BYU offers resources to help students improve their financial lives

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A BYU student uses one of the ATMs located outside the Wilkinson Student Center. BYU has several financial resources for students, including the Financial Fitness Center to help students learn to manage money. (Morgan March)

BYU offers a variety of resources to help students develop valuable financial habits, largely in response to the difficulty many young adults have developing healthy financial management skills.

According to a study, “more than half of the emerging adults polled were financially precarious (32%) or financially at-risk (36%).”

BYU Financial Fitness Center Manager Paul Conrad attributes much of this financial instability to the fact that for many young adults, college is the first time they are leaving home and the financial care of their parents. He believes there is an attitude among students that their most significant financial years are ahead of them, leading them to not take financial management seriously while in college. However, according to Conrad, there is no time like the present to begin preparing for a financial future.

“When you think about the future, students are going to graduate and find good employment and are going to have possibly millions of dollars pass through their hands over the next three to four decades,” Conrad said.

He went on to explain that money does not come all at once but rather over time, paycheck to paycheck. Because of this, it is important for students to learn how to manage their money sooner rather than later.

“If you mismanage your money then over time, those errors add up,” Conrad said.

The Financial Fitness Center is one resource in a BYU student’s toolbox to increase financial literacy. Located in the Abraham O. Smoot Administration Building, the center’s purpose is to help students “wisely assume responsibility for their own financial well-being,” with a confidential and non-judgmental approach.

“If you come to see me in the Financial Fitness Center, know this is a confidential and nonjudgmental place where you can feel safe to talk about your finances and goals, and even safe to talk about some of your financial mistakes,” Conrad said.

While developing financial stability can sometimes be daunting and feel like a faraway or even unattainable goal, Conrad assures students that a helpful first step is talking to someone from the Financial Fitness Center, speaking to their parents or discussing their financial circumstances with another trusted leader.

When students make an appointment at the Financial Fitness Center, the advisor will begin the meeting by discussing what the student is studying and what some of their goals for the future are. After addressing their aspirations, the advisor will discuss some of the ways a student can better prepare for their desired future.

“When students come to see us, these conversations flow pretty well,” Conrad said.

BYU student Jessica Edmondson has utilized the Financial Fitness Center to ease some of her concerns regarding money management.

“I had a classmate tell me about the Financial Fitness Center and recommend Paul Conrad to me,” Edmondson said. “Paul has helped me so much. He mostly listens to me talk about my anxiety about money and shifts my perspective and mindset about things.”

Edmondson said Conrad also showed her a helpful budget template and suggested some apps that could specifically help her with her financial goals.

“You can’t buy anything in this world with money, but you can buy peace of mind and clothes, which is nice. It’s important to have a healthy relationship with the way you view money so it can be a tool in your belt, not a weapon you use against yourself,” Edmondson said.

In addition to the Financial Fitness Center, BYU also has a personal finance website with tips and resources on financial management from a gospel perspective. The website’s resources are divided into beginning, intermediate and advanced sections, with each section containing readings, learning outcomes and videos for students to complete.

Bryan Sudweeks taught finance at BYU for 20 years and was one of the key contributors of the personal finance website and material. While working as a regional welfare agent for the Church, Sudweeks realized there was no material for bishops that approached financial management from a gospel perspective and decided to develop the personal finance website.

“The Lord cares about our personal finances because it is an important part of our lives,” Sudweeks said. “If you don’t have the resources to put food on your table, it’s going to be pretty hard to take care of your neighbor.”

Sudweeks believes by becoming both financially and spiritually self reliant, people will be able to handle challenges when they arrive.

In their journey to becoming self reliant and financially stable, Sudweeks recommends students take the personal finance for self reliance course available through local wards.

“It’s the best beginning personal finance program I’ve seen. Take it carefully and prayerfully,” Sudweeks said.

By paying tithing first, paying necessary bills second and then saving and spending any leftover money wisely, Sudweeks believes students can achieve financial success. He encourages students to consider money as something they have stewardship over rather than possess, and says when this mindset is adopted, managing personal finances becomes much easier.

Recent BYU graduate Scott Kim received his bachelor’s degree in finance, but developing his own financial plan has not always been easy. After holding himself to a strict budget his freshman year in which he worried about accounting for every penny and eventually was unable to maintain, Kim learned the importance of effective money management.

“By over-focusing on each individual penny, I had missed the forest for the trees. I took a step back, and started on a newer, more flexible budget,” Kim said.

The most helpful thing Kim has learned about the budgeting process is the importance of starting with what you know. By accounting for guaranteed expenses and then having a set portion to deposit into savings, he has been able to find a system that works for him. He also found it helpful to keep budgets on a shorter, more manageable timeline such as a week at a time.

“Financial literacy is actually most important for young adults and students because we have the power of time,” Kim said. “Einstein himself went on to say that the 8th Wonder of the World was compound interest. If we understand it, it will work for us. If we don’t, we will work for it.”

Conrad believes good financial management not only eases many of the tensions of navigating the world but also helps create stability in relationships. As students use this time of their lives to develop effective financial management techniques, Conrad said they will be better prepared to achieve their post-BYU goals, both in their careers and in their relationships.

“It’s a lost opportunity if you are waiting until you graduate to get serious about thinking about your financial life,” Conrad said. “There is so much you could be putting into place now so when you graduate, you graduate with preparation to go forward into your future career and life.”

Students interested in learning more about money management and seeking to improve their financial wellbeing can make an appointment at the Financial Fitness Center by visiting their website.

The personal finance website’s resources are also free and available to anyone. Personal finance classes such as SFL 260 and FIN 200 are open to all majors.

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