Financial Education

The Case for Adding Financial Literacy Readiness to the Curriculum of Every Student

by Gary L. Fisher

Mortarboard CC.pngAmong one of my passions has always been teaching, mentoring, and coaching. This is one of the primary reasons I chose the financial planning profession as a place to ply my trade. It offers that rare opportunity to make a difference and have fun, all while working.

For me it’s been a great ride, but as a practitioner of financial planning it’s always somewhat surprising how little of the basics of finance are taught in the primary education system. I think a class called ‘Financial Planning’ should be a requirement in Junior High/ Middle School, and a part of the core curriculum in all high schools.

That said, it’s particularly shocking when you learn (and remember) that it isn’t even part of most university curriculums, regardless of how lofty the degree might be.

I know for me it was not.

I managed to get a Bachelors Degree from the University of Michigan and a Masters of Science in Business Administration from Central Michigan University without even touching on anything that looked like Financial Planning.

That’s one of the reasons why I agreed to become a member of the Olivet College Adjunct Faculty in the Department of Business and Economics over 20 years ago. I thought it was great that a college was taking all of this financial education stuff seriously, and offering a degree curriculum. I wanted to be a part of it. Lately that role has evolved in to teaching a class or two each semester in the Financial Planning degree curriculum. It’s been a tremendous experience, and one that has proven to be incredibly rewarding both personally and professionally.

One of the projects I assigned to each class was that they go out and interview someone ‘over 40’ about either their estate planning situation, or their overall financial planning. The results were enlightening as almost all learned that the person they interviewed (typically parents or grandparents) were particularly lacking in preparedness, knowledge, and in some cases even interest in either area. This caused a high degree of consternation among the students to the extent that they were learning how important all of the facets of financial readiness happen to be. One student said, “How will my parents ever retire if they don’t take this serious now?” How indeed! 

One of the projects we covered in the aftermath of this project was to ask each student to identify three things: 1) what age they intended to retire (a fun question to ask ‘20 somethings’), 2) how much money they would need to have accumulated, and 3) how much they could withdraw from that sum so that it would be highly likely (better than a 95% chance) of lasting at least 30 years or more. The answers varied from a low of $500,000 to a high of 5 million. The interesting thing about this project was that the Millennials answers varied little from the quality of responses I typically get in a workshop filled with Baby Boomers! In fact, these particular Millenials will graduate from Olivet’s Financial Planning curriculum light years ahead in financial planning knowledge than that of previous generations of  of  Baby Boomers, or Gen X and Gen Y’ers ever did at the same ages.

I am a strong proponent of keeping the arts and athletics front and center in an educational setting. However, financial education is arguably far more important.  If you doubt it, just consider the vast number of professional athletes, entertainers, and rock bands that have squandered fortunes with poor money management and lack of financial acumen. It’s hard to play your way out of a hole you didn’t even know you were digging. Olivet remains one of the few colleges in the country offering a financial planning degree program. It’s hardly surprising that very nearly 100% of the college’s program graduates are offered excellent jobs upon graduation. In truth, that kind of foundational knowledge can only help in the future regardless of what industry the graduate chooses to pursue. For me, it’s an honor and a privilege to be called a Professor of Financial Planning, because I can’t imagine too many more important callings, or a better way I could use the knowledge I’ve taken nearly a quarter of a century to learn. If the children are our future, than we would all benefit by them being very astute financial mangers.•

Book Review: The End of Diabetes

by Gary L. Fisher

Book Review:  The End of Diabetes, by Joel Fuhrman, M.D.

The End of Diabetes.jpgDiabetes is extracting an awful price on America. It is a devastating and insidious disease that is not only growing like wildfire, it’s affecting people from youngsters to oldsters, and everyone in between.  The toll it can take on families is equally destructive. Emotionally it’s impossible to put a price tag on the pain it causes, and from a purely financial perspective it’s off the charts.

The average diabetic incurs $6,649 in health care costs directly attributable to diabetes each year. (Source Economic Costs of Diabetes in the U.S. in 2007. Diabetes Care 2008; 31(3):596-615/)More than half of all Americans will be pre-diabetic by 2020 at a cost of $3.35 trillion to the US health system if current trends go on unabated, according to an analysis of a report released by UnitedHealth group. The medical journal, The Lancet, called it a “public health humiliation” that diabetes, a largely preventable disease, has reached such epidemic proportions.

Diabetes Mellitus is a chronic disease that causes serious health complications including:

Kidney failure 

Blindness 

Heart Disease and Stroke – 80% of diabetics die of heart attacks and strokes.

High Blood Pressure  

Nervous System disease including Erectile Dysfunction and loss of feeling in the feet.

Amputations 

If that list isn’t enough to make you very interested in preventing or reversing diabetes, you’re not paying attention!

Dr. Fuhrman say’s that “The majority of medications used to lower blood sugar place stress on your already failing pancreas. The probability of your diabetes getting worse under conventional medical care is especially likely since medications used to control blood sugar, such as sulfonylureas and insulin, also cause weight gain.  The dangerous combination of pushing the pancreas to produce insulin and gaining more weight with medication actually results in the need for additional medication as you become increasingly diabetic. This common and yet failed approach shortens life span and increases the risk of heart attacks.”

Instead Dr. Fuhrman suggests something he calls a “Nutritarian” approach.

This formula is expressed as (H)=Nutrients (N)/Calories (C) 

This formula say’s that your health is determined by the nutrient per calorie density of your diet. When you eat more foods that have a high nutrient density and fewer foods with a low nutrient density, your health will dramatically improve and your diabetes will melt away.” 

The primary cause of diabetes in the first place is the American diet, which promotes obesity. This, coupled with our increasingly sedentary lifestyles, has exacerbated an existing problem and turned it in to the disaster we have now. In fact, as processed foods find their way around the world, the problem continues to grow globally, not just domestically.

Attacking the problem with the Nutritarian diet, and exercise have proven to be incredibly effective for Dr. Fuhrman’s thousands of patients.   In fact the results he cites in the book are nothing short of miraculous.  I suspect most Americans will not immediately embrace such sweeping lifestyle changes.  However, when compared to the nightmarish vision of what diabetes brings, the tradeoff looks like a pretty good deal.

This is a timely book that can make a huge difference in the lives and destinies of millions, and suggests enormous public health and economic benefits as well.   •

A Conversation with Paul Krause: Pro Football Hall-of-Famer

A Conversation with Paul Krause: Pro Football Hall-of-Famer

by Gary Fisher

I have watched every single Super Bowl. Well at least that’s what my dad tells me. I honestly don’t recall the first one since I was only a little over a year old. But dad says he and I sat in front  of our old Zenith black and white and watched it with him, so I’ll have to take his word for it. I remember snippets of games after that, but it wasn’t really until I was about 8 years old that I really remember every single thing about a Super Bowl, that being the ’73 contest between my beloved Miami Dolphins and the Washington Redskins. I had liked the St. Louis Cardinals up to that point, mostly because they had cool helmets, but the Fins became my team for life during the ’72 season, and that was it.

Given this rumination, and the fact that at the time, we were in the year of the 50th Super Bowl, it was particularly notable that I had the unique opportunity to  accompany my dad to his 55th high school reunion. Not only did I meet a bunch of people my dad had been talking about for literally my entire life, I also got to put real people together with the faces that I had only seen in my dad’s dusty high school albums. It was great fun from start to finish, and I was particularly impressed by the turn out. Something like 75% of all living graduates attended this event, a fact made more impressive given the age (75) of the average graduate, and the reality that Bendle High School, in the 60’s, was a small school.  Dad had always been in the minority by not attending these events. For one reason or another he always had a reason why he couldn’t make it. He certainly had no shortage of good reasons as I recall – one year I was hit by a car, another year I had serious surgery, another time our house blew up (well only the top half), and one time he was in the hospital with surgery. In any event he was one of the MIA’s from Reunionville for decades. All of this made his surprise appearance an even bigger deal in this tight knit group. Having lost my mom a year and half prior, no one thought it likely he’d be there for this one either. But there he was.

All of this brings me back to the Super Bowl theme. One of the first people to approach my dad was one of his best friend’s growing up, a fella named Paul Krause. My dad had been telling me stories about Paul since I was old enough to remember tossing a football around. Paul was my dad’s running mate in junior high and high school in sports, and fun. When I was watching the 1970 Super Bowl which featured the Kansas City Chiefs against the Minnestota Vikings, dad pointed out that his buddy was wearing #22 for the Vikings. I remember thinking that he must have been talking about the Flint Northern Vikings, the local high school team we followed at the time. He had a hard time explaining to me that the Minnesota Vikings were a different set of Vikings. In any event, I thought it was pretty cool that my dad was pals with someone on that little black and white Zenith in our living room. It was clear this was an important game too, so that added to the coolness effect.

As I got older we had a lot of opportunities to watch Paul play on the tube, as he’d appear in three more Super Bowls- ‘74 against the Dolphins, ‘75 against the Steelers, and  ‘77 against the Raiders. Sadly, for Paul, all were losses, but as Krause told me during the reunion dinner ‘If you’re going to lose four games you can do a lot worse than have them be Super Bowls’!  I had to tell him that my favorite team growing up was the Miami Dolphins. “That Larry Csonka was a handful”, Paul said. “Really hard to tackle–he was like a freight train.” I asked him who were the toughest guys he competed against in the Super Bowl, and he laid out a litany of the greatest players of my youthful past: Terry Bradshaw, Ken “The Snake” Stabler, Franco Harris, Lynn Swann, Len Dawson, Mercury Morris, Paul Warfield, Freddie Biletnikoff, and John Stallworth.

In fact Krause was in town not just for the reunion, but also to present a “Golden Football” to his alma mater, a perk of having appeared in all of those Super Bowls with the Vikings, and something being done around the country by his fellow Super Bowlers. However, Krause is more than just a former NFL football player. He is quite likely the greatest athlete to ever come out of the Flint area. That’s saying an awful lot when you consider the almost unreal quality of talent to emanate from Flint.

His feats in high school are legendary. My dad and Paul were excitedly telling me the story of the night Krause set the county high school basketball scoring mark of 57 points in a single game. A record that still stands to this day, made even more remarkable in a pre-three point play era. They spoke of football games, and baseball games and how Krause once left a baseball game to jump the fence and win track events in the 440 and pole vault, then returned to the baseball game to pitch a no-hitter.

Krause went on to national prominence at the University of Iowa, and then played in all of those Super Bowls in the NFL. Along the way he was named All Pro 9 times, and elected to the NFL Hall of Fame in 1998. He also holds one of the NFL’s most hallowed records with 81 interceptions, making him the NFL’s all time pass theft king.  

While all of that is without question interesting,  I didn’t spend a lot of time asking NFL questions. At the time, the main topic at our table was the 85 yard pass play Krause tossed to my dad that helped them win a close game against Corunna in ’58. And that was just fine with me.•

Attitude of a Champion

by Gary Fisher

mountain-climber-899055.jpgAttitude is an intriguing concept. What exactly does it mean? Moreover what makes a good one–or a bad one for that matter? Perhaps most critically of all, what kind of an attitude is required to be a champion? I don’t particularly mean a champion in trems of athletics, although that certainly fits the bill. A champion can be a parent, coach, teacher, student, worker, business owner, entertainer, or just about anyone. The topic is broad, and deep. But let’s take a swing at it.

According to Dr. Carol S. Dweck, Phd, and author of Mindset, attitudes or mental orientations come in two broad flavors. One is what she refers to as the ‘growth’ mindset, and the other is the ‘fixed’ mindset.  People with the growth mindset are characterized by personal accountability, and a willingness to fail and take risks that might lead to failure. One can be a growth mindset person in one area and fixed in another. In the main, people with the fixed mindset believe things like “I’m a certain kind of person and there isn’t much I can do to change that”. They might say things like “You can do things differently, but the important parts of who you are can’t really be changed.” Conversely, growth mindset folks think “You can always substantially change how intelligent you are,” and “You can always change basic things about the kind of person you are.”

In the book, Dweck cites Michael Jordan and his comment that he’s “never really failed” because every time he wasn’t successful “He learned something valuable.” Jordan had an iconic commercial in the 90’s in which his voiceover said “ I’ve missed more than 9000 shots, I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to make the game winning shot and missed.” Then he looks at the camera and winks and says “That’s why I’m so successful!”  That ad sort of sums up the growth mind set.

Next up on the list of attitude ingredients is optimism. The belief that you can be successful is paramount for winning. Optimism, like attitude is hard to pin down in terms of definition, but we know it when we see it, and when we feel it. Dr. Martin Seligman, Phd states in his seminal book Learned Optimism, that  “One of the most significant findings in psychology in the last twenty years is that individuals can choose the way they think.” 

Seligman found that people who skewed depressive handled set backs and disappointments very differently than Michael Jordan, and other optimists, did. Depressives, and by extension pessimistic people, believe that set backs tend to be unchangeable, pervasive and general (the ‘everything sucks’ mentality), and personal.  Optimists tend to believe setbacks are a chance to learn, improve, and move forward- the growth mindset Dweck speaks of. They believe that bad things always have specific causes that can be known. They don’t take it personally, don’t presume it’s pervasive, and they used it as leverage for future success.  Seligman makes a strong case for the benefits of optimism over pessimism.

The Pessimistic Attitude
Pessimism promotes depression.Pessimism produces inertia rather than activity in the face of setback.Pessimism feels bad subjectively: blue, down, worried, anxious.

Pessimism is self-fulfilling.

Pessimists don’t persist in the face of challenges, and therefore fail more frequently and quit–even when success is attainable. (This should be separated from the Jordan form of failing where it’s used to catapult one to greater achievements).

Pessimism is associated with poor physical health.

Even when pessimists are right, and things work out badly, they still feel worse. Their explanatory style now converts the predicted setback in to a disaster, a disaster in to a catastrophe.

He goes on to say, “The optimistic moments of our lives contain the great plans, the dreams, and the hopes. Reality is benignly distorted to give the dreams room to flourish. Without these times we would never accomplish anything difficult and intimidating, we would never even attempt the just barely possible. Mt. Everst would remain unscaled, the four minute mile unrun, the jet plane and the computer would just be blueprints sitting in some financial vice presidents wastebasket.”

The plot thickens considerably when the work of professor and author Daniel Goleman, PhD is factored in. Goleman rightly suggested that there are various types of intelligence in his book Emotional Intelligence. He posits that emotional intelligence or EI, as he refers to it, is just as important, if not far more so than what we call IQ. He presents an equally  compelling case for optimism. “Consider the role of positive motivation- the marshalling of feelings of enthusiasm, zeal, and confidence- in achievement. Studies of Olympic athletes, world class musicians, and chess grand masters find their unifying trait is the ability to motivate themselves to pursue relentless training routines….and that doggedness depends on emotional traits – enthusiasm and persistence in the face of setbacks above all else.”

Dweck’s research concurs with Goleman, saying that “Finding #1 about success” is that those with the growth mindset found success in doing their best, in learning and improving. And this is exactly what we find in the champions.”  Finding #2 was that those with the “growth mindset found setbacks motivating. They’re informative. They’re a wake up call.  Finding #3 was that “People with the growth mindset in sports (and in pretty much everything else) took charge of the processes that bring success–and that maintain it.”

The science is in. And it’s good news!  Once we know how we have to begin, we can focus on precisely those processes that make or break success. And that’s exactly what we’ll tackle in the next issue of THE MENTOR!•