Learn the ropes of personal finance

Julie Sickel

Assistant Professor Ron Stolle doesn’t wear a cape or rescue infants from burning buildings, but after taking his class on personal finance, many Kent State students see him as a superhero.

“We try to get to students, no matter what discipline,” Stolle said. “Everybody has to work with their own money, and if you don’t know how to do it, there’s enough charlatans out there trying to separate you from yours.”

Stolle teaches Me and My Money, a personal finance class offered to non-business majors. The goal of the class is to teach students about things like budgeting, credit cards, investing for the future and consumer awareness.

“I hear so many horror stories with students being overburdened with student loan debt, credit card debt, everything else,” Stolle said. “They don’t know how to get out from underneath. But we’re not teaching them how to do it, and I think we owe it to the students to provide that. It’s a life skill.”

Professor Stolle’s financial top four

  1. Work to secure your degree

    “Because you will improve your lifetime earnings by 40 to 45 percent over a non-degree person. You will also cut your chances of future unemployment in half.”

  2. Control spending

    It’s important to minimize credit card debt and student loans while in college. Create a spending diary.

  3. Learn to plan and budget

    “A budget is a roadmap. If you just keep going through everyday without thinking about what you’re doing, you’ll spend everything that you have, never save anything.”

  4. Learn to pay yourself first

    “You can actually make more money from your savings than you would after going to work for 45 years if you learn to invest.”

Stolle has become one of the university’s number one advocates for student personal finance and has been helping students with their money troubles for years.

He recommended four things all students should try to do before they graduate and that they should continue doing through their lives. His first recommendation is that students finish school and get their degree. Finishing school will increase lifetime earnings and decrease the chance of unemployment as well as help to obtain a satisfying job.

“The students who never finish college may have taken on loans,” Stolle said. “But they don’t get the benefit of having a degree. Which means they don’t get the better-paying job and everything else that goes with it.”

Learning to control spending, especially with student loans, is an important key to minimizing debt, Stolle said.

“Students have to understand that when they get an e-mail from financial aid saying you’re eligible for $6,000, you don’t just push a button and say ‘accept.’ You ought to say, ‘do I really need that amount of money?’ You can’t file for bankruptcy and get out from your student loans; they’re with you for life.”

One of the first things Stolle has his students do in the course is create a spending diary. He asks students how much they think they will spend in one week. Next, the students must write down the money spent for that week and compare the two values.

“Students come back amazed,” Stolle said. “Because they just don’t think about their expenditures.”

“Managing finances is all about making decisions and, five out of 10 times, Americans are choosing wrong,” Stolle said. “Do you have to go out to eat at Rockne’s or could you stay home and make mac ‘n’ cheese?”

After students get an understanding of their spending, Stolle teaches them how to budget. He explained that a budget is like a road map: If a person is going to Florida for vacation, they first have to know where Florida is.

“Every time you stop by Starbucks and get a macchiato, it’s $4 and you do that five times a week, it’s $20. Do it four weeks a month, and that’s $80 that just disappeared on you. Nobody, unless they really focus on what they’re spending, can put together a budget,” Stolle said.

Stolle’s final recommendation is to learn to pay yourself first. He teaches students about the importance of saving after graduation in order to secure finances for the future.

“As soon as you get out, save 10 percent of what you earn and do it from your first paycheck. Have it taken out automatically. Put it in a 401k or into other savings and learn to invest that money,” Stolle said. “Get to the point where your money is working for you, and that’s where you can get real financial security.”

Students looking to take advantage of Stolle’s financial advice before they graduate can register for one of the two sections of Me and My Money offered this spring semester.

Lauren Wozniak, sophomore early childhood education major, and Jared Greene, freshman aeronautics major, both expressed interest in taking the course in the future.

“There’s not many things out there teaching us how to deal with that stuff,” Greene said. “I mean, yeah, we have our parents, but they can’t teach us everything.”

Stolle said that even though Me and My Money is a junior-level class, basic math is all that’s needed.

“If you can add, subtract and do some multiplication, it’s not that bad.”

Contact Julie Sickel [email protected].