you need to go to achieve your goal,” said sophomore wide receiver Brad Stewart, who admitted he took notes throughout the lecture. “The biggest thing is how easy it is for people to get your information. When you use your debit card say, ‘Credit,’ when you pump at a gas station, just be smart with how you’re spending your money. It just made me realize there’s nothing safe out here and you’ve got to be smart with what you do.”
Smith’s program was a three-pronged plan: Saving, planning and spending money.
“It’s just a passion for wanting to use the skills and abilities I had to impact the lives of other people,” said Smith. “It’s gratifying in that most of them don’t understand how simple it can be to become financially successful by just being intentional with the money that’s already flowing through our life. When they realize it all these lightbulbs go off. They realize, ‘Hey, I can be that person I want to be and I don’t have to worry about making a million dollars a year to end up in a great place financially.’ It’s not just the students. Adults struggle with this as well. We just try to find a way that’s fun, entertaining, hopefully we achieved that tonight and to try to relatable and relevant to the student-athletes.”
Smith impressed upon the group the importance of their four years of college, as it’s the time in their lives where they learn how to handle money and create good habits as far as spending and saving. Saving as little as 10 percent of their money can make a huge difference.
“If you start at an early age you don’t have to do anything really special if you’re just intentional with your money,” he said. “You can end up being a millionaire quite easily by just being intentional. But it starts now, as a 20-year-old or an 18-year-old. If you think about it, that’s pretty amazing that you could pursue a career that you have a passion for that doesn’t make a lot of money but end up being in a place where you can provide for your kids, their kids and not have to worry about money.”
Smith challenged the students to create and stick to a budget. It’s something he said that 60 percent of Americans have never done a day in their lives, which, in turn, explains why some 85 percent of baby-boomers had saved less than $250 — ‘less than $4 for every year they’d been on Earth.’
As part of this program, the Yellow Jackets student-athletes will be required to do a budget and give it to their academic advisors. After listening to Smith, doing it — for many it’s their first — is something they’re eager to do.
“It would be good to actually have a plan and not just tell myself, ‘Stop spending.’ ‘Stop spending.’ Actually structure my spending,” said Fortune. “I’ve had a few teachers that told me a few things about compound interest and whatnot, but nobody really laid it all out like he did.”
“I have always told myself ‘I’ll throw some money in my savings account every once in a while and see what happens’ and ‘try not to spend money when I can,’” said Stewart. “I feel like if I actually set a budget I’ll actually get a lot more accomplished in saving that money.”
In addition to budgeting for down the road, Smith went into great detail about the more immediately pressing issue of avoiding identity fraud. He pointed out to the group that they were “prime targets” to have their identities stolen, with 1 in 12 being victims of identity theft.
He offered simple tips like getting bank statements electronically not by regular mail and NEVER giving out information like social security or account numbers over the phone, regardless of how crafty and persuasive would-be conmen are. Smith also discussed debit cards, the proper way to use them (always choose credit when given the choice between debit or credit), and when using your debit card at a gas station, pay inside instead of just swiping your card.
As the group filed out, they were pensive and eagerly discussing and debating all the information they’d just taken in. But all knew they were wiser and better prepared for their financial future having taken this step.
Fortune and Stewart agreed they’d be sharing the information they learned with their peers, student-athletes and non-student-athletes alike and were grateful to Georgia Tech for the Total Person Program, which, as Smith stated, showed the school cares about them as people not just athletes.
“Not all the schools do this,” said Fortune. “Where would we all learn this stuff unless we have events like this and people to come in and teach us? So we have a real advantage over other student-athletes and just other students and it’s really great.”
“People don’t get this type of information,” said Stewart. “We’re so blessed at Georgia Tech to have this type of information given to us.”
Thomas promised that there are more great things to come via the Total Person Program. The next event is the program’s Keynote Speech, and will be held Oct. 24. The theme will be “No Limits” and will feature Kyle Maynard, an award-winning martial artist, author and motivational speaker, who, in January, 2012, became the first quadriplegic to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro without the use of prosthetics — his adventure was part of a Nike ad campaign during the recent Summer Olympics.