Financial Literacy Implications on Financial Stewardship



The financial literacy gap, described as a lack of personal finance education during high school, particularly among those from low-income families1, which ultimately contributes to the wealth gap, has long been part of the larger conversation surrounding Financial Literacy Month and its mission. However, Fortune reports new studies from the education technology provider EVERFI demonstrate there is virtually no difference among students from low-, middle- and upper- income backgrounds when it comes to how knowledgeable they are about personal finance topics. This latest insight poses an interesting question: What’s more important, knowledge about how to manipulate resources or access to resources themselves?

“When it comes to closing the wealth gap, it’s important to not have the mindset of simply having more money,” Angel Stallings, CPA, accounting coordinator for the Detroit Pistons, social entrepreneur and co-author of Graduate to Freedom: The How-To Guide of Graduating Debt-Free From an HBCU and PWI, explains, “but having the skillset and the knowledge to steward that ‘more’ once you get it.”  

She adds that building a foundation of better habits when resources are lean leads to better decisions when they become more abundant. “The good habits we develop around that little bit we do have serves us well when there’s more,” Angel says. “If we don’t know how to budget with our $100, then we aren’t going to know how to budget our $100,000, or even a million.”

Angel explains that having money is not the same as knowing how to manage it. Even someone who is born into an abundance of resources or acquires money quickly by circumstance, such as an unexpected inheritance or winning the lottery, will struggle to manage that wealth without knowing the fundamentals of personal finance. “There’s a scripture that says, ‘Those who are entrusted with little, will be entrusted with much,’” Angel recites, “and that’s my mindset. If I don’t know how to steward a little bit well, how can I expect to be ready for more?”

It is this that Angel cites as the reason financial literacy is so important. “Let’s teach our students how to stretch a dollar,” she says. “That habit doesn’t develop overnight. That’s something that you really have to implement and stick to so that you’re ready as your income increases.” Regarding adding personal finance courses as a requirement for high schools, Angel is all for it.

In elementary school, she recalls being taught how to write checks in sixth grade, however, no time was spent on learning what it means to manage a bank account’s assets. “They teach us how to spend, but not how to save, not how to budget, not how to manage it.” She uses the conversation around student loans as an example; that it has become too normalized, with little emphasis given to their long-term consequences. “The fact that you can go into college and take out a loan, acquire credit cards, at 18 and not understand the repercussions or how interest accumulates is scary…It is insidious.”

Angel, having taken loans early in her college tenure, recently graduated debt free and is passionate about helping others do the same. “The normal conversation is as long as you’re in school, no interest accrues on your loan until you graduate.” However, because Angel took an unsubsidized loan, this statement did not apply to her situation, though she was not immediately aware of that fact. “When I realized I didn’t have the benefit of time, it was then a question of how I can pay these loans down as quickly as possible so that no more interest is accruing.”

For Angel, that meant scholarship writing, and a lot of it. While the very idea can seem like an intimidating process, what many students do not realize is that there are countless organizations ready and waiting to pass out money that never receive a single application. “One thing I’ve heard from a lot of people on scholarship committees is, ‘we have the funds, but no one’s applying,’” Angel says, adding that many students labor under the erroneous belief that they could be competing with hundreds of applicants for a given scholarship and if they fail to meet even one qualification, they will be denied. “They’re counting themselves out…but there’s plenty of money out there, on the table, that people aren’t getting.” 

Of course, post-graduation, young professionals still have to keep their eye on long-term goals and find ways to maximize their income. According to Angel, this includes taking advantage of every cent of free money that is offered by employers. “Roth IRAs, 401(k) plans, and especially that employer match,” she explains. “That mindset I had with scholarships has carried over. If my employer is going to match it or give it, then I’m going to take advantage of it. I don’t leave any free money on the table.”

Further, Angel notes the importance of having someone experienced to draw from, be it for professional growth or advice about major financial decisions. “I talk to my mentors who are in positions, not only financially, but personally and professionally, that I want to be in,” she says. “Having those professional mentors when I was at PwC, and where I’m at now, have been huge sources of encouragement, hope and guidance as I navigate my career.”

Angel says her mentors have also helped her weigh important career choices, such as job changes, going so far as to assist with comparing offer letters, writing letters of recommendation, reviewing her resume and offering advice on how to negotiate. She adds, “I didn’t always have friends and family to lean on for those questions, so my professional mentors have meant the world to me.”

When it comes to helping others achieve financial wellbeing, however, Angel suggests there are ways employers can contribute. Specifically, investing in the financial wellness of their employees. Indeed, a 2019 study conducted by Morgan Stanley revealed that not only are finances the top stressor among employees at all levels, but that an employee’s level of financial stress has a direct impact on how they view their employer2. “Although it’s not necessarily an employer’s job to educate them in that area,” Angel adds, “I think it’s a great investment to make in their employees, because it shows they care about your overall wellbeing, and they understand that who you are outside of work is also going to affect who you are when you’re at work.”

Finally, Angel reiterates the importance of adopting a particular ethos. She explains, “For me, it’s that mindset of I want to own things, not be owned by things. It helps me say no to the instant gratification, the temporary satisfaction, that comes from impulse purchases.” By doing so, Angel says, “I’m saying yes to that future that I see for myself that is more financially secure.” She adds that for students and professionals it is important to run your own race. Someone might appear to be making strides more quickly, such as buying a home or a nice car, but they might be doing it differently, using loans or credit. You have to be okay with taking those leaps at your own pace, on your own terms. “Don’t compare your journey to the next person.” She adds, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” 

  1. McKim, Kat. “The Financial Literacy Gap Doesn’t Exist.Fortune. 10 Nov. 2021. Accessed 31 Mar. 2022.
  2. How Financial Wellness at Work Boosts Employee Retention.” My Secure Advantage. 2020. Accessed on 1 Apr. 2022.

Source: MICPA

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