Money Smart Month: Saving More and Building Wealth

United Way of Greater St. Louis (UWGSL) and the St. Louis Regional Financial Empowerment Coalition are partnering together for St. Louis Metro Money Smart Month, offering free events and classes on financial education and money management throughout April. We spoke with Nakischa Joseph, Community Mortgage Loan Officer for Simmons Bank and this year’s Money Smart Month co-chair, about the importance of financial literacy and having good savings practices.

How are the events and classes offered through the St. Louis Regional Financial Empowerment Coalition’s Money Smart Month program helping people who want to increase their financial literacy?

These events are free to the public and you’ll get information from industry experts including real estate agents, mortgage lenders and banking partners who are there to provide insight and guidance with all things related to money. Whether it’s purchasing a home, opening a checking account or exploring other banking opportunities, you’ll get firsthand access to these experts who are able to guide you towards financial independence and a better understanding of what money really is and how it works.

How has partnering with UWGSL through programs like Money Smart Month made an impact in the community to empower financial stability throughout the St. Louis region?

United Way has been a pillar in the community for many decades, so they provide resources to individuals and families all across the region and Money Smart is just another one of those pillar aspects that United Way has partnered with because they feel that financial health is wealth. Understanding finances, knowing where you are financially and how money works is so important, and it helps to give people the foundation that they need in order to live a fruitful life. I think United Way is doing an amazing job of partnering with different organizations to help people with their finances through programs they have that are available to local people.

How can people use tax returns this time of year as an opportunity to build wealth?

Having been a tax preparer before, I know how important it is to take that money and pay off debt, save money and put it in bank accounts that can help you earn additional money. You can put money into a certificate of deposit, a money market account, or a high interest yielding checking or savings account where you’re starting to earn money on the money that you have. Tax time is a great time to get rid of debt and have your money work for you.

What are some of the pitfalls that can lead to financial struggles and how can people avoid them?

Not understanding money and credit. Credit, more and less, is probably the biggest culprit of people’s financial downfall – not understanding how it works, interest rates, or even the contracts that they’re signing. You’re signing a contract with a financial institution to borrow money, some people just think it’s free money, and it’s not, it’s money you’re borrowing with interest attached to it. Interest rates will fluctuate based on your credit history and credit score, so you can have a higher interest rate for a small dollar amount of money and end up paying back more than what you owed. So, it’s important to have a good relationship with money that will help prevent you from going into financial ruin. It’s important to understand that banks are there to be your partner and help you with all aspects of your finances and coach you to where you want to be financially.

The Money Smart Kids Essay Contest is an important aspect of Money Smart Month, how important is it for young people to learn how to manage money early and how does this Essay Contest help with that?

The Kids Essay Contest allows students to take a more introspective look at what having a good financial acumen is like. This gives them the opportunity to approach money management through their own lens. There are some things they won’t be able to understand at a young age, but the Essay Contest puts it on their level where they can understand. I know that learning the importance of money management as a child helped me as I became an adult when I was going into college and learning how to better manage my resources. So, I think the Kids Essay Contest is foundational for our youth to be able to start that proper trajectory of financial, time and people management skills.

How much can financial literacy help with navigating difficult economic circumstances like inflation?

Understanding how the market works and that there’s ebbs and flows to the market can help with the trepidation that comes with inflation. We should also understand the importance of saving and putting money away for what we always say, “A rainy day.”

Arming yourself with as much knowledge as possible, especially during Money Smart Month where you have access to industry experts who are able to offer classes for you to ask whatever questions you may have because it’ll help you better understand how finances work. That knowledge will help to alleviate the anxiety that comes with a market that is up and down, minute by minute.

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Rodney Humphries
Rodney Humphries

Rodney Humphries is the Communications Specialist for United Way of Greater St. Louis and a proud graduate of Webster University where he developed his passion for writing. In college, he combined his love for writing and sports, serving as the primary sports writer for his school newspaper while also developing his own sports blog. After graduating, he continued his love for writing as he served as a freelance writer for various publications. Rodney continues to be a fan of Webster athletics, you will often see him sitting courtside at a lot of their basketball games.